Being a better agency (accountability and engagement)

So a friend of mine recently gave me a book on mathematics which has got me thinking about stuff in new ways. Early on in the book the author introduces the impact of linear relationships on how we reach conclusions about the rights and wrongs of situations.

Accountability and engagement in non-linear relationship

So here’s a thought: Agencies increasingly understand that accountability is important in winning and retaining customers. Linear reasoning would say that if a little accountability produced good results, then more accountability would produce even better results. This is the “more is better” way of thinking.

Now what happens if you map employee engagement to agency accountability? Imagine a studio at the early stages of a relationship. Leadership is trying to introduce new processes and ways of working that are going to increase customer satisfaction and help grow the business. Everyone is involved, working and learning together and trying to do a good job. My guess is this would help grow enagement.

The question I had was would employee engagement and agency accountability map in a linear way? If the effort and team-work to start increasing accountability brings about a positive-feeling leading to greater designer engagement then would further accountability initiatives lead to even greater engagement?

My guess is the reality is closer to the curve plotted in the chart above. At a certain point, the extra effort, speed and transparency would begin to grate. As designers, we would begin to feel like the magic and specialness of what we do was being pushed to the side. Eventually, as the environment became more strict, life would begin to feel like a sausage machine. Not what we signed-up for.

But this is just a thought, I could be wrong:-)

Have you experienced a strong design culture that survived growth challenges like this?

Question at work: Where are you at with wearables?

Well... good question:-)

I think it might be worth pulling the problem apart a little bit. What do we mean by wearables?

If I could chip my 13-year-old daughter I possibly would. This would make her body part of the cloud and the chip a sort of wearable.

Same thing applies to other devices that are either permanently online or can trigger a beacon. I backed Tile and bought a card and it's pretty cool. I've got a few attached to things I carry around in my laptop bag.


Does that make my presentation clicker a wearable? I guess not but you can see how these things fit into a wider ecosystem of connected stuff related to a given human.

In terms of actual "wrist" wearables like Apple Watch, I think we have to look at things like Nike Fuel and Fitbit in a different category.

Apple watch is different, from the moment they first talked about it you could tell they were entering the world of "Haute Horlogerie".

I used to wear a watch made out of Zirconium Oxide with a bullet-proof Sapphire glass. The face was made out of sandwiches of almost radioactive material handled by a team of 35 specialists in Florence and the one I wore was only made in 1000 units.


I recognised this kind of language in the Apple announcement. The use of the word "complication" for example which I'm pretty sure 90% of iPhone buyers had never heard used in the context of a clock, the details of the straps and even the impossibly rare materials priced at "Haute Horlogerie" prices.

The picture would be made complete if the "Edition" watch was impossible to find, only available from tiny boutiques known only to a few cognoscenti...

I think the Apple Watch is interesting because it is disrupting a market that I'm guessing really didn't see this coming.

That said, Swiss Watch company Mondaine has launched a smart watch ( which is a traditional automatic mechanism in a traditional steel case but with fitness sensors included and an integration with Android phones. A few others including Tag introduced smart watches at this year.


I recently backed a Kickstarter project called Pebble and am counting the minutes until I get my fabulous steel smartwatch.

The Pebble is different. It's more focused than the Apple watch and from a user experience point of view is designed from a more holistic, service design perspective.

For example, the clock face of the Pebble is designed to be used in darkness and light. After all, what's the point of a smartwatch that you can't read in sunlight? Its face isn't a screen but Kindle-like "digital paper" display readable even in bright sunshine. As a result of this approach, the battery life is much much longer than Apple Watch's.

Pebble also introduces a new interaction metaphor. Apple Watch has a groovy winder but as far as I can tell, the screen interactions seem very similar to what you're used to on a phone. Pebble on the other hand has re-visited the entire interface to follow a "time" metaphor. Everything you do on the Pebble fits into a timeline concept, where am I now? what is the future? the past etc.

