September 25, 2019

The Opportunity is Now: Creating the Next Generation of Electronic Health Records

By Jason Rzutkiewicz, September 25th

In the 1970s, the federal government “began using EHR … with the Department of Veteran Affairs’ implementation”. At that time (1975) physicians spent on average 60 minutes with every new patient that visited their office.

Today, physicians spend a mere 12 minutes with those patients.

And yet healthcare as a percentage of GDP has exploded (from 8% to 18%)!

How did we get here?

For starters, EHR was not designed with the patient or the sician in mind. In hindsight its primary purpose was to support billing and administration. It is often referred to as the intruder in the room as patients and physicians interact. Physicians are often now forced to be more focused on screen time than patient time.

Source: Is Your Doctor Getting Too Much Screen Time?

This starts to speak to the cumbersomeness of these systems. Training new physicians to use EHR is a 20hr + experience.

As Eric Topol shares in his recent book Deep Medicine, 80% of new notes in EHR systems are copied and pasted from a previous entry. The electronic health record has turned physicians into data entry technicians with more time spent tending to the keyboard than the patient.

Clearly physicians see limited value but are forced to adhere creating a “lose-lose” situation.

Physicians were passive while major new changes took hold in the business of healthcare like EHR (along with managed care, HMO’s and others). They know full well that their ability to listen and engage have been severely compromised.

In hindsight they missed an opportunity to be better advocates for themselves and their patients.

So where are we today?

Source: The next generation of EHRs will be fundamentally different

There is tremendous pressure on physicians time. This is leading to burnout and depression (doubling the risk of patient safety). “Shallow medicine” is taking hold. The path of least resistance is often being chosen which is leading to over diagnosis of conditions, procedures and surgeries.

The implications are vast, including driving inflated healthcare costs and even playing a role in the opioid crisis the nation is facing today.

But the role of EHR today is more important than ever. It is positioned to play a critical role in enabling AI to drive better health outcomes for all. But that depends in large part on meaningful physician adoption and engagement.

Otherwise garbage in, garbage out will compound the problems we’ve faced over the last 40+ years.

The next generation of EHR

Source: Hospitals Utilize Artificial Intelligence to Treat Patients

How do we create the next generation of EHR?

One that starts with the patient, the physician and their needs — to truly connect with each other — at the core.

And for physicians, how do we ensure that as we move towards a world of AI assisted care that they don’t make the same mistakes as they did with EHR?

The opportunity is now to ensure that the productivity gains from AI are reinvested into more time with patients rather than more schedule slots on the calendar.

About the Author

Jason Rzutkiewicz is the Client Engagement leader at YML, playing a vital role in helping brands navigate the complex digital landscape of mobile, social, search, and data and bridging them with physical spaces to create seamless experiences.

September 23, 2019

Getting to Know Edward Cessna, Senior Director of Engineering at YML

Published on September 23, 2019

Who are you, and what do you do?

Hi, I’m Edward, an introverted minimalist who loves taming complexity and solving problems.

As a Senior Director of Engineering at YML, I lead and mentor engineering teams who thrive on solving problems and creating software solutions.

Semi-officially, I have been bestowed with the title of Chief Cheesecake Officer. This honor is solely due to a devoted following by YML’s staff and some clients for my White Chocolate Cheesecake.

Where are you from?

I grew up in Aiea, a small town on the island of Oahu.

As a child growing up in Hawaii, I took for granted its rich and unique cultural diversity. From the Pidgin English language spoken amongst my friends (“Eh, pau hana! Going go home?”) to hitting the manapua trucks after school, or enjoying the tropical outdoors, it was uniquely Hawaii, and it was home. Now, as an adult, I appreciate and treasure the cultural diversity of my upbringing; I am a better person because of this diversity.

Tell us a little about your background.

I caught the programming bug in high school when my physics teacher taught us FORTRAN at the local sugar mill using an IBM minicomputer and punchcards. Yes, this was before the Internet, the introduction of the IBM PC, and hitting up Stackoverflow for answers to programming challenges. It was a fantastic time to begin a career in the software industry.

Since college, I’ve reinvented myself several times as technologies changed and my interest matured. One constant throughout most of my career was the systems I worked were large, complex, and mission or life-critical systems. These systems ranged from realtime flight-control software to embedded cryptographic software. Software that had to work correctly or people could get hurt; this work taught me the definition of quality and the value of a software development process.

I joined the first wave of mobile developers when Apple released the first iOS SDK in March 2008. This platform allowed me to lead and participate in a team that developed the first clinical-research mobile applications that have impacted thousands of people. The effort also allowed me to become a first-time author with the publication of the first book on ResearchKit.

Why did you choose to come to Y Media Labs?

I’ve been an early adopter of technologies since college.

When I first interviewed at YML, I discovered the founders were also early technology adopters and that we were aligned with my goals. I’ve stayed at YML for over five years because of the people. I have a great team that I like and respect.

An added benefit: the crazy ones make the job more enjoyable and rewarding.

What about this industry are you most passionate about?

I am passionate about software, teams, and what it takes to produce high-quality and secure software systems.

Successfully engineering and delivering a software solution while satisfying programmatic constraints requires a team that has a wide range of technical skills as well as a refined set of soft skills. Developing teams with this set of skills have been and continues to be very rewarding.

