April 9, 2019

6 Ways Artificial Intelligence Can Deliver Superior Customer Experience in 2019

WHITE PAPER FREE DOWNLOAD: How are the most prolific companies using AI to deliver a better customer experience?

Last year, PWC named AI as one of the eight essential technologies in business and 38% of businesses employed AI in its systems.

That percentage is expected to grow to 62% this year.

IDC estimates that the AI market will grow to be more than $47 billion by 2020, and Gartner predicts “more than 40% of all data analytics projects will relate to an aspect of customer experience.”

Let's see how customer experience and Artificial Intelligence are blending together to deliver superior customer needs and increase customer satisfaction in the years to come.

Table of contents

  1. Are we delivering empathetic customer experiences?
  2. The shifting battleground: CX
  3. AI and the zettabytes of data
  4. Six types of AI engines helping brands create empathetic CX
  5. The next steps for brands

Are we delivering empathetic customer experiences?

Ever lost or misplaced your phone? Or how about the time when your computer or hard drive crashed and there were key files and data you hadn’t transferred yet to the cloud?

Remember how distraught and helpless you felt?

Now imagine if the customer service person you come in contact with was an imperious know-it-all? Imagine how that experience would add to the mental and emotional strain you already felt. Imagine how you would perceive that brand moving forward? In moments like these, it’s true that you want someone to fix your problem, but more importantly, you want someone to listen and acknowledge your distress.

Apple understands this all too well. The company includes an empathy guide in its training manual for frontline workers providing customers with device support in Apple retail locations.

Source: How To Be a Genius: This Is Apple's Secret Employee Training Manual

The training manual teaches Genius Bar employees how to assess what the customer needs based on their body language, and even suggests phrases to use depending on the customer’s specific needs at the time, like “I can appreciate how you feel…” which is a suggested phrase listed in the manual.

Today, nailing the consumer experience means going above and beyond, taking the time to understand customers, and applying insights to every aspect of the business, from new product development to call center training to designing a comprehensive user experience. The only way that businesses can do this effectively is by having actual empathy for the customer experience.

Here, we define empathy as a brand’s ability to experience their own product or service from the point of view of their customer.

There is no current shortage of brands claiming to deliver empathetic customer experiences.

But have we as an industry actually delivered?

According to Bain & Co., 80 percent of companies say they deliver 'superior' customer service — however, only eight percent of people think these same companies deliver 'superior' customer service.

The shifting battleground: CX

These harsh realities have made customer experience the new battleground at the top of business agendas today.

But while budgets and platitudes may continue to focus on CX inside boardrooms, the speed of technological change and the ephemeral wants and needs of consumers make this a quickly moving target.

And it’s easy to miss.

Consider how we got here: the modern manufacturing age — roughly between 1900 and 1960 — was marked by few pools of capital able to fund and maintain factories. As a result, the marketplace saw little legitimate competition, and an oligarchy of industrialists owned much of the global supply chain.

Source: Forrester

Starting in 1960 there were transformative changes to the industry, highlighted by globalization, deregulation and free trade deals that made it possible to manufacture goods more cheaply in other parts of the world. Even though customer experience were still important, it was price and distribution that were the real decision-makers for customers.

Then, in the 1990s, information and technology became readily available and accessible to the average consumer. This Information Age brought with it a shift in power dynamics, from sellers to buyers as customers now had information to easily compare brands.

The customer experience became a part of a business’s product and service — part of research & development, content marketing, public relations, social media, mobile presence and usability, and website design.

Today’s connected life — there are 4.3 billion mobile phone users worldwidewill see mobile experiences as the key touchpoint for businesses. Modern consumers want a seamless and integrated digital customer experience that ties into various devices and screens.

Source: Accenture

That means everything in the customer experience, from targeting to messaging needs an empathetic approach. Accenture found out that 44 percent of customers are “frustrated when companies fail to deliver relevant, personalized shopping experiences”.

Consumers today are increasingly less forgiving after a bad experience:

According to a study by WOW Local Marketing, 52 percent are less likely to engage with a company after a bad mobile experience — that includes everything from poor design, missing content, and even slow loading times. In Right Now Technologies’ 2011 Customer Experience Impact report, nine out of every 10 customers said they would walk away after a poor customer experience to conduct business with a competitor instead.

But it’s not all dire news. Studies have shown that customers will pay more for a better experience. After all, how many of us have paid for a more expensive airline ticket because we prefer the experience we have with a particular airline? Study after study show that good customer experience will boost even your stock value:

CX is an opportunity.

Source: The Customer Experience ROI Study

Businesses that truly understand the demand for empathetic design in the customer experience know that they can’t do it with human help alone. There’s just no way for humans to deliver against these expectations. Forward-thinking companies are turning to machine learning and massive data to make better decisions on their customers’ behalf.

According to IDC’s 2016 Worldwide Semiannual Cognitive/Artificial Intelligence Systems Spending Guide, the market for cognitive/AI solutions is expected to experience an annual growth rate of 55.1 percent between 2016 and 2020.

Using the powerful combination of AI and data means businesses have a better chance of giving customers exactly what they want — and even preemptively anticipate their needs before they’re even aware.

It’s this kind of empathy from brands that deepens trust and keeps customers coming back.

AI and the zettabytes of data

Think about how much data is produced everyday, from photos to videos to songs to text messages. The total amount of data in the world was 4.4 zettabytes in 2013 and that number is expected to rise to an astronomical 44 zettabytes by 2020.

To put this in perspective, one zettabyte is equivalent to 44 trillion gigabytes and to break that down even further, one gigabyte is enough data for the books needed to fill a

30-foot shelf. That’s a lot of collected data.

So how can companies make sense of all the information, especially considering most of it is unstructured?

They can’t. Not with human employees in real-time anyway.

In short, this means that brands that stand out during the customer journey have to turn to artificial intelligence to personalize experiences by identifying areas that are relevant to individual customers.

If empathy is all about understanding and being aware of and sensitive to the experience of another, then empathetic customer experiences should be focused on recognition and responsiveness.

Six types of AI engines helping brands create empathetic CX

Empathic thinking requires thinking the right systems in place so that you can proactively respond and resolve issues that come up at the speed of human expectation. While only a few brands employ empathic design well, the ones that do should serve as examples for the rest of the business world.

Below, we’ve listed six examples of AI engines that help brands transform the customer experience through empathetic designs.

WHITE PAPER FREE DOWNLOAD: How the most prolific companies in the world are using AI to deliver a better customer experience

1 / Recommendation engines

Recommendation engines are probably the most common form of machine learning and currently used largely in online retail and media industries and rely on algorithms based on the customer’s past behaviors and patterns. Like receiving a gift from a friend who really knows you. Brands implementing recommendation engines connect the massive data they collect to personalize every aspect of the customer experience.

Perhaps the most influential recommendation engine in the world today is YouTube’s Recommended Videos on their infamous right rail. Of the more than ONE BILLION hours of Youtube we consume, fully 70 percent of it comes from these algorithmic modules. That’s a lot of cat videos, man.

Source: YouTube's AI is the puppet master over most of what you watch

In the future, we could see recommendation engines more prevalent in industries with vast amount of data like healthcare, where AI can help personalize care by taking into account patient history, lifestyle information, medical records, and more. Algorithmically recommended treatment courses, or specific prescriptions are not out of the question.

2 / Predictive Searches

Predictive Searches allow web visitors to get results faster by automatically populating results while the user is still typing. Typically, there is a drop-down list that pops up during the search, which guides users to potential results. When thinking of predictive searches, most of us think of Google’ Autocomplete invented in 2004. Then, in 2010, Google’s search technology expanded to include Instant Search, which uses machine-learning to predict what it thinks you will type, simultaneously streaming results for those predictions in real-time.

Many brands have since adopted Google’s original technology, but there are some drawbacks. In 2017, Google announced that it would drop instant search as its default setting given most searches are now done on mobile, and loading results for predictive searches on a limited screen ends up being a poor user experience.

