By Melati Belot & Shayna Stewart, October 7th

The CX Multiplier is a tool to help brand and marketing professionals make the case for CX and drive exponential returns on their marketing spend.

See how it works 👇

Take a moment and think about a few of your favorite brands 🤔

Okay, now, why are those the ones that popped into your mind?

It’s likely they made the cut based on a first-hand experience with the brand or perhaps even an emotional reaction you had to that experience.

Yes, brands can cause an emotional reaction outside of tear-jerking or laughter-provoking Super Bowl spots. Those emotions can range from relief and a feeling of being understood to frustration and even abandonment.

(hello, broken [brand] promises)

Beyond getting over that first emotional brand hurdle, what makes a good brand experience?

Do what you say you will do. Be the brand you say you are. Or, in other words: cut the B.S.

Today’s thriving brands live up to their external persona by backing it up via the service and technology experience. It’s an unmistakable attention to detail, such as personalized or customized attention, making things easier on customers, acting with empathy, and responding to a situation on a customer’s terms.

Case in point, Nordstrom may serve as one of the best examples of a customer-centric brand that has empowered it’s customer experiences with technology to create value-adding services (sometimes even creating a “want” that customers didn’t even know they had).

Buying via Text

Nordstrom shoppers can receive tailored purchase recommendations via text or Messenger. Their TextStyle allows a sales representative to text you a product photo and/or description of a product. All you have to do is respond with “buy” and a unique code and it’s all yours.

Source: What Does This Nordstrom Shopping Experiment Have to Do With Facebook?

Reserve & Try

Select and reserve your desired items online and within two hours you’ll be notified via text that your potential purchases are ready to be tried on at the nearest Nordstrom. No purchase remorse, here.

Curbside Pickup

Buy online and bypass annoying shipping delays. Simply text the store when you’re close by and have your new purchase delivered right to you.

Talk about convenience and knowing your audience.

A fast and reliable experience thanks to a PWA

Nordstrom rebuilt their mobile site as a React Progressive Web App for their 20 million+ monthly visitors to deliver a faster, more reliable and more engaging experience.

By the way, Nordstrom is not the only company that uses a PWA. Take Walmart, for example:

Source: Why Progressive Web Apps Are The Future of Mobile Web (2019 Research)

These services now define the Nordstrom difference and even made their way into one of the most critical customer communications, holiday TV campaigns.

All of these seemingly minor touch points are additive and create the overall customer impression of a brand. Therefore, especially in today’s digital-centric world, customer experience (CX) has become synonymous with a brand.

As a marketing or brand professional, it may be hard for you to internally make the case for better CX because at face value it may seem outside the swim lanes of your typical responsibilities.

Marketing and advertising are historically the best ways to broadcast your brand to the masses, and remain vital today.

However, YML’s array of experience with brands ranging from retail to fintech, auto and even healthcare proves how powerful insights that could improve pain points and key moments are often lost in translation or disjointed from the reality of the experience, resulting in decreased efficiency and impact of dollars spent.

Therefore, CX becomes both everyone’s responsibility and more importantly — opportunity:

That’s why we are introducing the CX Multiplier to help you demonstrate how CX elevates your brand and makes marketing more efficient.

What is it?

The CX Multiplier is a simple way to think about return on CX initiatives that relates back into marketing and business KPIs. It measures the impact of the improvement of product retention on marketing and business KPIs.

There’s two phases where the multiplier happens:

  1. Improvement of Business Metrics
  2. Increased Competitive Marketing

1/ Improvement of Business Metrics

As digital product strategies improve retention, they in turn improve two important business metrics:

Customer Lifetime Value

Needless to say the more times someone comes back, the more possibilities there are for monetary touch points.

Source: Why Lifetime Value is the Most Important Metric in eCommerce

In addition, better digital products elicit more trust from people and therefore open the opportunity for the brand to widen the net of products the person buys from the brand.

Both of which increase customer lifetime value.

Payback Periods

If the product’s retention is improved, payback periods are lessened. Which means you make the money you have invested in acquiring new users back faster.

A quick example of this:

You spend $100 acquiring 10 new users. Of those new users only 2 buy your $10 product in the first visit ($10*2=$20 in sales total). Those same two visitors are retained and come back every month to buy again. In this case, the payback period is 5 months ($20*5 months=$100). Let’s say your product doubles retention and you have 4 people who buy your product to amount to $40 in sales and they also come back every month. You will receive your payback in 3 months (plus some!). The money acquired at a faster rate means access to more money sooner to reinvest.

2/ Increased Marketing Competitive Edge

As these two business metrics improve, these marketing metrics will improve:

Customer Acquisition Cost

Because returns are higher from the uplift in business metrics, the team now has the ability to increase the cost for acquiring new users, in other words, increase marketing spend.

Source: Calculate CAC for Sustainable Growth

If you are making more money from acquiring a new user, you now have more money to spend on acquiring the next. With the value of the customer increased, you can bet marketing spend can be increased.