What are some other companies you admire?

I admire companies who put their corporate reputation behind issues of humanity and challenge established norms.

One of the first company that comes to mind is Virta Health. They are successfully challenging the conventional wisdom of diabetes prevention and achieving incredible reversal/remission results for a disease that is pandemic.

Apple is another company that I admire. Their belief that privacy is a fundamental human right resonates with me, given that I have a software-security background. Even though Apple is far from perfect, their privacy stances keep me as a customer.

What are your favorite spots to eat?

My favorite spot to eat a meal is my home. Not because the food is spectacularly good but because I can control the quality of the ingredients that go into my meals. Frequently, my best meals are simply those comprising a few quality ingredients with minimum effort. Some of the best examples of this are Caprese salad and Affogato. Both are dead simple to assemble and delicious if the ingredients are fresh and high quality.

When I’m lazy (a little too often) and want a break from cooking, I tend to go to restaurants close to my home. Here are some of my favorite:

My all-time favorite place, but not in the bay area: Helena’s Hawaiian Food. Helena’s is frequently my first stop after landing at Honolulu International Airport.

How do you spend your spare time?

I thoroughly enjoy spending time with my family, cooking, reading, and learning about new technology and health information.

My preferences for cooking or baking a dish is to make is anything and everything from Stella Parks.

My interest in health, however, creates an internal conflict that I wrestle with more often than I care to admit. Occasionally, I lose the dessert-health match, and I surprise my family or coworkers with a little treat. (I, of course, eat none of the treat. Nod, nod, wink, wink.)

September 12, 2019

Why Consumer-Centric Strategies Need the Right Datasets

By Shayna Stewart | September 12th

You deserve a big pat on the back if you have successfully shifted your Product and Executive teams to a consumer experience driven mindset — one that prioritizes empathy for the consumer in the product experience.

However, after all that work educating teams and setting up new processes, your Product and Analytics teams are likely experiencing a little bit of friction.

The growing pains occur because the datasets are not evolving as the questions are evolving from business-centric to consumer-centric:

  1. Analytics teams get stuck operating only within the business analytics and marketing analytics paradigms.
  2. Consequently, they have a tough time getting into product and consumer-centric analytics paradigms.

Obsessing over customer satisfaction is a good thing — and a proven game changer for brands across the spectrum.

Often, teams that switch to the consumer experience mindset, accidentally mistake business or marketing data for product data, so you’ll need to stop focusing on quantitative behavioral data.

Here’s how.

Consumer-centricity is tough on data structures

This mostly has to do with when the way data structures were built:

Data structures are a function of the questions you ask.

Historically, the business data sets are the oldest. They were built to answer questions like, “How much money am I making and how many paying customers do I have?

Marketing data sets were introduced to answer questions revolving around campaign performing, reach and impact.

Most companies stopped building data structures beyond those two. Now, brands across the spectrum are struggling through an obsolete system attempting to answer key questions for both marketing and business development teams.

You might be wondering:

How it is possible that we are lacking data sets in a day in an age where the amount of data is increasing exponentially by the second?

Another great question! 🧐

The reality is that data needs a particular structure to answer specific questions. Typically the data is being captured in an unstructured way, and then needs to re-structured to answer critical product and consumer-centric questions.

Evolving Your Data Set

Building these data sets is a cross-functional team sport. It’s a sport because it requires coaching, practice and can create a bit of rivalry across the teams to create a great dataset.

Step 1

👉 Have a clear and concise consumer-centric strategy.

Consumer-centric strategies need to have a consumer journey that is informed by consumer feedback and consumer need based states as the user moves through the consumer journey. Once this is done, make sure that everyone is aware and agrees with this strategy.

The consumer-centric analytics will fail if people start to waver on how much they agree with the strategy, as analytics is meant to provide feedback on how well the strategy is performing.

If people start to disagree with the strategy or follow a different strategy, then the consumer-centric analytics framework will not provide information on how well the strategy is performing.

Step 2

👉 Build your KPI structure from the ground up, starting with consumer-centric KPIs first.

Your consumer-centric KPIs should be descriptive of your consumer’s need based states you identified as a strategic play in your consumer journey research. They also should be predictive of your business and marketing KPIs.

Step 3

👉 Identify the differences between the business, marketing, product and consumer-centric questions.

We recommend that an analytics team member categorize the questions that they get asked on a regular basis. Even further, start to categorize which teams are asking what questions.

This will help set up your data democratization strategy later on. Not everyone is interested in receiving answers to all categories of questions. For a refresher of the different types of analytics, check out this article.

Step 4

👉 Select the right tools and/or update your implementations to ensure all questions are answered.

The consumer-centric questions will always be the hardest to answer as they require the most complex data capabilities to answer. Therefore, your requirements should be led by the consumer-centric analysis requirements and then work backward to ensure your tools can answer the easier three.

In conclusion

There are some key requirements that everyone must have in place to truly have a consumer-centric data set:

  1. Access to data that is summarized around users, not around visits or pages.
  2. A strategy to link user data across platforms, meaning an identity resolution system
  3. A plan and commitment to build cohorts of users and develop for customized marketing and product experiences based on those cohorts

Shayna is a Product Manager who is passionate about consumer-centric product strategy, design and an advocate for consumer-directed data strategies to match.