A Google spokesperson said at the time:

“We launched Google Instant back in 2010 with the goal to provide users with the information they need as quickly as possible, even as they typed their searches on desktop devices. Since then, many more of our searches happen on mobile, with very different input and interaction and screen constraints. With this in mind, we have decided to remove Google Instant, so we can focus on ways to make Search even faster and more fluid on all devices.”

Even after developing an empathetic design — Instant Search — Google continues to find ways to be even more empathetic by thinking about how the product can be fast and fluid on all devices, for all users!

3 / Virtual Assistants

Virtual Assistants, like Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri, and  Google Assistant, range from chatbots to more advanced systems that are changing what customer engagement looks like.

  • Google Duplex is a new capability of Google Assistant that can make calls on your behalf and book your next hair salon appointment or table at your favorite restaurant for you. And the person on the other side of the phone won’t even notice she’s talking with a bot.

Source: Google Duplex: An AI System for Accomplishing Real-World Tasks Over the Phone

Virtual assistants are definitely a growing niche, so why have only 10 percent of enterprises in the U.S. employed a virtual agent? Mainly because there are still a lot of challenges that can interfere with the digital customer experience. For instance, while virtual assistants are improving greatly with natural language, most of them are still far behind humans when it comes to understanding slang, typos, misspellings, or complex grammar.

4 / Natural language processing

Natural language processing is AI that can process massive amounts of natural language data and can therefore, understand human speech the way it is spoken. When thinking of NLP, an Amazon Echo often comes to mind with its voice recognition, but NLP’s technology holds promise in a lot of industries, including healthcare where it can help with faster diagnosis by finding patterns in a physician’s unstructured notes. Think of how many lives can be saved with AI mining our health records!

Think about Skype Translator, that can understand several languages at the same time, in real-time, which can encourage conversations between people who speak different languages.

5 / Sentiment Analysis

Sentiment Analysis evaluates voice inflections to determine the emotions, attitudes, and opinion in normal human conversation to determine what’s actually being said.

Vibe is a product created by Tokyo-based software company AIR that can scan conversations on workplace communication tool Slack to determine team morale. The product analyzes keywords and emojis used during conversations and places the team’s mood into five emotions

At YML, we used sentiment analysis to understand which company is loved the most: Uber or Lyft?

Source: Uber vs Lyft – Who is loved more? A deep dive analysis using Google’s Sentiment Analysis API

6 / Computer vision

Computer vision uses machine learning models to teach computers to see things the way humans see them.

A company doing a great job is Uru, that uses computer-vision to find spaces in videos where native advertisements can appear to create a non-obtrusive, uninterrupted, more organic experience for users.

For instance, the company’s algorithm identifies spaces, like a blank wall or the board of a snowboarder, where ads or brands graphics can appear. The startup has caught the attention of the industry’s top accelerators and investors.

The next steps for brands

The rise of the internet has provided us with various ways to communicate and interact. Even brands now communicate with their consumers through multiple platforms and channels, so it makes sense that customers expect you to “get” them.

After all, customers know brands are tracking, personalizing, and optimizing every step along the customer journey, so why shouldn’t they be more empathetic to CX? With so much competition out there, the only way a brand can have a competitive advantage is by maintaining an obsession with customer experience.

Once a brand has determined that they want to create empathetic experiences, they need to then do two things: (1) focus on results, and (2) focus on small wins.

When focusing on results, brands should identify the tasks they want to tackle first, then determine the optimal technology to help them accomplish those tasks.

This can get a little tricky with various AI technologies competing in the market, from machine learning, chatbots, virtual assistants, robotics, natural language processing (NLP), and much more: in order to achieve business goals, businesses need to think about the big picture, then work backward.

For instance, if your customers want 24/7 support, then it might be worth it to invest in a chatbot experience so customers aren’t waiting to get through to a human employee. Or if customer satisfaction seems to be an issue, consider a technology that can take the data you already have and connect them with what customers may need, based on their individual preferences. Customer satisfaction will surely improve if businesses present relevant recommendations rather than spewing out random offers.

Finally, brands need to focus on small wins if they want a chance at any of the big wins.

How do you know which small win you’d like to tackle first? Identify the low-hanging fruit. What complaints are you getting the most from customers? Tackle that area first.

As soon as you’ve identified the problem, it might be tempting to use AI to solve dozens of issues right away. This is not the best way to start improving customer retention quickly. Instead, if you want to make the most impact, you’ll want to tackle what’s easy to measure and achievable first.

In other words, think big, start small. What small wins can you achieve in the next few weeks or months?

AND NOW LEARN MORE: How are the most prolific companies using AI to deliver a better customer experience?

March 20, 2019

Is it time to break up the technopoly?

An analysis of the Democrats’ argument to break up tech.

By Stephen Clements

Have you ever heard of Wrapp, Giftly, Giftivo, Giftdish, Gifthit, GiftSimple, GiftDrop, DropGifts, YouGift, Ziftit, Let's Gift It…?

Probably not, which isn’t surprising.

They are just a handful of startups that were trounced when Facebook reintroduced gifting on the platform in 2017. I imagine this happens a lot—a tech giant launches a new feature and a slew of energetic and dynamic startups go up in smoke.

Talk about a tenuous existence.

No doubt it makes investing in a technology company very risky, and starting one even riskier. Sure, this has been going on since the dawn of business—the big eats the small—it’s a dog eat dog world, and Facebook has the biggest teeth.

So it was with some interest that I tuned into Elizabeth Warren’s talk at SXSW, during which she ripped into big tech and threatened to disrupt the disruptors by breaking them into smaller parts.

No doubt the cynic in me thinks this is just populist posturing from the 2020 hopeful.

Senator Warren picked SXSW to take her stand against big tech, because—as we all know—it’s hotbed of entrepreneurialism. It’s a who’s who of tech, and for 1 week the halls, bars, and BBQ joints of Austin are walked by any startup founder or tech-investor looking to rub shoulders with the world’s technorati, to get inspired, network, and maybe (just maybe) get funding.

And so the message was wildly cheered by her audience as she built her case to break up the G-MAFIA (Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, IBM, and Amazon).

Her logic is that by limiting the power of these tech giants, it will give smaller companies room to breathe, help them innovate more freely, and boost the economy.

Sounds lovely.

And it’s not just a ray of hope for the startup community, it could also be a gift for big brands that aren’t so technologically endowed.

For example, I have lost count of the many meetings I have had with clients from all kinds of verticals—banking, insurance, automotive, etc.—all fretting the question “what happens when Amazon starts selling insurance/banking/cars/…?

For me, this is the exciting part.

As the big tech elites control the future of AI, and they are busy shoring up their digital advantage, the oxygen of innovation is being squeezed out of startups and big businesses alike. It will be an effed up world when you get your insurance, banking, healthcare and gym membership, all from the same provider.

What Senator Warren is proposing might scare the big tech giants—obviously.

They haven’t felt much in the way of regulation for so long, and so now, as legislation starts to catch up with their mercurial rise, the pigeons are maybe coming home to roost.

It’s an agreeable message for an audience of technological progressives at SXSW, but on the flip side, Democrats rely on big tech as their piggy bank for political donations, so we’ll see if they are really willing to do anything should they win the 2020 election.

It’s a debate worth having, for sure, but the cynic in me doesn’t expect much will actually come from it.

September 7, 2018

People don’t talk this way: The need for consumer-oriented KPI’s

by Shayna Stewart

Earlier this year someone asked me what my biggest lesson of 2017 was. My response surprised them:

“The Consumer Journey is not Consumer-Centric,” I said.   

Around this time, I started to present the concept to VPs of Consumer Experience or VPs of Consumer Data. The response was always one of shock.

“Wait, how can that be true?” they wanted to know.

The answer is one born of collective inertia. Customer experience and customer journeys have been hot-button topics for years now, and most forward-thinking companies have embraced the need for this fundamental reorientation of the ways they go to market.  What hasn’t changed, however, is our methodology and framework for measuring such change. We are still working with the old scorecard in a new game.

