The CMO Show: Adam Faulkner says superior CX requires empathetic marketers

It’s 2017 and we still find ourselves asking: What is customer experience? How does it differ from UX? Customer experience design expert Adam Faulkner joins us to clear up the confusion.

“Effectively what it is,” begins Adam thoughtfully, “is understanding our users better. Actually talking to people.”

As blueegg’s Digital Design Director for more than five years, Adam Faulkner has developed a distinct approach to understanding customer and user experience. Surprisingly, it involves spending a lot of time offline, IRL.

It’s really easy to design something in digital space and not talk to anybody,” he says, before explaining the importance of reaching out to user demographics whose experiences might differ substantially from your own.

In one example, Adam worked with a hotel booking client whose user base was women aged between 25 and 34. He prioritised conducting interviews with users to understand their particular needs.

“What I considered important was completely different [to the typical user],” Adam says. “I was thinking about getting the local restaurant right, whereas for our users, safety and security were really important, you know?”

Despite its costly reputation, Adam is quick to point out that conducting in-person research doesn’t have to be enormously expensive.

When you do interviews,” he says, “you only need five of any type of archetype or persona or demographic to get pattern recognition and from those patterns, very clear insights.”

Before beginning research it’s vital to understand who your users actually are, because they’re not always just your customers.

Working with a bank, Adam discovered more than 140 extra software tools in a single branch that its employees were using to overcome limitations in the bank’s ERP systems.

Join Mark Jones and his new co-host, Nicole Manktelow, as they discuss the nature of customer experience design, why it’s vital to understand offline and how to turn every sad moment in the customer journey into a happy one, on this fascinating episode of The CMO Show.

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The CMO Show production team

Producers – Tom van Leeuwen & Candice Witton

Audio Engineers – Jonny McNeeDaniel Marr & Adam Slade

Got an idea for an upcoming episode or want to be a guest on The CMO Show? We’d love to hear from you: cmoshow@filteredmedia.com.au.

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Transcript

Participants: Hosts: Mark Jones and Nicole Manktelow 

Guest: Adam Faulkner (AF)

MJ:   Welcome to the CMO show.  It’s great to be back and our guest today is Adam Faulkner, experience design director at BlueEgg.  Thanks for joining us Adam.

AF:   Thank you Mark.

MJ:   Now, one of the reasons we want to have you into the studio and have a chat is, customer experience is all the rage, right?

AF:   It is, yes.

MJ:   This is the big thing in marketing, or one of the big things and we thought we could start by saying what is it?

AF:   Yeah look, it’s a good question.  There’s definitely a lot of confusion around the space, around what these different terms mean.  User experience, customer experience, experience design.  Effectively what it is, is understanding the users better.  So actually talking to people.  It’s really talking to people, knowing what they want to do and what they want and their feelings.  Then being able to better design experiences for that.

MJ:   If we step back a minute, marketers have theoretically been doing this for a long time.  So, maybe, what’s changed?

AF:   Well, I think what’s probably changed is the focus on the actual experiences themselves.  So when you have a user interact in a way, say someone’s going to buy a car, and they want to go and they want to start researching it.  What channels do they do that on?  How does that work?  Then how do we give them that warm hug when they go into a dealer to buy the car?  And so we look at the experience both digital and then both physical.  

So that sort of digital experience of how they’re researching and how do they share?  How do they communicate?  How do they configure that car?  And then how do they then move to the dealer and feel like what they’ve done and what they’ve been invested in is not lost.  I think that’s really important that they continue to add value as they go.

MJ:   How in your estimation, marketers and UX designers in this broad space.  How empathetic are they?  Is there a real sense of needing to get your head around emotional intelligence for example?

AF:   Yeah, I mean, it’s really a challenge.  Empathy is a challenge, designers are very empathetic.  I think marketers have empathy as well, probably not at the same level as some of the designers, maybe have.  

MJ:   I think it’s an issue because marketing is becoming more along with sales obviously and reporting to the CFO and business outcomes and so on.  So it would seem that perhaps over time we’re going to see more of a tension around, “Well, this marketing has to do something for me.  This process has to do something right?”

AF:   It is, and that’s the – it’s really easy to design something in digital space and not talk to anybody.  Because we know what we’re doing, we can do this, we’ve got a pretty good idea of how to do it.  It’s very easy to avoid talking to people and sometimes it’s a skill to talk to people and if you’re not comfortable with it, not everybody likes to do it.  If you’re not comfortable, then I can understand.  But, you know, the power of talking to your user or your, I mean I gain so many insights from talking to different ages and demographics about their journeys.  