August 27, 2019

Getting to Know Weston Hanners, YML Engineering Manager in Indianapolis

Published on August 27, 2019

Who are you, and what do you do?

My first name is Lionel, but I prefer to be called by my middle name — Weston. I am an Engineering Manager for our excellent Indianapolis Team.

My speciality is in iOS development, but in my free time occasionally dabble in web technologies, server administration and when I am feeling it, I blog at Alloc-init.

Where are you from?

Born and raised in Southern Indiana, I grew up in a mostly rural town called Bedford, its claim to fame is that the limestone for the Empire State Building came from a nearby quarry.

I recently moved near Indianapolis to be closer to the office. Aside from a year I lived in Georgia when I was a kid, I have lived in Indiana my whole life.

Tell us a little about your background.

I started learning programming in high school, mostly Visual Basic. I was a member of our BPA (Business Professionals of America) chapter and even won a couple of awards in regional software engineering competitions.

After high school, I did a couple semesters at IVY Tech, but ended up dropping out due to money troubles. After Apple released the iPhone SDK in 2008, I decided to try to get back into programming so I saved up to buy a MacBook Pro, an iPod Touch and a programming book. I spent the next couple years self-teaching myself iOS development while I worked days in tech support at a local ISP, and in 2012 I entered the professional software engineering world.

I came to YML in 2014.

Why did you choose to come to Y Media Labs?

Before I worked at YML, the place I worked was very corporate and I wasn’t a fan of the project variety or the corporate politics. When it came to YML, I won’t deny that the idea of working for a Silicon Valley company with an impressive portfolio wasn’t also a factor.

I felt like YML also opened up my growth options.

What about this industry are you most passionate about?

When I am not programming, I do most of my computing on my iPad Pro. I think it is amazing that this 11” device can do so much and I am very interested in finding ways to do more and more on it. My friends actually think I am a bit nuts that I try to do things that most people would think of as a “computer” only task on it.

iPadOS is coming in September and it will even further expand what it can do, I am so excited! (Fun Fact: I actually am writing this on my iPad)

What are some other companies you admire?

I suppose Apple is the obvious choice here. I don’t think they are perfect, but I typically align with their decisions (especially when it comes to privacy and security).

Nintendo is another one, I love how they refuse to follow the typical Triple-A gaming pattern. Their games might not have the “best graphics,” but when it comes to pure fun they easily win against any other major game developer.

What are you favorite spots to eat in Indianapolis?

My favorite things to eat are burgers. And I have two favorite places in Indy: Between the Bun and Punch Burger. I love places that add unusual toppings to their burgers.

How do you spend your spare time?

I am an input nerd. Ever since I taught myself iOS development, I have been binging on educational YouTube videos. My favorite topics are Engineering and Design.

While I cannot draw to save my life, I have gotten pretty good at recognizing good design and this has really helped the work I do at YML. I also want to give a quick shoutout to the amazing channel Crash Course, where I’ve found a new passion in world history.

I also play a ton of video games. My current favorite gaming system is the Nintendo Switch and the rapid growth of my game library has probably annoyed my wife a bit. (If she is reading this, sorry honey!)

August 21, 2019

How We Used Animation to Bring Humanity to The CafeX Robot Barista App

By Mauricio Bucardo, August 21st

I’m a user experience designer at YML and am passionate about motion graphics and photography. I love to prototype, build and bring emotion and delight to digital experiences. I had the pleasure of collaborating with the Cafe X team to animate, prototype and deliver their in-app animations.

Cafe X is a barista robot with an automated system that looks to ensure accuracy, efficiency and eliminate all human error while keeping the quality craft of your beverages.

Around a year ago, YML collaborated with their team to create a set of animated illustrations within the Cafe X App:

The goal was to echo a sense of humanity, cheerfulness, and humor throughout crucial and memorable moments of the App.

After exploring different styles, we landed on a set of cheerful illustrations with bright colors, along with bouncy and lively animation to contrast the minimal and industrial feel of the App.

Enabling Location

Most Apps forget what a nuisance it is to be bombarded with permission requests without context. This was the first crucial moment of the experience since it’s critical for the system to know the nearest kiosk available.

Having a looping animation here alongside the conversational text was designed to help and educate the user, and encouragethem to enable it.

Order Customization

Order customization is an emotional moment in the experience. The user gets to be creative and make their beverage perfect. So this is where — in my opinion — the most humorous animations occurs.

We decided to have a cow mascot that would react to the user milk type selection. We wanted to make this character feel alive, emotional and responsive to the user’s input, so even when he was not selected, he would hide and take a peek behind the milk carton.

The Shopping Cart

Another key moment in the App was access to the cart.

We all know that abandoned carts are common in e-commerce experiences. So having an animated icon in sync with the card modal was used to bring attention and emphasis to complete this user flow.

Waiting for Your Order

Finally, the last key moment of the experience was the waiting time between an order being placed and being completed. The possible lack of physical presence of the user could create anxiety due to the uncertainty of their order status.

So we created three animations for each of the steps: Order queuednow making and now ready. Each one transitioning to the next one as the order progresses in real-time.

Final Thoughts

Thoughtful micro-interactions and animations are an indication of awareness for your user’s emotions. That’s why they’ve seen a peak in the design community in recent years. At YML, we believe discreet, yet delightful, design moments like these drive positive feelings about a brand, and often influence user’s actions.