 

Where we stand today

If you think about the average consumer journey framework at face value, it’s obvious it is not a consumer-centric one. When was the last time you said, “I’m aware of this brand!” or “I’m engaging with a brand!” as you surf their website. Now all of sudden you tell your friends you’re “Really loyal to this brand!”

Source: Mckinsey

It just doesn’t happen. People don’t talk this way. Therefore any framework based on these expectations for consumer behavior cannot be a people-centric.

Now, this isn’t to say you shouldn’t be working from a classic consumer journey. It is actually a useful business framework that defines the checkpoints it would like to send consumers along (again, not consumer-centric). This can be necessary for contextualizing business and marketing strategies in how well they are driving an outcome and if there are any major leaks in the desired path to conversion.

A consumer-centric framework comes in to contextualize questions like, “Does the consumer find value in my product?”

Most brands believe they are answering this question by using a consumer journey KPI like conversion or, in other words, revenue. This is logical. It makes sense if revenue goes up, there must be some value the consumer is finding in the product. But we have to go deeper to find human contextualization.

I like to reference Google’s Micro-Moments as a best in-class example of a consumer-centric framework. Ideally, you would make yours more specific to your brand, but no matter what, it’s a great place to start.

The basic premise comes from statements such as “I want to learn” or “I want to go.” This actually frames up a person’s state of mind. If you can categorize content in this format, you can now understand the reason a consumer has visited your experience.

Source: Think with Google

If you can understand the reason someone has visited your experience, you can then personalize based their mindset. Voila! That is how you become a consumer-centric brand.

 

How we do it

Here at YML, one of our healthcare client’s (a major operator of healthcare facilities) strategic research discovered that there are four major pillars where their brand helps improve the emotional work environment for registered nurses.

These consumer-centric pillars not only guided the roadmap for developing a consumer-centric product, but also led the way to a fuller methodology for measurement. To build it, we mapped each of the features to the consumer-centric pillar that it was designed for and assigned usage and conversion metrics. Now, we can monitor what pillar is having the largest impact on the product as well as business outcomes. Optimization strategies are also guided by consumer-centric activity as opposed to a business outcome.

 

Follow the money

Let’s break it down a bit more on what the most common business KPI, revenue, is really answering.

Revenue is the cash amount of goods or services sold. This means that a lot of variables like pricing discounts, supply chain, interest rates, or the economy in general all come into play to impact performance of the KPI. Sure, consumer interest may cause an uptick in revenue. Or it could be performance of the website or AdWords. No consumer would buy something that isn’t valuable to them or from a non-working website.

But no matter how much economic data we input, there are just too many other factors that impact revenue to accurately describe how a consumer feels about your product.

Another danger brands run into is the optimization of their entire digital product around a single consumer journey point like conversion (revenue). When brands do this they drastically reduce the scope of their reach with potential buyers.

When optimizing a digital product around the final funnel stage of revenue conversation, you’re really only optimizing for finding consumers who were already in the market to buy your product!

Marketing algorithms, for example, are predicting the users who are likely to perform these kinds of actions in the first place (i.e., make a purchase) and then showing them an ad. In the context of A/B testing, you are optimizing around making it easier for users who were already looking to buy something by reducing barriers in that conversion funnel.  

The same holds true for optimizing around the other generalized consumer journey points. If you optimize towards awareness, you’re just optimizing to get more people to your website, or worse, optimizing around people seeing your banner ad. If you optimize towards research, you are actually optimizing to get someone to a specific page on your site or filling out a form, but you aren’t evaluating if the content was valuable to those users in the first place.

It’s for these two reasons -- consumer journey KPIs don’t accurately describe consumer desire and businesses optimize to their own desires instead of a customer -- that all brands must adopt a new consumer-centric KPI framework.  

 

So what is it?

Now there are a too many methodologies to create custom consumer-centric frameworks to name here. We can define, however, just what such a framework is and how it should be used to describe how a consumer feels.

As stated earlier, a consumer-centric framework uses words that consumers actually use. For example, if you’re a shoe brand a consumer might say, “I need a black heel in my size to wear to a wedding this weekend.”

In this case, the retailer likely already has their inventory categorized by color and type of shoe. This allows users to find possible shoes that are “black heels” on a site or through search. But it doesn’t actually answer the question.  

Doing a quick search on DSW, the query “Black Heel” resulted in 4,291 items.  They have a “Need It Today” selection that will filter results based on local store inventory. They even have a whole filtering section by occasion. When I select those two filters, 11 options pop up.

via GIPHY

 

What a wonderful way to optimize the experience around a consumer-centric question! That experience just built loyalty without the consumer having to say, “I’m loyal.” They delivered their experience in the way I was thinking about the product. #happycustomer

Of course you can’t account for all of the statements a consumer may ask as it relates to your brand when designing a product. This is exactly why you need a framework.

August 20, 2018

Service Design: A glimpse into a better Customer Experience

Over the years the conversation within the creative realm, especially around design, has blurred as the industry reaches to explain the differences between the capabilities, process, and expectations of design. Our work has transformed further with the growth of digital technology. Today, we can we do anything we dream up. Fantasy is now reality. With this in mind, companies are looking for inventive ways to differentiate themselves from equally digitally savvy competition.

 

The latest trend is an emphasis on Customer Experience -- which we define as the relationship between an organization and its customers throughout the relationship lifecycle, delivering on the individual’s expectations in each moment of the journey.

Moments can be classified as an interaction with a product, the look of the application, or even a conversation with a call center representative. Basically, any direct or indirect communication with an organization will define how the customer experience is delivered.

Now, how do you design for a better Customer Experience? The design industry has aesthetics, interactions, experiences, and services -- typically conflated to align with job postings, client request, and the like. However, as a product of craft, it is critical first to recognize their functional differences.

  • Interaction Design is the detailed design of how users interact with a single touchpoint comprised of features.
  • Experience Design is the combination of interactions across multiple touch-points within a user’s journey.
  • Visual Design is the balance between aesthetic elements, aimed towards improving/enhancing the brand, and guiding users through the experience.
  • Service Design is the strategic connection of experiences across user journeys to create seamless user transitions.

Each design practice has its own set of research activities and methods to achieve its stated goal. Each holds a valuable and necessary place in the design process to be successful. One practice cannot replace the other. However, when stacked together they become an unbreakable offering for the Customer Experience.

Still with me? Hopefully, we’ve clarified some of the structure for success.

Service Design is so much more than a buzzword though. Lately, it’s been defined as a method of design-thinking, an activity to sell-in a better Customer Experience, or a process to showcase the connection between an experience and backend technologies. Designers might say it’s the combination of these things plus so much more.

In our view, Service Design looks at the entire ecosystem of an organization, both front and backstage interaction points, across the lifecycle of the Customer Experience. Having a clear view of the entire operation that makes up the organization and everyone involved will allow a design team to ideate against opportunity spaces and create a one-of-a-kind service.

Service Design isn’t exclusively digital either. Most services will have an element of both physical or human interactions. Digital can be the connection between the customer and these experiences. Below are some reasons companies should leverage service design and the methods to support it:

  • Bridge the gap between the silos. Often, organizations aren't considering how an experience fits into the current-state journey and affects others who deliver on the service. Other times, it can showcase what’s currently being worked on, successes and failures, and even possible obstacles.
  • Design together by being together. When running workshops, bringing people together from across the organization allows them not only to learn from each other, but more importantly to meet for the first time, put a face to a voice, and form relationships IRL. Additionally, working together increases the speed of delivery since everyone is on the same wavelength (and timezone).
  • A helpful tool to popularize. Being able to view how future experiences work in harmony with both the current and future state of a service showcases the impact and projected results -- arming clients with the information to demonstrate the potential of the service.

Now that we have a shared understanding of what Service Design is and why to use it, let's talk about what it takes to execute.