The example of working for recent client was around the, in a hotel booking space, talking to their biggest users where female participants from 25 to 29, 30 to 34 year old age group.  Now I’m a 39 year old male.  I don’t really have the same view of travel that female participants in those age groups do.  It’s exactly why we talk to different age groups and different people and understand different journeys because I’m not that user and that’s…

MJ:   You can’t pretend to know what they’re thinking.

AF:   No, you can’t.  Whilst there are always consistencies, you know we all need to book the flight, but then the hierarchy and the content, and what’s important to me is completely different.  I need to get the restaurant right.  I need to make sure I’m close in the city, and close to things whereas safety and security are really important you know?  Those things aren’t really rating on a male vs a female participant.  It’s important to do that.

MJ:   Such a good point.  Also just to touch on the journey side of things, and we talk a lot about this in marketing which is the funnel right?

AF:   Right.

MJ:   Right, which I think by the way is broken in the sense that it’s not a linear journey, even though we kind of structure our programs around it.  Equally, customers don’t think about themselves being on a journey.

AF:   No.

MJ:   Nobody.

AF:   No.

MJ:   How do we bridge that gap?

AF:   Look, it’s really interesting and I think a really good journey we did for our real estate agent was around, someone actually buying a property and someone selling a property.  And the powerful, the power in understanding the journeys and using the term journeys as you said, it’s probably a bit problematic, but understanding the steps in the process for someone to buy, or sell a house and understanding where they’re sad is the opportunity to make them happy.  I think that that’s, where it’s at is we go through…

MJ:   Is that the deal where you pay your commission?  The part of the – I’m paying my commission I am now sad!

[0:17:15]   AF:   That’s the sad bit, that’s right, the happy bit is where your…  Well the sad bit firstly is you’re selling your house, so you’ve kind of gone, oh I’m a bit sad. Because, you know I’ve got memories here, it’s a nice house.  But then I’m – then I’m excited because I’ve seen you know, that every day the Sydney property prices going up by a bazillion percent so that’s great.  Then I pick a real estate agent and that’s good, and then I’m sad because the agent doesn’t talk to me and now I don’t know what’s going on.  

Now I’m sad because people are coming to my house and I’ve got to sort of kind of look after that, I’ve got to set it up.  And it’s a Saturday morning and I’ve got to take kids to sport, and this is the worst, it sucks.  Never had the house this tidy before, you know, it’s terrible.

AF:   The process was not great, the transparency was pretty low.  The agent didn’t really talk to me too much and I don’t really know what happened.  They seem to have taken a big chunk of money.  Did they deserve that?  I don’t know if they should have got that.  So, but going through that whole process, we can kind of go, okay, well, you know, how do we make the opens better?  How do we make an open for inspection better?  How do we support you?  

What tools and what recommendations and insights do we get there that says, hey Mr Agent, you should do these things.  You should give some visibility, or some transparency.  How do we help there?  I think that’s important.

MJ:   That’s not a digital thing.

AF:   No.

MJ:   That’s okay?

AF:   That’s okay.

MJ:   Yeah right.

AF:   Yeah.

NM: It sounds like a feeling’s gap analysis.  A happy meter. If you find the spots that aren’t working out for people, there’s an opportunity there.

AF:   Absolutely, yeah.

MJ:   Is this NPS?

AF:   Well, I mean, you’ve got that element to it.

MJ:   Yeah.

AF:   For sure.  You’ve got that element to it.  But I think, what you just said there about it’s not digital, that’s the whole point.  Is that we’re not looking for the solution straightaway, and solution isn’t always digital.

NM: An app would be a simple solution that you can communicate in one or two sentences when you’ve got a meeting with the boss and it’s going to be the one, it’s a silver bullet kind of proposal.  You turn around and say you need to interview all of your staff at all of your branches and then we have to go back and talk to them later about how they can make their customers happy.  In a non-digital sense that sounds expensive and time consuming.

AF:   Yeah, that – I mean that’s a good point.  I think you’ve always got to be cognisant of the business not having a bucketless or a huge pit of money that they can just spend on research.  I get that.  I think that the way you address that is, when you do interviews, you only need five of any type of archetype or persona or demographic to get pattern recognition.

There’s been a lot of work on pattern recognition about how we can gain insights and five is the minimum you need.  So if we say we’ve got some branches and we need to understand this group of users and this group of users.  Then we only need five of them to identify some very clear insights and patterns and come a way.  

You can remove it from feeling like a forest and have a really good laser focus and say, “Well, look, we only need to interview 15 people and that’s going to give us a really broad insight to help.” It does really help to bring it back and not make it feel like it’s overwhelming from a cost perspective.

NM: I mean, your world at the moment that you’re heading up all of this staff in the Grand Poohbah position.  Do you still do these interviews yourself?