I think these devices all look awesome and I want them now, but the ones I find most satisfying from a design perspective are the ones that explore the areas closest to the human (so Apple, try a little harder and how about a menstrual cycle calculator in your fitness app? No? Oops I forgot, not so many women on the design team) looking at the full journey of what we are all trying to achieve every day.

How not to personalise

I had to pop this one in here. I know it's pedantic and errors can happen to anybody but this guy actually tried to sell his personalisation expertise with this note...

Hi Dug,

I came across your profile as we are both connected to [COMMON FIRST LEVEL CONNECTION] and I thought I would introduce myself. My name is Picard and I work for Inversaly; and I am a Cross Device and media Personalisation Specialist.

It's a simple & powerful idea - Individually personalised media.

If you would like to see any case studies on how our platform can drive ROI, or any part of the above for [COMPANY NAME] please let me know and I would be happy to share them.


Here's hoping all of us at <$companyName$> do well in <$currentYear$>;-)

User adoption formula

Folk have been asking me about this since I mentioned it in the BCS talk I did a few weeks ago. Just to be clear, "adoption" is the service creator's objective. For an ecommerce retailer it could be conversion or loading a basket or even agreeing to opt-in to something. For an enterprise customer adoption means the change will be painless because the user base is getting exactly what they felt they needed. For a marketing customer adoption will mean opening emails, setting a "like" flag, clicking on a banner or signing up for a sponsored download etc.

adoption formula

Different types of objective but similar framework (original post below).

Have just received a brief from a prospect who wants to increase user adoption. Nothing unusual with that, expect that the wording of the request got me thinking. The request states that the solution is greater usability. In other words, that the level of adoption of a service is directly proportionate to its degree of usability.

I had to stop and think a bit. At first that makes sense, particularly if the current version of the service is really terrible.

But I think usability is the wrong measure. By modelling what the business wants to build into the service and aligning that with what the end users are trying to get out of it an increase in adoption is very likely.

Still, experience is more than alignment. We could get the service exactly right but if a roughly similar service has nicer music or offers free child-care we're likely to go with that alternative.

So it's a balance of alignment and value (in financial terms; emotional; physical; in terms of meaning and self-actualisation etc).

So not being a maths guy, does that make the formula:

adoption = alignment x value over context

What do you think?

Mission statements

It's hard to work somewhere when you don't feel a strong sense of purpose. Equally, it gets you drunk with hope and belief to work somewhere the mission is clear and strong.

I've been researching statements of purpose from senior digital folk and came across this one from WPP:

To develop and manage talent;
to apply that talent, throughout the world, for the benefit of clients;
to do so in partnership;
to do so with profit

Not sure about the way it scans but put another way, if Martin Sorrel's network of companies didn't exist there would be less developed and well-managed talent in the world. While I don't see empirical evidence of that it's a strong statement and one I can get behind:-)

Incidentally, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr Sorrel in the ballroom of the Pierre on E61st in Manhattan when he announced his takeover of my employer's parent company (JWT) to the assembled troops. I've had a thing ever since and actually ended up in the UK because IBM didn't think they should keep their business with us after the merger.

But that's another story...

Somebody else is running your help desk

Oh yes:-)

I can now complain in different ways - video, audio, blog, forum, microblog, and on any number of third party sites - Twitter, YouTube, AudioBoo, Plebble, ComplaintCommunity, Facebook, and there is even a complaint aggregator - Amplicate.

Social media has given all of us the tools of engagement, enabling us to be far more inventive, novel and vocal in expressing our displeasure when a company has simply got it wrong.

Really well put. All change: The four trends reshaping customer service

Customer Experience Management


Hi, if you're here it might be because you've just had a chat with Dug at CEM and pointed your device at the QR on my badge.

Really looking forward to the panel this afternoon. particularly looking forward to hearing from GiffGaff's Claire Kavanagh:-)

If you want to keep in touch, you can visit
or even read
and if you really want to get serious you can use linkedin

Things that give ecommerce retailers nightmares?

I was speaking to some consultants recently and we got to talking about empathy and what makes a great ecommerce consultant.