McDonald’s Big Mac has its’ special sauce. Coca-Cola Classic has its’ secret recipe. Service Design has blueprints. To illustrate, designers use the method of service blueprinting to document the findings and propose suggestions as well as concepts to support the conclusions. Service blueprinting is just one method of many in a designer’s toolbox. However, when combined with the right design research activities, ongoing collaboration, and sound methodologies, I’d argue it’s the most useful artifact a design team can produce.

A service blueprint is the combination of experiences that explores the relationships between business goals, emotions, mindsets, pain points, touch points, and technology ultimately creating a holistic view of the current system and a shared vision of the future. This future vision aims to showcase every experience needed to deliver on the service that meets, and exceeds, the demands of the users.

Think of it as professional sports. Consider the relationship of fans watching a game and all that goes into making it happen. The players, coaches, field, uniforms, announcer, and Jumbotron are all considered the front stage. This is the first-hand experience of the fan.

The professional league, team’s owner and front-office, athletic trainers and team personnel, venue staff and vendors, camera guy for the kiss cam, etc. could be considered backstage in that they all are critical to the experience of that fan but might not be a primary interaction.

However, there’s a lot more that goes into making the event unique and might be considered more important to the fan’s experience or even than the game itself. Service Design requires investigation and consideration from the moment this person became a fan of the team. Explore the implications of the fan’s decision to purchase a ticket to this particular game and who’s else is attending. Suggest how the fan will get to and from the game and all the activities done before kickoff. Allow the fan to have quicker entry into the venue. Help the fan make the right choice on what to eat. This doesn’t stop at the end of the game either. By delivering a better customer experience the fan will have a reason to keep coming back and will tell all their friends about the experience.

This comprehensive view of the future is critical for organizations to align across leadership, business functions, and technology stakeholders setting a solid foundation to work towards collectively.

With all this said, service design and the method of blueprinting is not required for every client. If the client is expecting a defined solution from a blueprint, they may be sadly disappointed. What the client will get is a series of validated concepts that their organization can deliver against for the foreseeable future -- each with moments that deliver against all user demands and expectations. When the client starts to implement a blueprint, remind them of the importance of experience design and the research methods used. It’s not another round of research, going deep into that particular experience to understand specifics.

Clearly, defining the client request will direct you as to whether service design and blueprinting is the right practice to leverage. Service design is built around the value in research and the knowledge gained. Trust in the findings and insights is hard however. It can lead to some pretty tough conversations with organizations around misalignments, conflicts of interest, and weak links on a team. If not everyone is on board, it’s not going to be a fun time.

Everything in design has its place and purpose. You’re not going eat McDonald’s for an anniversary dinner nor will you mix Coca-Cola with a nice glass of bourbon.

One thing to remember:  A service blueprint is just a glimpse into the future and needs to be treated as a living document that can be revisioned, changed, and expanded on. Technology changes everyday in ways that can help to deliver more unexpected and delightful moments to users. The need to adapt accordingly must be baked into the service blueprint.

With the foundation set, it’s much easier to make decisions on how to approach new initiatives. If done correctly, the service blueprint will showcase gaps, both high and low, in the current service, and beyond the proposed solutions, to produce a long-term roadmap outlining the opportunity and timeframe needed for success.

July 25, 2018

7 Uses of Augmented Reality That Will Matter to You, Your Business, and the World

Forget Pokemon Go.  That’s kids’ stuff.  Think instead about cardiology and the future of cities.  Think about what it is to reinvent the shopping experience.  Think about better bridges and more effective surgeries.  Think about better surgeons.  Think about more effective food distribution to nations in crisis, and more accurate strikes against terrorists.  Think about less collateral damage and improved economic policies.  Think about a trillion dollar industry.  Think about fixing your engine in minutes after a roadside breakdown. This is the promised land of Augmented Reality (AR) app development.

At YML, we are at the forefront of AR app development. From innovative mobile augmented reality designs to transformative user experiences, we have the talent and tools needed for your next AR design project.  

The future of Augmented Reality solutions

AR is a future within our grasp.  Moreover, it’s a future tech investors have sunk billions into and is already transforming how we buy, design, perceive, and think. AR is not just a flag planted in the future of commerce, it is the future of how we’ll see.  

With help from thought-leaders across the industry’s fields of marketing, tech, art, design, and medicine we ask you to consider these seven predictions for the top future uses of augmented reality solutions.

 

Ok, AR is coming, but what does it mean for me?

AR’s best weapon, iOS ARKit, will create a new, mobile Augmented Reality world

“The first thing to understand about AR is that it will change handheld computing,” says Charlie Fink, a writer at Forbes, “first by making things we are already doing much better and more social. The camera will become the primary mobile interface for many augmented reality app developers as they design their product. FB, Google Maps, and Snapchat will certainly take advantage of it for their AR designs, as will Apple itself (here’s another chance for them to revive Apple Maps).

In simplest terms, Apple’s iOS ARKit places a virtual world on top of the real one that is seen by your smartphone’s camera.  For the best example of how this will alter your smartphone behavior, check out this Twitter user’s application in Maps.  Watch the video and try not to think, “Wow, I will never get lost again.”  But that’s just the beginning; that’s what we can do today.  

Anyone who has ever assembled furniture, tried to figure out what is wrong with their car engine, or wondered more about a painting in front of them can easily understand the practical implications of having a virtual tutorial. Every sci-fi training scenario you’ve seen—from the X-Men’s DANGER ROOM at the mansion, to the woman in the red dress from the Matrix—is one step closer with iOS ARKit and AR app development.  Whether we’re training doctors, mechanics, or CIA agents, immersing them in virtual surroundings has never been so easy, thorough, or practical with the implementation of mobile augmented reality.

Wonder what’s over the horizon? Your smartphone and iOS ARKit can literally show you.

Furthermore, iOS ARKit’s ease of use will encourage more augmented reality app development, compounding scalability. The integration of AR design into every app, on every phone, will “Make the magic happen,” says Glen Gilmore, named by Forbes as a top 20 digital media influencer. “AR will move from fun games we sometimes play to rich content and capabilities we always use.” The key here is “always,” as in part of our every day, as a part of any app.  This is how AR will scale massively and irrevocably.

That sounds like a lot of tech and not a lot of fun, except….

The world, including work, will become a game through AR design

Everyone loves games! It’s ingrained into our culture and brains from a young age.  Gamification will be key to the adoption of augmented reality solutions: whether it’s sales or customer-service tasks introducing concepts like points, rewards, and scoreboards can make learning AR extremely fun and addictive.

Jobs — everything from waiters up-selling wine to retail employees restocking shelves — can be influenced by AR design. “Brands have already discovered the benefits of gamifying their mobile apps or products, increasing user engagement and brand loyalty. Now, businesses can use the same technique to help employees feel more invested in their work, more motivated to complete daily tasks, and happier in their jobs,” says Daniel Newman, Futurum’s founding partner.  He adds:

“Create a mobile AR system with scoreboards or game-like elements that react to objects or actions in the employee’s real-world environment, and let top performers earn immediate rewards or accrue points that can be turned in for later rewards, such as gift cards or paid time off. Gamify sales and customer service training by using AR to place employees in realistic situations, and then reward correct answers and behaviors.”

How does this translate into dollars and cents for brands and businesses?

Augmented Reality in e-commerce redefines its borders

Of course, search marketing is just the first step in a redefinition of what e-commerce can be.  Investors haven’t sunk $1.7 Billion into the VR and AR design and development market for no reason. The potential is enormous - a 2015 study by Walker Sands concluded that 35 percent of consumers said they would shop more online if they could interact with products virtually, and that was three years ago! As a recent Entrepreneur article explained, augmented reality solutions will make shopping more efficient, novel, and enjoyable in the following ways:

  •  Usefulness – Sephora’s mobile augmented reality app uses ModiFace tech to let users take selfies and then virtually apply makeup to their faces before making a purchase decision.
  •  Original ideas for the shopping experience – Apply Warby Parker’s “try-on” functionality, virtually, to a myriad of products.
  •  Customizability – Stores famous for customer service, like Nordstrom, could enlist AR app developers to design products that make their sales reps available while browsing, at point of sale, in the dressing “room,” or even when matching a recently purchased item with one’s wardrobe.