AF:   I do.  Yes, I do facilitate quite a lot of the interviews.  So yeah, I think it’s important to always try and do that.  Particularly when we go in with client meetings and talking to them about insights and what we’ve gained.  It’s important for me as much as it is for the client to know what’s going because I can’t, you know, I think it’s important that if we’re going to go in and give our insights and recommendations that I have that empathy and that ability to understand and also the way that we do is we’ve got lots of live videos and feeds.  

We also really encourage the customer to be a part of it as well.  Getting them to be a part of it is a really useful technique.  I know, I was over in…  I went to enterprise UX about a week and a half ago over in San Francisco and I heard Sam Yen talk who’s the head of design at SAP.  He was talking about the best way to get his developers who potentially maybe don’t believe that the system’s not working.  Is to…

MJ:   [Laughs] Because they built it.  What’s wrong with it?

AF:   Apparently there’s 300.000 pages in SAP so that’s unconfirmed, you can’t really lock that down.  Yeah.  So it’s, a few things to work on.  By getting developers to sit with the customers as well, there’s nowhere you can go when a user or a customer sits in front of you and says, “I don’t really know what that does.  What does that button do?  Why Is it that colour?  I don’t like pink.”  You know, like it’s all of that sort of feedback.

MJ:   It’s quite confronting.

AF:   It’s very confronting and there’s really…  Because often it’s very easy with a PowerPoint presentation to look at a PowerPoint and go, “Okay, tick, I’ve done that.  We’re good to go.  That makes sense, we’re going to build that app.  That’s really easy.  But we haven’t talked to any customers.”  And so, you know, when you sit in front of a customer who then says, “Look, actually I don’t think that’s important to me.” That $300,000 app is really, you know something that you should, pivot.  Maybe the app’s a good idea but the focus is wrong.  That’s again, so crucial that you talk to people.

MJ:   Well this is the design aspect to this whole conversation right?

AF:   Yeah.

NM: Where are we missing the point?  Is it that people of your calibre and input are being asked after the fact how this should work?

AF:   Yes.

NM: Oh okay.

AF:   Basically.

NM: Well, we solved that problem.

AF:   No, I think that’s a really interesting point, is that often the research part of this, the talking to people, the qualitative analysis, the one on one interviews with people, is not valued.  A lot of large brands, they think they’re the user.  They are not the user.  The customers are the users.  The customers are the people who are buying.  They’re not the people who are buying.

That’s the trouble, they’ll design a solution based off a limited timeline or an unrealistic budget or the language of, “I’ve got to sprint.” First sprint, second sprint, end line, end stage, second stage, next year.  We can do all of these things but no one actually builds in the research and takes the time.

I think it’s been driven…  It’s changing a little bit and I think what’s changing is the larger banks invested heavily in user experience and now customer experience quite a few years ago and that’s starting to trickle down to the other tier 1s as well as the tier 2 organisations.  That’s where we’re starting to see that momentum shift now.

The other challenge too is we just didn’t have enough people in user experience to do this.  I mean it’s a fairly young field.  Really quite strong in the UK and in the US, in Australia it’s really still quite, quite immature.  So we haven’t really had those people who’ve got the skills to be able to properly synthesise and do interviews and talk to people.

MJ:   Is that why we still have this confusion about the terms, what we’re actually calling this thing?  Is that right?

AF:   Yes, yeah.

MJ:   Okay, and the other thing I think about is to just pick up on your bank example. The banks, they already have customers.  They’re already flying so to speak.  They’re bolting in all these stuff as they go along to try and look after customers.  The mindset is like, “Well, how do we look after these customers that we’ve already got?” I wanted to pick up on that, because your thing in that research is interesting to me.  How does research inject itself into the stream of kind of already doing stuff?

AF:   Yeah, I mean it’s really interesting.  When you’ve got that already doing stuff, it’s very kind of contextual inquiry.  You know, where we really kind of go in and talk to people and say, “What is the current state and what are you doing?” Now often, the term of who is the user, so say for big bank, the user is as much their staff as it is the customers.  

So it’s often identifying who the user is and I think that’s really important.  Then it’s also about doing that contextual conversation, saying, “Okay you work in a branch, so we really should understand what that’s like.  So I should probably go to a branch and sit with you and talk and ask you questions in the branch and get a better understanding.”

And if they are using certain tools or programs that they interact with with bank then let’s have a look at those.  Let’s run research plans that watches them that sees how they interact that looks for inefficiencies or looks for, you know, opportunities for us to improve.  So when you’ve got an existing tool there’s so many opportunities to both speak to people who use it.  

They’ll often have workarounds.  They’ve often got things they already do.  You know, for customer’s perspective if they’re using the app, like a banking app, it’s a really big challenge for banks because so much functionality and so many different stakeholders are there and often it’s very transactional.

I get in, have I been paid?  Should I probably pay someone?  Do I have enough money on my credit card?  These are the kind of things that are happening from a user’s perspective.