We continue to partner with the Cafe X team and are eager to continue helping them evolve in a dynamic brand.

August 12, 2019

Getting to Know Caroline Schneider, YML Lead Designer in Atlanta

Published on August 12th, 2019

Who are you, and what do you do?

I’m Caroline!

UX designer extraordinaire, team leader, collaborative ally, and creative strategist. I’ve been with Y Media Labs for 5+ years across two office locations. Currently I’m swatting at mosquitos in Atlanta.

Having one foot in design and one foot in leadership is the best place I’ve been in my career so far. There’s nothing more rewarding than coaching designers toward having their “aha” moments with big hairy problems. Or really, just opening their eyes to the possibilities out there as they grow in their own careers.

In my time with YML I’ve worked on core digital products for key clients including State FarmApple, HCA, StubHubForever21, AutoZone, and many more.

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Atlanta; a southern girl from a family of five women (way to go, dad 👏).

I moved to San Francisco in 2010 where I lived for 7+ years. San Francisco is where I finished school, met and married my husband, fell in love with pork buns, and first started working with Y Media Labs.

When YML opened a new office location in my hometown I jumped at the chance to be back with my family, dragging my husband along with me (bless his heart he can’t stand the humidity). It has been an amazing opportunity to have a role in the growth of our Atlanta office from the bottom up.

Tell us a little about your background.

My background is in print and graphics, like so many others in our field.

What I love about print is that something so ephemeral can make you feel so much; the smell of a book, the excitement of opening a well-designed package, the satisfaction at the perfect stock of a business card — it creates a moment.

I challenged myself when I transitioned into digital with YML to create that same quality experience, but through a device in someone’s pocket. I am inspired by the intersection of physical and digital. I worked for a short period of time creating motion graphics for trade fairs, kickstarting my love of interaction design.

Interaction plays a critical role in user experience and can breathe life into the work we do; contributing to understanding through context, and sprinkling in surprise and delight.

Why did you choose to come to Y Media Labs?

At this point it’s less about why I came and more about why I’ve stayed.

Working with YML gives me the opportunity to touch everything from drones, wine, and music to banking, healthcare, and insurance.

Our fierce leader and badass office director, Marcela, has stopped at nothing to empower the women (and men) around her. We are a team of dreamers and doers keeping collaboration and critique at the heart of our process. We value honesty and integrity.

Collectively we’re weirdos with hobbies/passions inspiring our work that range from muddy to hoppy, and our culture is definitely one to be envied.

What about this industry are you most passionate about?

There’s so much to love about what we do.

We tell stories. We decide when and how people interact with technology in order for them to have the best possible experience. We leverage that same technology to facilitate inclusivity.

I’m humbled by the opportunity to be at the forefront of design and innovation. We’re in the unique position to fully immerse ourselves in a variety of other industries in order to inspire change from the inside out.

What are some other companies you admire?

  • Glossier (Emily Weiss) for a loyal dedication to what customers want.
  • Wendy’s for a supremely sassy social media personality.
  • Spanx (Sara Blakely) for being bold in the face of board rooms full of men telling her ‘no’ (and for making the LBD a possibility for everyone).

What are your favorite spots to eat in Atlanta?

Prison Tacos (or El Progreso) where Boulevard runs into the State Penitentiary is our favorite place for pastor. We order nothing else, just 3 pastor tacos (each). They’re to die for. We probably eat tacos way too many times a week… but really, is there such a thing?

There’s also a new place called El Tesoro that’s perfect for brunch or lunch. I hesitate to even mention it in hopes that the line won’t get too long. It’s that good. We love the tamales and the tostada.

How do you spend your spare time?

Turns out, I’m obsessed with pottery. And even better, I’m not that bad at it! I’ve been throwing pots on the wheel for the last year or so. I spend most of my spare time in my studio throwing, trimming, and glazing.

Other than that, my husband and I love to go backpacking (covered in deet), we have a vegetable garden (anything you can put on a taco), we both game (Zelda or ToeJam and Earl), and I quite often find myself with my nose in a Brandon Sanderson book that I can’t put down (sci-fi and fantasy only, please).

August 5, 2019

Getting to Know: Adam Talcott – Software Engineering Manager at YML

August 8, 2019

YML's team is diverse, insightful and bound together by a dedication to the agency's mission — make a lasting impact. The "Getting to Know" series shines a light on various members of the YML team.

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Adam Talcott, and I’m a software engineering manager at YML.

I’ve been at YML for four years, and during that time I’ve had the pleasure of leading a number of different technology projects. I usually get involved in the early stages of an engagement, even before a client has committed to partnering with us, to bring an engineering perspective to the table. I then get to see that project through strategy, design, development and deployment.

Where are you from?

I was born in Chicago, but I grew up in California, splitting my time between the San Fernando Valley in Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area.

I went to college and grad school in southern California, and, after a brief stint in Austin, Texas, I returned to the Silicon Valley about 20 years ago.

Tell us a little about your background.

After completing my Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering, I worked as a computer architect designing microprocessors for IBM, Sun Microsystems and Cisco. In 2008, I started developing iOS (then just “iPhone”!) apps in my spare time.