“Consumers are on the edge of widespread AR adoption,” says Brad Waid, international speaker named as the #14 top influencer in Augmented Reality.  “The world where Minority Report meets Joe Consumer is just around the corner.”

There is no end to the options: see your pizza cooking in the oven; have the chef take you through the tasty meal they designed; test to see whether the Barbie dreamhouse will fit in your child’s room; try the turning radius of a new car for your driveway…these all add up to a better, more thorough shopping experience. By leveraging augmented reality solutions, the result is more satisfied customers, more delight in the experience, more goodwill towards brands. With augmented reality in e-commerce shopping online goes from passive to active. Discover the impact that augmented reality app development can have on your success by enlisting our agency’s help in the design, development, and deployment. YML can assist you in becoming a leader in your industry with our award-winning AR mobile designs.

AR will let us see, try on, experiment with, and visualize the items we are looking to buy in a way that will render our current use of the word “search” redundant.  You will be able to see inside the mall or the aisle, know the ripeness of the fruit, assess the chaos of the checkout line, before you ever leave your home.  Life, especially consumerist life, is about decisions and they just got easier and better informed thanks to augmented reality in e-commerce.

“Augmented reality will contextualize our reality,” says AR expert Cathy Hackl.“This is the key. It will change not only the way the consumer experiences a brand but also change their behavior. You’ll start to see a shift in the way people shop for clothes with AR mirrors and AR apps that facilitate shopping for them.”

Partnering with a top augmented reality developer is the best way to ensure you provide customers with the ultimate e-commerce experience, and leverage this technology to yield maximum engagement and profits.

Ultimately, it all comes down to the product, which gets better, too.

Industrial Design gets a new engine thanks to Augmented Reality developers

Product design is one area where AR’s involvement is a virtual no-brainer. It will be a revolution.

Augmented reality solutions will empower designers to ditch 3D models and actually sit inside the cars that they’re creating.The cost of testing and experimenting drops dramatically.  Designers can try more things; cars get better and cheaper (less R&D equals a lower price sticker).

And this is just cars. Imagine what can be done for shipping, nuclear facilities, electrical plants, large-scale farms and factories, or machines that make other machines.

“When you look at, for instance, a 3D model inside a computer screen, you can’t truly understand its size in relation to the objects around it or the space that it’s supposed to be used in,” says Steven McMurray, senior product strategist at YML. “AR will have an immediate impact in solving this problem.”

AR will allow designers to stop imagining their product, and to see it and its applications, shortcomings, and potential--long before they begin to build it.

So, this is just about selling people better things?  No, we’re talking about…

AR design ensures safer and better working conditions

Economies, local or global, that depend on natural resources and manufacturing look to factories, mines, plants, and assembly lines as the vital arteries that carry their lifeblood. Augmented reality solutions will make these environments not only safer, but more productive and better equipped to deal with accidents.

Companies that are world leaders in professional-grade augmented reality app development, like DAQRI, have already produced a smart helmet that empowers workers and operators to become aware of unseen anomalies in their highly active, high-stress environments.  Thanks to the helmet’s Intel processor, workers can collect environmental data to spot dangers well in advance of any potential  breakdown, leak, or catastrophe.

Everywhere from the robotics assisted assembly lines in Detroit, to mega-factories in China, to potash mines in rural Canada, workers will be safer, more protected, and ultimately more productive thanks to the work of augmented reality developers.

 

That’s great for workers, but what about the rest of us?

Cities and their communities will benefit from AR app development

Everyday, cities collect and maintain huge amounts of data from how many people cross a street in a given day to traffic patterns to its criminal records. Now think about how AR apps can make the best use out of all of this data. Municipalities spend huge amounts of money planning for eventualities from the next big snow storm or something more caustic, like a terrorist attack, riots, the outbreak of an illness, or even a nuclear meltdown.  They do this by simulating hypothetical situations and training their first responders accordingly. This is, simply put, the whole ballgame. The people in charge respond to emergencies the way they’ve been trained to.

Augmented reality app development will change and enhance this process. Police, fire departments, and health practitioners — as well as those who direct them — could be made to “see” how such scenarios play out through mobile augmented reality solutions. Naturally, this will help them respond more efficiently.

But there are larger implications for cities that leverage AR app development.  After all, no matter how dire, emergencies are rare.  Architects and city planners will confront and utilize an entirely new world of transportation grids and cityscape models that utilize AR design to demonstrate to clients, city councils, and other officials.

Are there any benefits for the world at large?

Higher-level healthcare - mobile Augmented Reality provides access for millions

“As a former Registered Nurse, I am bullish on Augmented Reality and its future uses,” says Tamara McCleary, CEO of a sought-after tech and health marketing agency.  She points to the fact that 40 percent of nurses fail on the simple process of IV insertion on the first try. “Now we have at our fingertips AR devices on the market right now that externally visualize the vein of a patient and show the healthcare provider a clear 3D outline of the exact location of the patient’s veins and their precise anatomic structure. Your healthcare provider can see where the valves of the vein are located along the entire blood vessel, enabling a near perfect placement of the needle in just one perfect stick.”

We’re talking about IVs, the starting point of medical procedures. Imagine the possibilities with stents, brain surgery, ablations, and ligament repair once the potential of augmented reality solutions in healthcare are harnessed. “The incredible consumer relevance for anyone being able to harness the power of AR for surgery is limitless,” says McCleary.

An injured ligament is a perfect, layered example: AR is employed by the doctor to enhance the success of the surgery, and then by the patient during physical therapy. Mobile augmented reality could be used to creates guides for exercises, helping to hasten repair time, and prevent against re-injury—all the while gamifying the process.  

It’s not just about the market either.  She points to situations where a doctor is not available, where citizens or soldiers are forced to perform procedures.  “Augmented reality actually shows you on a 3D image what to do, where to cut, how deep, what it should look like.”  Moreover, for the 5 billion people worldwide who do not have access to safe and affordable surgery, “The lifesaving capacity and true hope that AR brings is mind-blowing to say the least.”

Conclusion

Augmented Reality is coming to every phone, app, and quite possibly, every surface in our lives.  It will redirect us, guide us, and help us make better choices, not only in a consumer context, but in our quotidian lives.  

New AR designs will change healthcare, production, design, marketing, advertising, and the entire shopping experience.  It will change how we learn and how we communicate. It will change everything.  AR will become inseparable from our apps and phone functions. As augmented reality app development continues on its path towards even greater innovation, this technology will evolve beyond mobile devices. Then, it’s true potential as a universal technology can be more fully realized by augmented reality developers, businesses, and individuals alike.  

These changes are coming. It’s time to prepare. And then innovate the next change. Contact YML today about how we can help develop and launch your AR design.

May 2, 2018

The Mountain and the Cave

Perils of being too agile

Way back in the early 2000s, when I had just started my career in the software industry, the Agile Manifesto was making big waves. It promised a radically different, very efficient and very easy way to deal with software. It was based on a very simple set of ideas.

Since then the term “Agile” (note the capitalized “A”) has been reduced to a bunch of certifications, pointless ceremonies, charts and reports. The original problems that the manifesto tried to wrangle with are still by and large the same. Instead many teams seem to have taken this up as a religion and are going through the motions and somehow don’t stop to look and see how truly agile they are with respect to accommodating change.

Agile is not a recipe

One can’t just slap Scrum or XP on to their development process and expect everything to work fine. In my view, the worst kind of offenders are the ones that misinterpret Agile as an encouragement to achieve complete anarchy. I have numerous teams saying “Oh, we follow Agile so we don’t believe in wasting time defining requirements/ documenting/ designing/ building test frameworks.” In the noise of following ceremonies blindly these teams usually miss out on the most critical part of the Manifesto:

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

Envisioning the product and the real value it brings to the customer is paramount. It is far more important than tools or processes or making the right noises. If your team is working on something without thinking much about the product vision, you are not being agile, you are just courting disaster.