This allows marketing teams to spend more in competitive environments and even branch out into emerging platforms.

A More Efficient Reach

As your user base increases due to more retention, the reach of your retargeting and email campaigns will be improved. This is the marketers main goal — expand reach efficiently.

In this light, you can think of your digital product as driving a whole new marketing audience, instead of trying to seek out new audiences from 3rd party vendors.

Secondly, as you have more customers, you have more people that are inviting or talking about the product helping to convert new users into your product for free!

The key to making this a success is that the digital product and services must back up the marketing, otherwise the new user base won’t have nice things to say. When your acquiring users for free or a through a small incentive such as a discount, that means higher business metrics and more opportunity to increase CAC once again.

CX Product & Service Improvements > More People Retained > Earnings for Business > Marketing Increases > More Acquisition

All of these improved metrics are underpinned by an improvement of your customer-centric product strategy. This often times is missed when your teams are siloed or you have disconnected data sets.

How can you implement a CX Multiplier Strategy?

They key to unlocking the CX Multiplier is embracing holistic adoption of a people-centric culture.

The organization needs to align on a unified data strategy that can measure the CX impact and then each department and partner should be briefed either on improving or communicating the brand promise through CX.

About the authors

Melati Belot, Director of Client Engagement

Serving as Director of Client Engagement, Melati’s focus is on driving thought-leadership, strategic planning and creative excellence for our partners. With experience spanning brand and product development, digital, broadcast, social media and influencer marketing, Melati believes that the key to unlocking customer connection, loyalty, and advocacy is day-to-day interactions and customer-centric experiences.

Shayna Stewart, Product Manager

Shayna is passionate about consumer-centric product strategy and design and an advocate for consumer-centric data strategies to match.

By Adam Talcott, September 30th

Imagine yourself as a software architect or tech lead, and a project manager brings you in to a new software project.

She describes the client and the problem they want to solve, and it definitely seems to be an interesting project. It’s for an exciting brand in a very interesting space, and it would likely leverage some exciting technology.

You’re looking forward to being part of the team which will bring it to life.

Cool!” you tell the PM. “Let’s get started. When’s the kick-off meeting? It will be great to meet with strategy, design and the client to start talking about what we want to do here.

Well,” she replies. “That’s already happened. We kicked things off six weeks ago. We’ve already identified what the product needs to do. We have some designs we’ve been testing with users, and we’re just about ready to hand the finished designs over to your engineering team so we can deliver an MVP in two months.

You’re incredulous, but you’ve unfortunately seen this before. You sigh. “Okay. Tell me more about what this does and then show me the designs.

The PM fills you in on more details, and the solution sounds good to you. But they’re talking about leveraging some immature technologies that you haven’t found to be quite yet ready for primetime.

The designs look good, but there are some interactions which aren’t the easiest to pull off on the targeted platform, and you’ll have to collaborate with the designers.

Also, there is that one screen which seems to need a lot of data. These issues will have to be addressed, and that’s going to mean more design time, more back and forth with the client and therefore an unhappy client (“Why didn’t you plan for these things earlier?”). You see missed deadlines and unfulfilled promises ahead.

Couldn’t we have avoided this?

Fortunately, the answer is yes, but more often than not we don’t do what’s necessary and technology projects end up in this situation.

Creating a product is a team effort, and every discipline has a role to play, some of which are overlapping to some extent, but you need to have every discipline represented in the room throughout the process to develop a robust solution on time and on budget.

Every discipline needs a seat at the table.

Photo by Thomas Drouault on Unsplash

The example above is written from the perspective of a software architect or a tech lead, but a similar story could have been written from the perspective of a creative director or a lead designer. Imagine a project in which designers don’t have an opportunity to review the finished product and provide feedback to make sure it works as well as it should:

What do I hear the designers out there saying? That also happens more often than you would like? How did I know you would say that?

So every discipline needs a seat at the table, even before or after that discipline’s primary phase is underway.

Consider the following diagram which shows how a team’s involvement varies over time depending upon the process’ current phase (note that project managers are not included here as they are, by definition, already included throughout these phases of the project lifecycle):

In a sense, one can compare the approach outlined here with the practices associated with DevOps.

Just as DevOps is focusing on better collaboration between disciplines (software development and operations), the inclusion of multidisciplinary teams across the entire product-development timeline is intended to improve collaboration across the disciplines of strategy, design and engineering and improve project outcomes.

Source: DevOps is a culture, not a role! by Irma Kornilova

Most teams have at least one team member on the project throughout each phase, with the number of team members varying over time, and obviously peaking when their phase is the primary one.

The number of strategists is highest during the strategy phase, the number of designers is highest during the design phase and the number of engineers is highest during the development phase, of course, but there are representatives from each discipline present and involved throughout.

Designers are still involved after the “design” phase is done, just as engineers are involved before “development” officially kicks off.

What is such a truly multidisciplinary team able to achieve?