I started my own consulting company in 2009 working on iPhone apps for a wide variety of customers. I worked at a startup in the machine learning and video space prior to joining YML.

Why did you choose to come to Y Media Labs?

At YML I saw a great opportunity to work with a great team and to partner with amazing clients. I also really love the variety of projects I get to work on and the variety of technologies I get to learn about and use here.

What about this industry are you most passionate about?

I love to bring great designs and user experiences to life. It doesn’t matter what the technology may be, but nothing gives me more pleasure than having something I’ve helped build improve people’s lives in some way.

What are some other companies you admire?

Apple is definitely one. I was an Apple fanboy since I first started programming on my parents' Apple II Plus computer. That’s long before it was normal to see everyone in a meeting, classroom or airport with Apple computers or using an iPhone.

It’s been amazing to watch the growth of that company, and I still get inspired by the story of how the first Macintosh computer was developed.

What are your favorite spots to eat in San Francisco?

I live in Los Altos, so when I eat in San Francisco, it tends to be for a special event. As a result, my favorite restaurant in the city is Gary Danko, which I’ve been fortunate enough to visit on a few occasions.

Closer to home, and more affordable: I love eating at Patxi’s Pizza in Palo Alto or Estrellita Restaurant in Los Altos.

How do you spend your spare time?

With my family, usually in the car shuttling the kids between activities. My wife and I have a ten-year-old daughter and and an eight-year-old son, and I always look forward to weekends or traveling with them.

And when I do have a moment to myself, I also love reading history books or getting some video game time in playing Rocket League or a hockey game in NHL 19.

July 29, 2019

Stuck in the “Paradox of Choice”? Use Recommendations to Build Better CX

By Sarath Avasarala | July 31, 2019

With rapidly expanding catalog sizes and time-strapped customers with few clicks to spare, recommendations have become essential — a sine qua non — for brands to help reduce decision making complexity and drive business value.

Viewing recommendations as a simple matching exercise between users and items will no longer cut it — brands need to build experiences around recommendations and guide customers on a path to self-discovery, while being sensitive to several pitfalls along this path.

We have a few ideas that we think would help — but first, some context.

In the year 2004, Chris Anderson of Wired wrote an article entitled “The Long Tail”. In his article, he speaks about how the traditional brick-and-mortar retailers — constrained by shelf space — favored the most popular products over niche (“long-tail”) products with low sales volumes. He argues that these long-tail products could potentially outsell the most popular products since they cater to individual tastes and retailers are no longer constrained by shelf spaces or the reach of distribution channels.

It’s 2019 and the “tail” is now longer than ever.

And we’re not just talking about retail. Look at the numbers yourself:

  • Spotify has over 50 million tracks in its catalog (Source: Spotify Newsroom)
  • Etsy has over 60 million items listed on its site and (Source: Etsy’s SEC Filing)
  • Netflix has anywhere between 2000 to 6000 titles based on your region (Source: Quartz Atlas)

and these counts will only keep getting bigger.

The problem now is not so much on the supply side: the marginal costs of distribution and the costs of inventory have gone down quite significantly.

The challenge is more on the demand (or the “customer-facing”) side, where there is a strong necessity to know the customer and personalize the product to cater to their needs. Therefore, it is important for managers to think about the various touchpoints in the customer journey where recommendations or product personalization can add value.

What follows is a list of key use-cases and goals that one needs to keep in mind to deliver personalized experiences.

Reduce decision-making complexity

The huge assortment of items in any catalog can sometimes be anxiety inducing — this ties to a well documented phenomenon known as the “paradox of choice” — where customers experience stress when presented with large collections of items without any guidance. That is where recommendation systems can be of great help.

When customers visit a website or use a mobile app, there are several implicit signals that can be captured and processed to help them with their decision-making process.

Let us take the example of Uber Eats: when a user opens the app for the very first time, there is little information about the user’s likes and dislikes.

However, the app still makes use of contextual signals such as (i) the location of the user to filter the number of restaurant recommendations and (ii) the time of day to trim down the list of options even further.

In addition to this, users visiting the app communicate intent through (i) search queries (ii) visits to specific cuisine pages or (iii) visits to restaurant pages. These seemingly simple, but powerful signals can be used to push recommendations that save a lot of time for the customer.

Source: Uber Eats

Notice how the app has several widgets stitched into the core user experience. What’s more interesting is the fact that each widget in the experience has a purpose and caters to a different user persona:

  • The “popularity” widget lets the users make a quick decision by surfacing the most popular content and also shows awareness of context by taking the user’s current location into account
  • The “freshness” widget surfaces new and possibly little-known places for users who like to try new places — in a marketplace, this ensures that new restaurants get sufficient visibility and that the “rich don’t get richer”.
  • The “recommended dishes” widget uses the signals captured about the user to jump from restaurant-level recommendations to item-level recommendations and
  • The “offers” widget surfaces attractive offers for a value-conscious customer

It is important to note that the personalization journey doesn’t end with implicit signals: there is a strong need to capture explicit signals about users' preferences, and this can be done through purchase data, item and category-level ratings, favorites, and reviews. These signals are fed back into the system to create a strong personalization engine that knows the customer very well and serves the most relevant recommendations.

Create diversity and serendipity

It is easy to fall into the trap of using implicit and explicit signals to only recommend items with a high probability of purchase.