Let us use this analogy of mountain climbing. It is not exactly a walk in the park to scale, say Mt. Everest. Even if you are not the first one to scale the mountain, it is a big challenge. Even if you have yourself scaled the mountain, it still offers unique challenges every time. But at least you know where you are going — you know how tall is the mountain, what are the typical weather conditions, what is the best time to climb, where to camp, how many meters can you climb in a day and so on. And you will know when you have reached the top. You can stick your flag at summit and take a few selfies to post on Instagram.

Now let us imagine you are spelunking in some unknown cave. You have no idea what are you dealing with. This is completely uncharted. Although you have all the spelunking gear with you, you will definitely fall short of something. There could be poisonous gases at the next bend, you may get caught in a flash flood from some underground river, there may be goblins or orcs — just about anything could happen. Moreover, you may never be sure if you have really reached the end or when you cross the point of no return.

In both the cases, you really have to aware of your surroundings and make quick decisions (be agile). In both cases, you need need to be an expert in navigation and survival skills. In both cases, you need to be prepared with the right gear. However, in case of the cave, you are at a significant disadvantage.

Unfortunately, most teams approach product development like they are spelunking. They don’t invest enough time in envisioning how the product would look like and what the customer needs are. They are just happy following the processes and ticking the boxes and do not worry enough on whether they are building and delivering an incremental product.

To use another (rather well-used) analogy, say a team is building a car for the customer. The general approach is to deliver a tyre, couple of seats, a part of an engine, another tyre, a steering wheel, etc. in each Sprint. Although these are essential components, what the team misses to see is that they are notbuilding an incremental product.

The customer need is not really the car, the more basic need is to get from point A to point B. The customer may change her opinion and ask for a bullet train instead of a car, but the need remains the same. Most teams miss out on understanding this basic ask. And although they deliver individual pieces, they don’t understand that the customer still doesn’t get to try and see if her basic need is being met. Teams should focus on building the equivalent of a kiddy tricycle, a bicycle, a motor bike, a compact hatchback, a sedan and finally a muscle car as increments. The customer gets to validate the incremental product and the team gets early feedback.

It is rather strange to see so many teams focusing entirely on things like Velocity, bug counts, stand-ups and other ceremonies without really stopping to question where what they are doing is really agile. There are often teams that genuinely believe that as long their Sprints are running well, all is good. This myopic view is not enough to build a great product.

It is even more disturbing when I hear teams blame the customer saying: “Oh they don’t know what they want, they keep changing the requirement”. Erm, yes it is possible, but that’s the whole point of being agile. Customers may not know for sure what they want, especially if they don’t speak the language of software. It is our job as software professionals to glean that information from them. And this becomes a lot easier when we focus on what the customer needs, instead of stopping at what they think they want. We can’t blame customers because they could not articulate their requirement, it is up to us to understand and define the requirement based on the customer’s need.

It is time we refocus on the product.

May 2, 2018

Crypto Chaos 

Dealing with greed, fear and ignorance

The first thing anyone asks me when they hear I can spell Blockchain properly is “Which coin should I buy?” or “Should I invest in this ICO?”. When I tell them I myself prudently ignore my own investment advice, I suppose I come across as some kind of selfish genius who doesn’t want to share his “secrets of success”.

I am not a cryptocurrency speculator or an investor. I am a technologist. It is extremely sad that a technology enabler as powerful as Blockchain is just reduced to a few graphs that just reflects our greed, fear and ignorance.

Cryptocurrency is reduced to a poor Speculative Instrument

Cryptocurrency-to-USD exchange rate is an unintended side-effect of the market. People who want to own Cryptocurrency could either “mine” it or get it as a fee or purchase it from some place or some one. Cryptocurrency Exchanges are just one such source. Sadly, almost all the buzz about Cryptocurrency is about what’s its worth in fiat currency. And given that most cryptocurrencies have fluctuated several percentage points in a day, no one is using them as currency at all. If you can’t buy goods or services with it, it ceases to be a true currency. Some like to think, very wrongly, of cryptocurrency as a store of value. So sadly, what was designed to be a fiendishly clever, decentralized and resilient digital equivalent of currency is now limited to a speculative financial instrument.

Stocks come to mind when one thinks of speculative instruments. And indeed, many think of the crypto-exchanges and ICOs and other related investments are very much like the stock market. They are partially right in the sense that one can bet on a certain cryptocurrency or invest in an ICO just like you would trade shares or invest in an IPO. Both stock markets and crypto markets are driven by fear and greed. However, a good majority of investors in the latter has an added disadvantage at this point: ignorance.

A serious trader who deals with stocks has much greater access to material with which she can make an informed bet. An astute trader who knows the company, the industry and the market has a much better probability at winning the bets (an oversimplification, of course, with apologies to N. N. Taleb). Moreover, there are checks and balances. It is much harder for someone to run away with all the IPO money. Sure an Enron or a sub-prime crisis kind of situation occurs once in a decade or so. But the stock market is a picture of predictability compared to what’s happening in the cryptocurrency world.

Toinvest in the cryptocurrency market at this point, you got to have a really deep understanding of what’s happening under the hood. Right now, there is not just an impossible amount of technology to learn but also insane amount of factionalism & politics that run deep in the cryptocurrency community. Of course, right from the introduction of Bitcoin, cryptocurrencies always had an anti-establishmentarian stand to take. But currently, the amount of factionalism is getting very hard to keep up with. Every fork (e.g., BTC vs BCC vs BTG, ETH vs ETC) is rooted in a deep schism within the community; every new way to integrate better with “traditional” markets and banks (e.g., Ripple XRP, Lightning Network) has its fair share of problems and conspiracy theories that need to be understood. There is so much happening under the surface that even experts’ hindsights after an incident (like a price crash) don’t always concur. Of course, there is a profit chasing motive for everyone in the crypto community. That doesn’t surprise me at all — what surprises me more is that many people think everyone in the crypto-community has altruistic goals. Sorry, folks — everyone wants to make a quick buck, same as you.

What’s worse is that the media buzz covers very little of this underlying stories. The buzz is unavoidable but not very informative; in fact it can misinform. Most of the coverage is about polarized views by seasoned investors, who are still thinking within the framework of their “traditional” business. A common dismissal is that cryptocurrencies have no intrinsic value. Well, of course it is easy to prove they don’t an intrinsic value. The original aim of cryptocurrency was to create an alternative market where they are recognized as tender. Today, the “market-cap” for cryptocurrencies is being solely determined by the amount of trade in the crypto-exchanges (against the USD), not in terms how much goods and services are being bought and sold. It makes no sense to say that Blah-Coin has a market cap of $X trillion when one can’t even buy a pair of shoelaces with Blah-Coin.

The Socratic Paradox is probably the best way to keep yourself grounded.

People, especially the lay investors, are giving in to the media buzz and FOMO. Investing in the cryptocurrency world without understanding the technology, the motivations and the political climate is just a recipe for disaster. People are investing without realizing that they have to deal with an unimaginable amount of information asymmetry. They have only themselves to blame. Greed and ignorance rarely lead to a happy ending.

My advice: Stay humble, stay curious but don’t accept over-simplified views of how the cryptocurrency world works. It is OK not to know. But remember that a simple explanation may be neither complete nor accurate. So don’t settle for a single narrative.

What about Blockchain?

In all this noise, we have forgotten that Cryptocurrency is not the only application for Blockchain. Right from the arrival of Bitcoin, the underlying distributed ledger called the Blockchain has piqued the interests of several smart people around the world. With the rise of Smart Contracts, especially with the arrival of Ethereum in 2015, Blockchain has come out of the shadow of Bitcoin.