I believe empathy has to be one of the most important qualities of a good consultancy (or indeed of a quality senior manager with a virtual team in a matrix organisation). In some ways it's almost more important than some other core skills in that it's more likely to place the consultant's recommendations firmly under the customer's pain point.

Multi-channel retailers have questions and need some love and tenderness. Ideally, you should feel their pain. They have a bunch of things that keep them up at night and empathising with these will make for a better ecommerce experience consultant.

Here's a rough list (transcribed unformatted from my moleskine) of my favourite nightmares:

  • Do I need analytics, retargeting, algorithmic recommendations, satisfaction survey tools?
  • Single customer view (oh yes... one of those would be nice)
  • Why does enterprise software cost so ridiculously much? (For the cost of a year's license for entry-level analytics I could hire three engineers?!?)
  • Marketing and communication, how much cash should I be giving Google? How can my trading team and my online marketing team work more closely together?
  • How do traditional insight teams (big database, big budget, slow staging) fit in the same plan as front-end analitics-driven teams (rapid staging, lower cost)?
  • How do I manage the difference in staging speed of different business silos (Experience team leading client-side but with the threat that my front-end is making promises to customer that my back-end can't deliver).
  • Platform issues: Where do I start!?! Performance, governance, maintenance, reliability, (in)flexibility, scalability
  • What data can I trust? How can I manage my progress?
  • Generally, how to I measure and manage the impact on my customer experience of:
    • Range extension (marketplace, OEM, etc)
    • SKU availability (allocation online/offline etc)
    • Delivery (number of men, suppliers, boxing and packaging issues)
    • Product information and imagery, access to exciting rich media etc
    • Selling and fulfilling across the channels (multichannel retail suffering!)
    • Social content
    • EPOS disasters, why is it so hard to simply give the customer his pound coin back and why does he have to give his postcode?
    • Content management, why is it so hard to add, to change content?
  • Times are tough, how do I plan the amortisation of my improvements and "burn rate" for new initiatives?
  • How do I calculate the risk and plan the scheduling of the potential rewards?
  • Call centre costs and governance
  • Uniqueness (satisfying the promise of "unique experiences") - many/most platforms assume SKU interchangability, how do I create unique experiences when ecommerce platforms increasingly follow similar design patterns?
  • Should I be focusing on GETTING THE BASICS RIGHT or do I need to go get some new optimising technology?
  • What? Another javascript tag? Why does every vendor tell me it's easy-peasey to integrate their service, I just need to add a javascript tag? How in heaven's name am I supposed to manage the performance impact?
  • If I can't have bespoke channels, can I have bespoke categories (yes I can!)

So yeah, quite a list:-)

I'm guessing there's a lot more, but even with this rough first draft, I can see some broad areas where a consultant might want to focus attention:

Start with the "Digital Map"

Where do we need to be in the mid-to-long term and what do we need to get there? Most businesses maintain a voice-of-the-customer report and maintain a "Customer Plan" these days. The Digital Map builds on those learnings and supports those commitments but with a focus on the elements that directly influence ecommerce performance.

What can I do today?

While we work on a digital map we also need to think about YoY reporting and getting results as quickly as possible. A lot of the nightmares above can be at least addressed at this stage.

Making stuff that works better, like a better online store

A lot of the above touch on good old fashioned design and build. The consultant needs to be able to deliver a quantifiably better ecommerce website building on the customer's platform investment.

Deeper fixes underpinning the online experience

It's unlikely you're going to let me edit the Cobol that structures your mainframe's performance but somewhere between the ubiquitous SAP rollout-that-never-happens and cryogenic defrosting of top programmers active in 1979 there lies a wide scope of systems analysis and solutions analysis and architecture. You're going to want to offer those services too.

If you can't measure it you can't...

Ecommerce managers are some of the most accountable folk around. When your basket is dropping and your MI is a mess its easy to find your bonus under threat. These guys needs top-notch help with people, processes and performance measurement.

So lots to consider when choosing a consultant then:-)

Should I commission more strategy work from agencies?

Should I spend more money on strategy

Last year I commissioned agency strategy work to the tune of a little under a million pounds. With the advantage of hindsight, I have to ask myself, "are agencies who produce experience strategy really worth the money?"