While an e-commerce site may actually be doing this for certain items to increase repeat purchases, customers allow very little leeway for inaccurate recommendations and find them redundant and un-intelligent. 
Source: Twitter

However, with enough user data, this can create a “filter bubble”, where a user is repeatedly exposed to recommendations from a small set of categories.

This phenomenon is particularly pervasive on social media where a user watching certain category of videos is exposed to the same type of videos over and over again.

While this is a hard problem to solve, several brands have shown that this problem can be handled to a certain extent through editorial intervention (“featured”, “editor’s picks”), making recommendation diversity an explicit goal of the recommender system, or providing avenues for the customer to independently explore content through a “discover” space.

Spotify creates up to six “Daily Mixes” with personalized content
Source: Spotify

Spotify, for instance, uses an intelligent combination of personalized playlists (“Daily Mixes”) and curated content (“Editor’s Picks”), along with multiple categories of playlists (“Discover Weekly”, “New Music Friday”). This approach has reportedly led to a lift in listening diversity by close to 40% (Source: Spotify Insights)

Source: Twitter

Twitter lets the users choose between an algorithmically ranked feed or a reverse chronological feed. The same holds for trends, where the user can choose between personalized or non-personalized trends. These kinds of additions provide avenues for users to step outside of the filter bubble and help them discover new content.

Think outside of the core product experience

There are several occasions where users visiting an app or a website browse for content but are unable to complete the purchase flow (or perform a "success action") within a session.

One can observe drop-offs on category pages, product pages, or after a product is added to the cart; this presents a chance to take recommendations outside of the core product experience and into email  or notification campaigns, where a user can be gently nudged to finish an incomplete flow and be presented with similar product recommendations for purchase consideration.

On similar lines, there are occasions where users communicate intent through a search query, but the exact item is not available in the product catalog. On such instances, one can measure similarity between search query and the items in the catalog to surface similar items which are already in the catalog.

Source: Netflix Mobile
Source: Netflix Desktop

For instance, even when Netflix does not have a title related to your search query, it surfaces titles that are similar in some respect (the genre, actors, etc.) so that the user has alternative viewing options.

Evaluate downsides and create feedback mechanisms 

A critical part of recommender system design is to evaluate the cost of an inaccurate recommendation. This becomes all the more important in domains like healthcare, where an inaccurate recommendation can potentially cause a lot of harm.

The only way to solve this would be to have an open discussion involving a diverse group of people and build feedback mechanisms into the product to mitigate potential downsides.

Building simple feedback mechanisms to capture dislikes or offensive content goes a long way in improving the recommendation system.

Common implementations include (i) downvotes or thumbs-downs (ii) “see less often” options in social feeds (iii) close buttons in recommendation spaces to hide specific recommendations or (iv) full-fledged reporting modules which capture details about why a user didn’t like a certain recommendation.

Conclusion

Recommendation systems can span the whole gamut from popular to hyperpersonalized and context-unaware to context-aware.

A well-designed recommendation system can add a lot of business value in terms of increased frequency of product use to increased cart value and retention. On the customer side, it can reduce decision-making complexity and lead to moments of customer delight.

At the same time, understanding the limitations (bias, filter bubbles, cost of inaccurate recommendations) is extremely important and it is vital for system designers to ensure that the product has enough checks and feedback loops in place to protect the customer from potentially harmful or divisive content.

As we said before, providing a good recommendation is more than just matching a user with an item - it is about guiding the customer on a path to self-discovery!

About the Author

Sarath Avasarala - Product Manager @ YML Bengaluru

Sarath is a Product Manager at YML. With hands-on experience in design and a keen understanding of business and tech, Sarath loves to talk to customers, get his hands dirty with design, dive deep into data, and do whatever it takes to deliver customer delight.

July 18, 2019

Getting to Know Hamish Macphail — Chief Financial Officer at Y Media Labs

July 18, 2019

YML's team is diverse, insightful and bound together by a dedication to the agency's mission — make a lasting impact. The "Getting to Know" series shines a light on various members of the YML team.

Who are you, and what do you do?

I’m Hamish, which is a Scottish name pronounced “Hey-mish”, but in the US by necessity I will respond to Hammish, Hameesh, Amish, Shamus and occasionally Angus.   

I’m a UK qualified Chartered Accountant, and I’ve been working as a CFO / COO for professional services agencies for most of my career.

Where are you from?

Despite the extremely Scottish name, I was born and raised in South East England and spent the first two decades of my career in London.  When the agency I was the CFO for in London expanded into the US in 2003, I took the opportunity to move with it to the San Francisco Bay Area where I’ve been living and working since 2006.

Tell us a little about your background.

My time at school and university was dominated by mathematics – almost all of my high school qualifications are mathematics subjects, and my bachelor’s degree is in mathematics.  So after graduating, becoming a Chartered Accountant was a natural route into the business world for me.  

Why did you choose to come to Y Media Labs?

From the start, I’ve wanted to work with business leaders to help them build and grow their organizations.  Fast-growing businesses are the most fun and challenging to work for, and I’m a professional services agency specialist and a technology enthusiast – so Y Media Labs checked every single box for me. I couldn’t have been more excited when Ashish and Sumit asked me to join.

What about this industry are you most passionate about?