However, this is not without its issues. For starters, Bitcoin had several encounters with the darknet that caught the attention of governments and law enforcement agencies for all the wrong reasons. Governments and large financial corporations have always been wary about cyptocurrencies and as a side-effect, the Blockchain also got a bad name.

For me, Blockchain is far more important as a technology than cryptocurrency itself. However, in the current noise and chaos, many seem to have forgotten that Cryptocurrency is only one application of Blockchain. With Ethereum, Smart Contracts were easy to write and for a while it looked very easy to build a Decentralized App (ÐApp). There were over 200 ICOs in 2017 (more than 4 per week) alone, raising over $3.7 Billion worth of investments. In fact, famously, around halfway into 2017, ICO funding trumped traditional VC funding.

However, this was also not without its problems. Soon, there were utterly rubbish ICOs for tokens that made absolutely no sense. Writing ICO whitepapers was suddenly a mini-business. Then were reports of ICO scams, more scams, and Ponzi schemes. On top of that, there were too many phishing attacks, wallet thefts and other security issues that left a very bad taste in the mouth. The Blockchain technology seems to have transported back to its stone-age (post “The DAO”) days. Suddenly, investors that threw money without doing any due diligence, seemed to scream for government regulations. It would have been a hilarious situation but sadly it was true.

The upshot of all this was that Blockchain was suddenly the same old shady darknet technology used by only criminals and fools.

Authorities worldwide woke up from their slumber and decided to slap whatever restrictions they could. Thankfully, recent government news from South Korea and India give me some comfort that the authorities are not against Blockchain as a technology, whatever their views on cryptocurrency as a legal tender may be. However, that may not be enough.

Smart contracts

Smart Contracts are not new at all. Allowing an autonomous piece of software execute as per certain rules has no challenges as such but when it comes to do that in a peer-to-peer environment where there is no central authority, we need some kind trust mechanism baked in. Cryptocurrencies provide that trust. A cryptocurrency reward is a perfect incentive for all parties to remain honest. So writing a ÐApp without a crypto reward mechanism remains a challenge. Without this, there is a high chance that solution degenerates into a pseudo-centralized solution which is no better that the existing solutions.

Blockchain technologies are still in their nascent stages. Much like the early days of automobiles — they are definitely not perfect but at the same time this is not their final form. These technologies will evolve and even if they never reach their Utopian ideal state, they will still make things a lot better. Every new, disruptive piece of technology through these phases. Remember the Internet and the WWW in the early days? The criticism was very, very similar. Some very smart people dismissed the Internet and they had ample logical reasons. It is worth noting that Internet today is nothing like what it was in the 1990s. It has evolved to a very different beast — not the same thing that was criticized back in the early days. It is not very different for Blockchain technologies either.

We should be remain skeptical of any tall claims but still keep an open mind and rely on critical thinking to make informed decisions. My hope is that 2018 is the year where the ICO mania dies out completely (no major ICOs so far, that’s a good start to the year) and there will some good use-cases and ÐApps that will make the news. I also hope that the mainstream media loses interest in Blockchain and cryptocurrencies and the half-baked, poorly-researched clickbait articles will trickle down to nothing.

May 2, 2018

Mobile Payments: Waiting Is No Longer an Option

No doubt about it: the mobile payments marketplace is set to explode — and soon. The fuse has been burning for years, lit perhaps by PayPal, perhaps by Apple, perhaps by Near Field Communication (NFC) or other enabling technologies. Whatever the origin, the imminent rise in mobile payment technology is going to change life in a big way.

Players across a spectrum of industries, from retail to wireless, mobile device to financial services, are vying to dominate this next phase in the mobile payment revolution. In the social media realm, for example, Twitter will soon be able to offer its users the ability to Tweet “in the moment” purchase experiences, thanks to the company’s recent purchase of CardSpring, an application platform that allows the creation of promotional offers directly supported by credit cards and other forms of payment. Photo-sharing service SnapChat has unveiled the ability to add location-based logos and other labels to photos — a move that will not only enhance its monetization strategies through corporate branding, but is also likely to spur other eCommerce opportunities in the future.

Facebook, perhaps the most commercially aggressive of the major social media destinations, has plans to process purchase transactions using its own smartphone technology. Soon users will be able to make purchases right from their Facebook mobile app. Just click “buy,” enter your credit card information once, and the item will be on its way — and Facebook will be the more profitable for it.

Social media channels are anxious to support commerce transactions because they need to diversify their income streams beyond advertising. What’s more, they know a great deal about their users’ preferences and habits — and that information has immense value. Bricks-and-mortar merchants, for their part, are collecting the same kind of customer data. For some of the best-known retail names, this is supporting a wide range of mobile payment initiatives.

Starbucks, an early pioneer in mobile payments through its proprietary smartphone app, is going to begin testing a new advance-ordering capability that will allow customers to place (and remember) their favorite orders before ever walking into the store. Domino’s Pizza is currently expanding its Android smartphone payment options to include Google Wallet; and Chipotle, another chain that embraced online ordering in its infancy, is spending millions to equip its stores with in-store payment readers similar to those in place at most Starbucks locations.

Other merchants are looking to mobile apps and devices to facilitate mobile payments. OpenTable, the restaurant reservation app, is testing a capability in New York and San Francisco that allows diners to review their bill, add a tip, make their payment, receive acknowledgement from their server, and have their receipt emailed to them, all from within the OpenTable app. On the other end of the spectrum, Amazon has announced the Fire Phone, a smartphone that lets users scan items in stores and immediately purchase them — a move that will potentially redefine “showrooming” for thousands of bricks-and-mortar retailers.

As might be expected, payment service providers and at least a few financial institutions are in the game as well. Earlier this year, MasterCard acquired C-SAM, the global digital wallet technology provider behind ISIS and other commercial mobile payment services. Using C-SAM technology, MasterCard intends to accelerate deployment of its MasterPass digital service. Visa has countered with Visa Checkout; its lineup of big-name merchants includes Neiman Marcus, United Airlines, Pizza Hut, Staples and TicketMaster.

PayPal, the leader in digital payments, is moving forward with mobile payments on several fronts. In addition to Pay at Table, a service similar to OpenTable’s mobile payment offering, PayPal is offering mobile payment options with Jamba Juice, ridesharing innovator Uber, and hundreds of other businesses where customers can pay from their phones simply by checking into their PayPal app.

Tech giant Apple, however, may play the biggest card of all later this year. Rumors are increasing that the iPhone 6 will include Near Field Communication technology for contactless payments. Earlier this year, CEO Tim Cook mentioned in an earnings call that the iPhone’s Touch ID capability offers “a big opportunity” for advancements in mobile payments; the company also announced at its Worldwide Developers Conference that it would extend Touch ID to third-party app developers, almost certainly giving payment service providers a key enabling technology. Also giving Apple a strong advantage are the hundreds of millions of credit cards it has on file through its iTunes service.

For virtually anyone interested in making money from the growth in smartphones, mobile payments make sense. Transaction fees trump online content as a means of generating profit — and as time goes on, a larger percentage of customers both online and at the cash register will be expecting the ability to pay through their smartphone. The question is, which direction should merchants take to position themselves for mobile payments?

Small-to-midsize retailers don’t have the means to develop smartphone payment capabilities in-house; for them, linking with a major payment service provider makes sense. PayPal’s mobile payment API (Application Programming Interface) supports pay-by-phone integration within a merchant’s app; another option is to adopt reader or NFC technology at the cash register. One aspect that many merchants don’t realize is that transaction fees are negotiable. With so many companies and institutions competing for merchant business, the market favors the merchant.

Whichever direction online and/or bricks-and-mortar retailers choose, it’s clear that a big step forward in the mobile pay space is imminent. As customers become increasingly comfortable with the idea of leaving their traditional wallets at home, merchants of all stripes need to plan their mobile payment strategy. When this tech wave hits, retailers and e-tailers need to be riding it — not caught in the undertow.

