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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

Here’s Why over 60% of Enterprises Use IOT Solutions

The Internet of Things has certainly made day-to-day life more convenient for the average person.

However, consumers are by no means the only ones to benefit from this technology. Businesses in nearly any industry can use IoT solutions to collect data, streamline operations, and better serve their customers. That’s why more than 60 percent of enterprises have already made investments in IoT solutions.

It doesn’t matter what field you work in; taking advantage of IoT development will yield substantial benefits. The following examples illustrate how organizations have already implemented this technology to transform how they do business.

Improving product lines

The ability to monitor crop conditions is essential to success in the agriculture industry. That’s why John Deere, manufacturer of tractor equipment, is now offering farmers IoT device management technology designed to address this very vital need.

For example, when planting new seeds, farmers must account for how soft or hard the soil is to determine how much pressure they must exert for maximum crop yield. John Deere now offers sensors that measure the amount of pressure being exerted on a seed, relaying this information to farmers so they can make any necessary adjustments. These sensors are connected to remote planters, so farmers can make adjustments even when they’re performing other tasks in other sections of the field.

This example actually demonstrates how businesses in two separate industries make use of internet of things development. Agriculture equipment companies can design more effective products, while farmers themselves can use them to work more efficiently.

IoT solutions - cityscape

Reducing shipping costs

Maintaining a vehicle fleet can be expensive. Vehicle breakdowns and accidents often result in unanticipated costs.

Saia LTL Freight, an international truck manufacturer, turned to IoT programming to reduce these expenses for customers. Today, the company’s  trucks are equipped with IoT devices that constantly monitor vehicle conditions.

These sensors can alert drivers and dispatchers to fuel efficiency problems, maintenance needs, and safety issues. This means companies can make repairs before breakdowns or accidents occur, resulting in major long-term savings.

Making life easier for customers

A key feature of many internet of things applications is the ability to “communicate” with other devices to facilitate a wide range of tasks. For example, “smart thermostats” connect to mobile phones, so users can adjust them from any location.

Citigroup is applying this principle to ATMs by providing an ATM that doesn’t require customers to have their debit card to make withdrawals. The customer simply schedules a withdrawal via their smartphone, then arrives at the ATM at the scheduled time. The ATM then scans a code on the customer’s phone to confirm their identity. Such ATMs may also be able to confirm a person’s identity by scanning their iris.

These are merely three examples of enterprises using IoT development to their advantage. The most important lesson to learn from them is simple: The benefits IoT solutions are not restricted to a few industries.With IoT programming, you can design higher-quality products, monitor customer behavior, and improve your overall efficiency.

How IoT Solutions are Changing the Manufacturing Industry

By 2020, experts predict that virtually all major factories will implement the Internet of Things to at least some degree. It’s easy to understand why: IoT solutions allow manufacturers to monitor and track every step of their processes, resulting in significantly higher efficiency overall.

Historically, human employees have performed these routine tasks – everything from tracking the availability of resources to monitoring the amount of items produced to identifying inefficiencies. Now thanks to the IoT,  human workers are no longer needed for these specific tasks, hence, priorities in the workplace have changed.

Transforming employee priorities

As a result of IoT development, employees can focus on more productive tasks. Because IoT devices are constantly “talking” to one another through sharing data, it also means it will be easier to glean insights and make adjustments that will allow businesses to manufacture items even more quickly.

Employees who once spent time collecting data and information about particular steps of the manufacturing process can allocate their time more wisely with the help of data to determine how to improve their operations. As a result, efficiency and productivity soars, all while getting the most from their human employees.

These developments are by no means far off. In fact, several major companies are already using IoT applications to facilitate smoother manufacturing processes.

Use cases of IoT development

Case in point: Harley-Davidson, one of the most well-known motorcycle brands on the planet, had a major problem a few years back before turning to the iOT for solutions. Despite being wildly popular, Harley-Davidson’s primary market consists of an aging population, and the company needed to make some changes if it wanted to keep up with the competition. So, Harley-Davidson decided to bring together  employees from both IT and operations to create a plant that could manufacture motorcycles far more efficiently than ever before.

By using IoT device management solutions to integrate systems, Harley-Davidson was able to cut the production schedule for new orders from 21 days down to a mere six hours.This reduced operating costs by approximately $200 million.

IoT development

General Electric is another organization taking advantage of IoT programming. In one New York GE battery plant, IoT-connected devices monitor a wide range of factory conditions, from the performance of its machines to the factory floor humidity levels.

The goal is to use the data to anticipate machine breakdowns before they occur, address performance issues to create more reliable products, and generally develop a better understanding of what can be done to optimize GE’s manufacturing capabilities.