I’ve always been a tech geek – before computers I was a gadget guy, in the early 80’s I was programming an 8-bit computer with machine code, and I love the things that technology enables.  I keep in touch with friends and family all over the world using social media. I listen to just about any book in the world or any music I want to during my commute using a wireless super-computer that fits in my pocket. I can deal with my anxieties by checking my garage door is closed from anywhere in the world – all these things I love with a passion and muse on with awe on a daily basis, and I’m excited for the things to come too.

What are some other companies you admire?

I admire people more than companies, and it’s the people behind them that drive inspirational companies.  Coming from the UK I grew up being inspired by Richard Branson, and his values of fairness, inclusion and humility, which infuse the Virgin brand.  And people like Roger Federer, who despite his phenomenal success and domination of his sport for years, maintains a humility and kindness to all which is an example for everyone.

What are your favorite spots to eat in San Francisco?

I worked for several years on the Embarcadero, in what is now Google’s San Francisco office.  Favorite places around there are Ozumo for sushi, and Boulevard for a splurge.  Where I live in Marin, I have to give a big shout out to Insalata’s.

How do you spend your spare time?

Living in Marin, our family does a lot of outdoors stuff – tennis, hiking with our dogs, swimming, and mountain biking which was invented in Fairfax the town next door to us.  We love movies too, and being able to stream HD movies on demand onto a projection screen in our living room is amazing – just another reason I love technology!

Follow Hamish on Linkedin!

July 17, 2019

We Are People: What it Means to Have a People-First Approach

By Shayna Stewart / July 17, 2019

A people-first approach is neither easy to create or quick to implement. But it is the secret sauce at the core of the biggest and best brands in the world today.

Customer experience is a strategy that all digital insiders know has to be a focus if they want to have a lasting impact in their industry. However, the execution of customer experience isn’t as easy as just coming up with a plan to leverage emerging technology and building digital products. It’s as much about igniting cultural change within a company as it is about planning for the evolution of the experience.

At YML, we’ve designed a dynamic and thorough people-first strategy built to cultivate cultural change.

That people-first approach is what is missing from the majority of CX initiatives — and it shows. 

  • Executives who have made a push for a CX strategy have not seen a tangible business improvement.  20% of companies scored 9-10 for seeing a Return on Investment, with 14% of companies scoring 0-2 (Confirmit, 2018). 
  • The public doesn’t believe they have reaped much benefit from CX initiatives. 
    • 54% of U.S. consumers say customer experience at most companies needs improvement (PWC, 2018).  
  • Culture and legacy technology systems have been major reasons for people not seeing the consumer benefit of CX initiatives.
    • 54% of organizations cite culture as the primary challenge to becoming more agile, followed by the inflexibility of legacy technologies (Confirmit, 2018).
  • The companies who are reaping the rewards of CX initiatives, whom are mainly located in Silicon Valley, are the ones who have unequivocally added benefit to people’s lives.  
    • The S&P Index is largely a Technology Index as of 2018, including companies such as Alphabet/Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon (Seeking Alpha, 2018).

What differentiates the Silicon Valley behemoths and startups is the people-first approach. 

Source: Conformit, 2018

A people-first approach comes with a shift in mindset that is drastically different from the historical business executive mindset. You suddenly are talking about the broad spectrum of all people, internally and externally,  instead of just customers, and ultimately revenue. You are talking about emotions as opposed to products. Instead of technology solutions, you are building conversational tools. Lastly, whereas a business-centric mindset is one that optimizes based on minimizing risk and maximizing revenues, a people-first mindset is one that optimizes for transparency and intrinsic value.

In the short term, when first making this cultural shift, these optimization goals can constrain each other. In the long run, a people-first approach will maximize revenue, reduce risk, build loyalty with your team, and, quite frankly, keep your business relevant. 

But this is a very difficult story to tell when in a boardroom meeting. Often times a savvy executive can make the initial case for investing in CX, but isn’t able to clarify the full scope of that CX investment, which includes a gradual and tangible, cultural change to people-first. What ends up happening is that the first part of the project may go well and the customer may come first, but then the returns on revenue and reduced risk are not immediately recognized and therefore the mindset shifts back to business as usual.  

The trick is to trust the strategy. Trust consistency of message and approach. 

Here are some examples of companies optimizing for people-first.

  • Netflix created an easy to cancel monthly subscription experience along with reminders to cancel after the trial period so that customers never felt like they were overcharged or cheated in someway. However, this people-first change, optimizing towards transparency, had an estimated loss of $50M in subscription revenue. At the time, that was still a small percentage of overall revenue and in making the change towards transparency it built long term trust. As a result of improved brand perception, they continue to increase their monthly subscription base, hitting their highest level of subscribers in Q1 2019. 
  • In 2016 McDonald’s invested in elevating the interior environment of their stores to feel more premium, along with adding in self-ordering digital kiosks and table service. Investing in improved interiors is a table stakes strategy. Let’s face it — they needed to make this people-first investment just to stay relevant. It is table stakes because the outcome will get you to a net-neutral spot; it’s not going to increase customer base, it’s just going to make sure you don’t lose customers at a faster rate than if you did not implement that update. A clean, premium eating environment is the expectation. But the digital kiosk paired with the improved interior is what took the strategy to a level that would actually increase sales.
Image result for mcdonalds self service

  • The digital kiosk solved a customer pain point of waiting in lines in a way that was hard for competitors to copy right away.  Their strategy was to ensure their experience met standards and then improved the standards of the industry. This investment didn’t start to see a return until 2018 for stores within the test. McDonald’s has many other competitive pressures, such as new restaurants with the perception of better quality food and convenience offered through delivery overriding in-store speediness. But refreshed strategy may not be enough to overcome these new customer expectations. Changing expectations raises the importance of adopting a people-centric approach that will allow you to rethink the entirety of the business and how it can pivot from an existing model to a new one.