May 2, 2018

The Wisdom Behind Making Workplace Apps Easy to Use

Why should company owners care about creating mobile apps for their workforce that are intuitive? Because their employees do. The standards of what's considered a well-designed mobile app have been raised and a clunky enterprise app can seriously hinder an organization’s productivity.

Attitudes about enterprise mobile apps have changed, primarily because work and personal lives have become so intertwined. Today people answer business emails from the family room, review sales leads from the backyard deck and solve IT problems on their commute. Employees are constantly connected, managing their work lives around the clock.

With the line between professional and personal spheres blurring, expectations for app usability have changed as well. Workers are continually switching between consumer apps and business apps. The bar on ease of use has been raised because employees view all tablet and smartphone apps through the same lens. All they know is that some apps are seamless, intuitive and robust while others are not.

Workers expect intuitive, easy-to-use, “consumerized” enterprise mobile apps because that’s what they are accustomed to. Anything less will result in a precipitous decrease in engagement -- and productivity.

Decision makers are beginning to take note of the discrepancies between consumer and business software. They are realizing that easy data entry, quick access to key functions and simple navigation are essential to smooth workflows and high productivity. Apps should be designed for business consumer, so that the user experience is seamless and even delightful within a professional context.

Unfortunately, easy to use isn’t the same thing as simple to create. Many executives assume that since app stores are filled with 99-cent or even free apps, they must not be challenging to develop. But effective, intuitive and functional enterprise mobile apps are the result of sound planning and effort.

Unique environment.

Good enterprise mobile apps are much more than a migration of desktop enterprise software. It’s almost impossible to exactly match the features of a desktop application. The hardware environments are simply too distinct.

So what constitutes a good enterprise mobile app?  Research suggests that for 80 percent of all business software applications, users engage with only four or five key functions. When creating an enterprise mobile app, the job is to identify those functions and design for them alone.

For example, a mobile app for time tracking should focus on that specific process alone and align app features accordingly or employees won’t use it. It also should be easy to navigate. Users need quick access if they are going to routinely use the app to accomplish their tasks.

Real estate is another critical factor. Tablet screens (typically 10 inches diagonally) and smartphone screens (4 inches to 5 inches diagonally) are smaller than laptops or desktops, so designers must be honest about how much content can be displayed. Quality mobile apps eschew a small typeface for simple graphics and limited navigational choices.

While attractive graphics in a mobile app are great, it’s even more critical to tailor the graphic interface to the user’s needs.

Syncplicity, a file-sharing app of EMC, provides an example of how a user interface can simplify a device's operation. (My company Y Media Labs serves as a mobile-interactive app consultant to EMC.) Syncplicity was built with the idea that users want fast access to their files. The designers for Syncplicity knew that creating a “favorites” function wasn’t the answer: "Favorites" can change almost daily at work. Constantly marking files as "favorites" would require multiple tedious steps on a mobile device. The designers also realized that people working on a project often return to the same files and folders repeatedly. So the designers implemented a “recently accessed” option to let users quickly go to the exact information desired.

Testing is essential. 

To create an exceptional enterprise mobile app, designers must combine beauty and brains. They must aspire to establish a visceral connection between the app and the user, one combining aesthetics with personalization. Displaying time of day upon launch (factoring in local time zones), changing backgrounds according to the time of day, noting key corporate events or news, and even greeting the individual by name (“Good morning, John Smith”) are some of the ways to make an app more enjoyable.

Building a consumerized app is an evolutionary process. Testing is an immensely beneficial method for discovering users' preferences and ensuring that they find an app easy to navigate.

Functional testing using a paper prototype can weed out 80 percent to 85 percent of an app’s potential problems before the first line of code is written. Digital prototyping makes quick, effective usability testing possible. Engineers can now run tests remotely via the Internet, without test subjects being present. A large cohort isn’t necessary, since the main goal is to uncover gaps in flows or other issues. It’s important to recruit target users, however, for relevant feedback.

As development progresses, additional testing will ensure no expensive mistakes are present. Unlike years ago when testing followed a huge engineering run, agile development now allows testing to occur incrementally, as often as every two weeks.

Even post-release, testing has value. The focus shifts to usage metrics to uncover the screens people are spending time with and the buttons they’re clicking. Heat maps are used to determine where people are spending time and how they’re navigating. By isolating the good and bad aspects of an app in the field, designers can better plan updates -- and learn what will work in other projects.

 

January 26, 2018

Stop Disrupting Your Developers and Hire a Digital Experience Agency

In the digital world, developers play an increasingly important role in the success of a business. The problem lies in the fact that the relationship developers have with other departments hasn’t always been the most efficient . For example, according to a recent survey, a mere 47 percent of digital designers report having a positive relationship with their company’s marketing teams.

This may be due to the fact that coders and related digital experience specialists operate on a schedule that’s very different from that of other employees. When developers are working on a project, they need to focus on the task at hand. Too often, this isn’t the case and developers feel strained and pulled in multiple directions.

Here’s a solution: major organizations are turning to digital creative agencies for certain tech projects. That way, in-house developers can focus on their day-to-day responsibilities, while a third party can work more closely with departments throughout the company to coordinate on a digital product management strategy. The following case studies prove why this approach works:

A digital experience to bring online shoppers in-store

Home Depot is a unique company. While many retailers have shifted their priorities to ecommerce, Home Depot sells the kinds of products customers aren’t always likely to purchase online. That’s why the company recruited YML to improve their omnichannel shopping options.

YML faced an interesting challenge with this project: Home Depot’s main goal was to ensure both the online and in-store shopping experience were seamlessly connected. What was needed in this case was a digital transformation strategy that could overhaul the current online process in order to integrate the offline conversion goal.

digital experience agency

Our team of digital designers and developers achieved this goal by introducing useful features that primarily served to make Home Depot’s services more convenient for shoppers. For example, we developed a feature that allowed online shoppers to navigate a 3D map of their local Home Depot.

With this map, they not only learned where a particular item was in the store, but also whether it was in stock. This ensured that customers would be more likely to actually visit their local store to make a purchase. It also increased brand loyalty, as shoppers appreciated the convenience the new feature offered.

More than 25,000 customers gave the app a five-star review. It would have been difficult to create a product like this solely with the help of in-house developers, who must focus on maintaining and improving the company’s existing digital products. Instead, partnering with a digital experience agency like YML allowed their developers to focus on what they do best, while someone else took the reigns on product development and strategy.

Moving payments from online to real life with the right digital transformation strategy

Paypal is another major organization that benefited from partnering with YML.

Similar to the Home Depot project, this collaboration involved bridging the gap between online and real-world product use. The goal was to create a “digital wallet” that allowed users to easily pay for goods and services at local businesses via Paypal. Before YML took the reigns on digital experience management and released the new product, Paypal customers generally used the service at home to deposit, transfer, or accept funds.

We worked with their in-house team on a digital transformation strategy and developed key features that set the new product apart. For instance, customers who wanted to use Paypal to make a transaction at a local shop or restaurant could order ahead from their phone. At the time, Paypal was the only major vendor to offer this feature.

In other words, it was a fairly untested concept. It wouldn’t have made sense for in-house developers to work on a project that might not have yielded rewards, distracting them from their more essential duties.

By hiring an outside digital creative agency, Paypal created and released a product that generated upwards of $20 billion worth of transactions in 2013 alone.

The bottom line:

Experts point out that managers and “makers” (aka developers) do operate on different types of schedules. Managers tend to block out their days into hour-long chunks, allowing them to schedule meetings easily.

Makers, on the other hand, can’t work effectively when they’re being interrupted by meetings and other tasks that only require an hour or so of work. They need to be able to focus on tasks for long periods of time.

That’s why it often makes sense to hire digital project management specialists from third-parties when developing new products or features. Outside digital strategy agencies can work solely on one project.

Instead of stretching a team too thin, organizations working with a professional digital experience agency can let their in-house developers focus on the kinds of tasks they must perform on a daily basis, while an outside team focuses on a new concept or idea. As the case studies above illustrate, taking this approach can be very beneficial.

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