The first of the two strategy pieces was run by a really smart guy at a great agency but ultimately, the work they produced had little or no impact on our business. It didn't inform our decision-making nor did it transform any of our research and insights into actionable recommendations. Basically, and no offence to the bright folk who wrote the strategy documents, their work ended up as a couple of big fat Powerpoints on the S: drive. Those docs were briefly consulted then largely forgotten.

The second strategy piece cost twice as much as the first but achieved little more. The brief was to help us accelerate our performance improvements and we went to a leading consultancy in the hopes they would have significant positive impact on our company (or at least our trading performance).

Where the first project likely suffered from poor access to stakeholders, this second one involved a large team of folk in dark suits who made it their business to go as deep as they could and get the information they needed from the right stakeholders.

At first the results seemed encouraging, the team produced a number of documents with amazing facts and figures. Using what I must assume is voodoo and pixie dust, they were able to attach precise performance metrics to general user experience improvements (both UI and UX) and those percentages of 'uplift' (a new word I learned last year) were extremely useful in writing budgets and of course going to the board for cash.

To be fair, the key objective of this second consultancy piece was to generate supporting evidence such that the executive committee could approve a very large budget. Serious people and serious money, so I perfectly understand the need for large documents filled with precise facts and supporting appendices ("the details are all in the appendix" is another favourite bit of consultant-speak I learned last year).

Unfortunately, this strategy also had a fatal flaw. Because it was created top down, with no deeper or longer-term stakeholder engagement, it only took a small change of weather at the top for the budgets to be cut and the whole programme to be shelved.

Now if you ask me, that's a lot of cash (and a lot of time) spent for not a lot of positive outcome. I'm actually looking at my own strategic thinking so I'm not (just) having a bitch and a moan. I am genuinely curious to get a feel for the sustainability of the customer experience strategy industry and learn from the mistakes I made last year so next time this happens we'll get a better result.

Items 1, 2 and 4 in the diagram above make up what you might call the "strategy context" of the brief. I reckon this is where the first agency came a cropper. Specifically, we didn't tell them absolutely everything about the business and they had to make assumptions as to our likely performance. Their analysis was actually pretty clever but we hadn't completely gelled our vision, values and purpose. This meant fragmented results and there was no way our organisational delivery was going to be able to cope with the agency recommendations.

I guess there's a lesson here. If your customer hasn't nailed vision/values nor indeed sufficiently clarified objectives, don't go into strategic analysis. Maybe the brave thing to do is say "we love working with you but let's revisit this in six months when your brand team has had a chance to clarify where you stand" (or words to that effect).

If strategic context was the downfall of the first project, team process was the problem with the second. The consultants were able to get a reasonably good fix on the strategic context (the brand had gelled more since the first team) but they worked to a time-frame that didn't permit the embedding of the "organisational delivery" of their proposed strategy. Simply put, they didn't get deep buy-in across layers of management.

I'm not sure what the answer is here but I'm guessing when one budgets one's headcount on a strategy project, perhaps it would be worth spending a little extra on getting people on the ground to build deeper commitment to one's strategy (could this compliment the usual idea of providing a deck as 'armament' for a director to then socialise in the business?)

Finally, I wonder how much work went into tailoring the work to a client-side audience. I found large parts of both agencies presentations and documentation to be very opaque. You can be as clever as you like but if you don't stimulate your stakeholders to action you're not really having any impact. Something to think about...

There are a hundred other lessons to learn here as well but I'm concerned with those that directly impact the client/agency relationship when dealing with strategy development.

Are you Director of Customer Experience Strategy in an agency? Comments on a post-card please:-)

Fix your bill with your thumb



The insight here was customers were forever getting bills they didn't expect and they didn't like the BT model of having to purchase an extra package to save money.

In our proposed concept, the bill is visualised in a two-way feedback system which allows the problem to be fixed by dragging the circle with a gesture and the appropriate back-office adjustments (change of package, supplement etc.) happen in the background.