Individual employees at major companies are even recognizing the value of IoT solutions in manufacturing. For instance, at a Hershey’s plant, a worker believed that creating an IoT network to monitor various steps in the process of creating Twizzler’s could help address efficiency issues. The result? A savings of “$500,000 for every 1 percent of improved efficiency.”

The goal is to use the data to anticipate machine breakdowns before they occur, address performance issues to create more reliable products, and generally develop a better understanding of what can be done to optimize GE’s manufacturing capabilities.

Individual employees at major companies are even recognizing the value of IoT solutions in manufacturing. For instance, at a Hershey’s plant, a worker believed that creating an IoT network to monitor various steps in the process of creating Twizzler’s could help address efficiency issues. The result? A savings of “$500,000 for every 1 percent of improved efficiency.”

The bottom line on IoT development

Again, experts believe this is merely the beginning for IoT programming. Across a wide range of industries, companies are beginning to seek out Internet of Things development teams to help them boost the autonomy of their machinery, identify “blind spots” in the manufacturing process, and more.

Additionally, as with all technological innovations, IoT programming and IoT device management specialists are continuing to offer new and improved tools, from IoT-connected 3D printers that can predict the need for particular items, to trackers that calculate available inventory.

No matter what industry you work in, your factories will benefit from IoT solutions and applications. Now’s the time to start looking into how to implement them

The Top 2 AI Technologies Expected to Save Healthcare Billions

In recent years, artificial intelligence has proven it’s capable of changing and improving our lives.  In the coming years, AI is expected to streamline processes across a wide range of industries, particularly healthcare A recent Accenture report found that AI may be able to generate as much as $150 billion in annual savings for the healthcare industry by 2026.

According to Accenture’s findings, robot-assisted surgery and virtual nursing assistants stand to yield the greatest savings. In fact, approximately one in four U.S. hospitals already uses the surgery assistance robot called da Vinci to some degree. By 2015, the robots had performed nearly half a million annual operations.

Robot-Assisted Surgery

The concept of a robot performing surgery used to be a scene in a science-fiction movie, but not anymore. In fact, the technology already exists. Consider the feats of the Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot, or STAR.

In one study, researchers programmed the robot to perform a procedure in which a pig’s intestines are stitched back together after being cut through during an operation. While STAR required minor human guidance during some of the trials, most of the time it successfully performed the procedure on its own.

Perhaps more striking is the fact that the robot’s stitches were generally less prone to leaks than those made by human hands. While it may be some time before robots replace surgeons, this proof of concept indicates that they could play a very important role assisting physicians in the near future.

Another healthcare AI technology providing surgery assistance is the da Vinci robot. It has already leant its precision to over 3 million surgeries. It continues to improve the patient and doctor experience by offering greater dexterity than a human hand, and therefore make procedures safer and even less invasive.

Experts are quick to point out that da Vinci and similar AI technologies in healthcare haven’t reached the point where they can think and solve decisions like a human surgeon. However, they can help surgeons perform delicate moves with much greater accuracy and safety than ever before.

Researchers predict that future iterations of these robots will also help physicians interpret what they see when looking inside a patient. This will significantly decrease the amount of time it takes to make treatment decisions.

healthcare AI

 

Virtual Nursing Assistants

Robots that perform delicate procedures may be impressive, but don’t show off the full potential of AI in healthcare. AI offers the most impressive benefits when it has the ability to learn.

That’s why people working in the healthcare industry, especially nurses, should take note of a recent experiment involving a robotic surgical assistant. By uploading pictures of basic arm movements and having human participants guide a robotic arm, the robot was able to learn how to perform those movements independently.

Utilizing a healthcare AI bot for the purpose of handing a nurse or doctor a needed instrument may not seem that useful, but there are many instances in which it can significantly improve and streamline treatment. Understaffed hospitals could use robots to offer assistance when not enough nurses are available. Unlike humans, who can get tired during long procedures, a robot will be able to help for hours on end without making errors.

The Savings Are Endless

AI for healthcare can also help diagnose patients. This will save physicians a lot of time because instead of scheduling an appointment, patients can remotely provide an AI assistant with a list of their symptoms. The AI won’t just relay this information to the physician, it will also help interpret the findings to offer a probable diagnosis.

Keep in mind that these are just two general applications for AI in healthcare. Artificial intelligence is also likely to boost savings in the healthcare industry by offering administrative workflow assistance and fraud detection.

Together, all these applications save hospitals, physicians, and patients a significant amount of time and money. They boost the efficiency of every aspect of the healthcare process, from diagnosis to surgery, and in the meantime also help to conserve resources.

+