In both of these instances with Netflix and McDonalds, the immediate impact on the business metrics (revenue, profit) went down. In the long run, these CX strategies resulted in heightened retention over time. Brand perception and revenue drastically improved. They illustrated how creating a people-first culture will help mitigate the initial shock of investment and reduce risk over the long run because the investments made are directly informed by people’s emotions. 

Image result for netflix
According to Forrester, a one point gain in CX index results in a $5M-$185 million return on the business (depending on industry). Netflix has been ahead of the curve when it comes to CX and a people-first approach.

At YML we have created a step by step hierarchy to help you understand what actually goes into creating a people-first cultural mindset. Breaking it down into steps can help your teams understand where they are in maturity. The plan is also a tool to understand what steps were missed in the past. The key to this model is that it implies a high level of collaboration from stakeholders from historically siloed teams at every step.   

Levels to Creating a People-First Culture: 

  1. Feel What People Feel 
    • Extensive marketing research that looks beyond your customers, your competitors’ customers and the points of interaction with you and your competitors
    • Employees from each team pretending to be your own customer
    • Employees from each team pretending to be a service rep that interacts with the customer
  2. Empathize to Solve Problems
    • Build your strategy around the crucial moments of emotions in step 1
    • Identify what part of the strategy is table stakes vs. what will move customer expectations
    • Projects that only have table stakes will fail because that only postpones the inevitable of customers churning, it will not promote long term engagement
    • Ideas that will move customer expectations should be prioritized despite being harder to develop (See how to prioritize innovation with Innovation Index
  3. Igniting Cultural Change
    • All team members should be aware of the new people-first research and strategy 
    • The people-first strategy should be outlined in terms of how every person and team can help implement this new strategy and what is expected of them
    • New rules of engagement defined, highlighted by a culture of not being afraid to fail, must be adopted.  This about making a transition from fear of change to perceiving of smart risk-taking as admired 
  4. Talk the Way People Talk
    • Your backend systems and content need to reflect the nomenclature of the way people talk, as opposed to the way an industry insider speaks.
    • The backend systems must be able to support people’s desired navigation 
    • This sometimes can be a significant change to legacy data architecture. 
  5. Build The Experience
    • Design, develop and deploy
  6. Continuous Optimizing of The Experience
    • Must have the ability to move quickly and make quick decisions.
    • Much of this is about empowering mid-level employees with the ability to have more decision making power.  
  7. Creating New Customer Expectations 
    • Continuous pulse on changing expectations and creating new solutions to meet those new expectations
    • Creating new technology
    • Taking a new technology to solve an unsolved problem 

Each step is crucial, and completion of a step without completing the one before it will invalidate all steps. In addition, the investment in each level is additive and represents a cost that is continuously incurred. This means the investment does not go away once a team has leveled up. The result for each step will be unique to every brand and even the approach to all steps is not a one-size fits all. Even if you meet the requirements in each step there are still some cultural habits that will undermine this entire investment. 

Habits to Avoid in Order to Preserve a People-First Mindset

  • Don’t forget to create advocates across all teams. Be sure to allow lines of communication for input and collaboration from all teams. This is a high-collaboration sport. 
  • Don’t say the investment will end with a specific project. Your teams should be continuously optimizing the project and there is no end to the investment. Remember, the CX leaders are actively investing billions every year in creating new expectations (i.e., Steps #1-#7 never go away).  
  • Don’t a business case around just Step #5. Steps #1-#4 are crucial to making sure the investment incurred in Step #5 is not wasted. 
  • Leveraging emerging technology without contextualizing why and how people would use it creates costly mistakes. That can only come once you have hit step #7 and shouldn’t come sooner. 
  • Not investing in robust people-first research. This seems simple enough, but most companies think they have the right research based on satisfaction scores from customers. This is too narrowly focused for a people-first approach.  
  • Not properly communicating the people-first research and initiatives built from it to all teams in the entire company. Teams need to understand what this shift means for them and how they can support it. 
  • Not allowing for employees to feel comfortable about outcomes that weren’t positive. Not everyone will get it right the first time, but they should learn from why it didn’t work. That insight will get teams to the next big thing.  
  • Not expecting team structure shifts in order to become more agile. 
  • Not expecting major changes to database warehousing teams. Usually CX initiatives are considering just what it takes to build a website or app, but fail to consider that the systems that they may read from are not set up to comply with the new people-first strategy.  

A people-first mindset should permeate the underlying thinking of all teams. It should be an iterative process that produces long term business results.

It should unite and empower all employees to stand up for what’s right for the customer.

Employee thinking should be able to shift seamlessly between their executive persona and people persona. And most importantly, it should allow employees to feel like people feel because, at the end of the day, all of us are just people.

+

Join Our Newsletter