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

Engineers

When engineering has a seat at the table from even the earliest, business-development-focused stages, the entire process can be grounded and inspired by what technology can do.

Other team members may have an understanding of the technologies in question, but members of the engineering team will bring a different level of understanding, particularly if they have previously built something with the same or related technology.

Designers

When designers are actively engaged during the development phase of a project, they can help to ensure that the designs delivered by the engineering team are what were intended and that any necessary tradeoffs are approached in the best possible way.

It’s obviously also engineering’s responsibility to deliver the required design and user experience, just as it’s the responsibility of the design and strategy teams to understand technology sufficiently well to have a broad sense of capabilities, but it is the design team’s responsibility to ensure that the final product delivers the experience they intended.

Everyone is invested in making this product the best it can be.

In this way, all disciplines are committed to collaborating with each other to maximize their contributions and help the product have the greatest impact. Everyone is invested in making this product the best it can be.

Furthermore, each discipline becomes more skilled with the other disciplines, upleveling the capabilities of the entire team. They’re by no means experts, but other disciplines are less of a mystery.

For example, hearing an engineer ask about error states may prompt a designer to think about error conditions earlier on in the design process and develop a more modular approach to design which makes it easier to incorporate loading, error and empty responses. In addition, hearing a designer question the spacing between elements or the fluidity of an animation will prompt a developer to spend more time on making sure these nuances are as accurate and as solidly built as they should be.

It also helps us communicate better with each other as we have more practice speaking with individuals who approach problems from a different perspective or have a different skill set.

As the old adage goes, before you judge someone else, be sure to walk a mile in their shoes.

What better way to have empathy for what others are facing than to be confronted with the problems they have to solve and the language they use to talk about and solve those problems?

But what do other voices have to say on this topic?

In an effort to practice what I preach, I asked representatives from several other disciplines at YML to contribute to this article and share their thoughts on the benefits of multidisciplinary teams.

Marcela Lay, Head of YML’s Atlanta Office and VP, Client Strategy:

“When we include all disciplines to collaborate from day one, we ensure coverage on different vantage points on the challenges we are trying to solve for our clients.

It also provides visibility into various positive and negative ways in which decisions impact each discipline, enabling the right collaboration when defining the best solution.”

Ryan Spencer, Creative Director in YML’s Redwood City:

“Often times developers are seen as the ‘magicians’ who are responsible for turning design tasks or solutions into code. In my experience I’ve found that this perception to be misleading and not an accurate representation of their actual skills.

Developers can be the most creative people in the room, because solving problems in creative ways is what they’re driven to do — it is their passion. And problems always have constraints, whether it’s time, budget, or resources.

Developers are first and foremost problem solvers who are the best at breaking down and solving problems under a set of constraints.

They also provide a different perspective on solving the problem better or faster.

An example might be ‘What if this API takes a few seconds to display information? Can we instead load the info in a different way?’ For this reason, it’s incredibly important to create a robust design and developer QA process where the two disciplines work together to push and perfect the final product.

The goal is to make sure the product doesn’t just look perfect, but also feels fluid given real-world data and constraints.”

Stephanie Wiseman, VP of Business Development at YML :

“We constantly remind ourselves that good ideas can come from anywhere. Interns, junior designers or our culture team.

Having every discipline — especially technology and engineering — involved from day one ensures that we’re pulling from our collective experience and creating truly innovative and customer-centric solutions.”

Patricia Alonzo, Senior Resourcing Manager at YML:

“Having a representative from each discipline as projects kickoff is integral to catching potential issues early in the process. Especially as it pertains to resourcing.

While something might have sounded feasible during the project estimation phase, it’s during kickoff exercises when the team may realize that the staffing plan isn’t quite right.

Getting ahead of this allows for enough runway to add the right resources to the project.”

The benefits of a multidisciplinary team are clear, but this doesn’t mean we can take a shortcut and keep our teams maximally staffed throughout their lifecycle. That’s a waste of resources and typically just not possible given the amount of work we ask our team members to complete.

Furthermore, given that communication is one of the more complicated things we do in our daily work, we want the team to be small and nimble in order to reduce the complexity of communication.

As a result, the representation from each discipline will inherently vary over time.

In conclusion

So now you know how we like to approach the projects on which we partner with clients here at YML.

It’s not always easy to get this approach right, and there will be some growing pains as you start to adopt this approach, but when it works, the results are worth the effort.

I like to think of such a truly multidisciplinary team as a choir accompanied by an orchestra: there’s nothing as amazing as having all those instruments and voices playing and singing together, supporting each other and making the whole sound better than the sum of its individual parts.

About the Author

Adam Talcott has more than 20 years of experience developing digital technologies ranging from microprocessors to mobile apps.

He is focused on bringing great customer experiences to life and partners with clients to see projects from inception to deployment through strategy, design, and development.

He has worked closely with such clients as Universal Music Group, PayPal, State Farm, and Dell EMC.

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.

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.)

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.

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!)

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.

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 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.

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.

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