MJ:   Yes.

AF:   From a bank’s perspective, it’s like, “Oh it’s amazing I can apply for a home line.” It’s like well, “Firstly I didn’t even know I could do that.”

MJ:   Yeah.

AF:   You know, so there’s all of these challenges so the research really helps in how do we engage with the user to make them aware to increase their engagement, to increase the use so there’s a lot of opportunity when it comes to an existing app, or a technique or tool or industry to be able to make it better.

NM: I can think of numerous examples in my own career where you get in touch with staff who have a way of doing something and sometimes it’s connecting systems that otherwise are not connected.  You could probably make a whole business going into a company and just listing all of the workarounds they’ve already thought of to come up with a solution.  How big is that a part of what you do?

AF:   Yeah, I mean it’s a big part.  So, you know, an example was a client, a bank, and they have a tool.  They have a lot of users, their staff.  They have this one program, it’s quite a big program that runs basically all of their interactions with their customers.  All of their branch staff, we found, I think there’s another 140 extra tools on top of the tool.

NM: 140?

AF:   To get around the challenges with the program.  So it’s a very real problem.

MJ:   Isn’t that just like, you know, hacking?

AF:   It is.  It’s hacking and it’s just the, “Look, the system’s too slow.  The system doesn’t work.  It doesn’t give me information that I want on that screen.  It’s too slow because I’m interacting with a customer.” Because the other issue is that you know, from a customer’s perspective, if I’ve got a customer going into a car dealership or a branch, or whatever that interaction is, it can’t be slow and I can’t – you know, the customer can’t see your screen.

They don’t know what’s going on.  So they just think you’re slow.  Then the staff get anxious and so they develop these workarounds because it makes their life quicker and easier and they feel happier about it.  They don’t really talk about it because they then have to go away and use the, you know, the authorised program, but they find ways to make it quicker at the time.

MJ:   Isn’t that just… I guess it’s a truism in software development is that you’re never done.  Right?

AF:   Yeah, you’re never done.  You’re never done.  No.

MJ:   [Laughs] Right?  Our app is done.  Or whatever it is right?  And it’s been rolled out and deployed right?

AF:   Yeah.

MJ:   But if you look at our experiences on mobile apps and you know, they’re never done.  They’re always being updated right?  It’s part of the UX design sort of philosophy is maybe breaking down a sense that we’re done?

AF:   Yeah, definitely, definitely.  It’s avoiding the solution and looking at those problems and kind of going, “What are the problems that we are working on?” Then continually testing those with users and customers and making sure that, that actually makes sense.  You’re right, it is a constant process and that sort of define, ideate, empathy, test, iterate, cycle.  Just keeps going.  

The challenge is to convince people that that methodology or process doesn’t take three months, it takes like a week.  We can test and iterate quickly.  I think that’s the other thing is that, sometimes it’s a bit of fear of going back.

NM: How important is it to go back to the user after the app is built?  After it’s done.  I’m using inverted commas, no one can see me but I’m waving my fingers around.

MJ:   A bit like Dr Evil.

NM: A little bit. Is it worth going back and just sussing out whether the user’s or the customer’s experience offline has changed since the first time the app rolled out?

AF:   Yeah absolutely. We always ask broad questions around what their journey’s like and what they do, how they feel?  I always often quite like a happiness index.  How they feel and if we have a happiness index at the beginning of the process and go, “Okay, how do you feel?” They’re like, “Oh I feel terrible.  This is awful, this sucks.  I’m not using this again, oh my God.”

And then at the end of it, they’re like, “Actually no, this is pretty good.”  So we’ve got, all of a sudden we’ve got a really nice measure on their journey to go, “Okay we’ve gone from being cranky pants to happy.”  I think that’s important.

MJ:   Right.  Hey, we’re almost out of time but, where is it going?  If you want to point us ahead.  What do you think the future trends are?

AF:   I think augmented reality and virtual reality are really…

MJ:   Mm, bing bing!

AF:   They’re, I think they’re…

MJ:   Does this mean we’re all going to be wearing headsets everywhere we go?

AF:   That’s right.  That’s right.

AF:   No, no, I was just going to say I think it’s really interesting and will be challenging for designers to work out ways to do this because we talked about empathy before.  TEDx, not this year but last year in Sydney I think, Dr Jordy Nguyen talked about empathy transference within virtual reality or augmented reality and the possibility that someone’s life is mapped and then I can stand in their shoes.  What does that mean for empathy transference?  

I think that’s really fascinating.  I think we’re really just scratching the surface with virtual reality.  And the way it is to live it, in the way that we do it and the way that we engage is just going to be a massive learning curve that will happen really quickly.

MJ:   Sounds like there’s a good market if you’re a counsellor for looking after empathy transferred UX designers.

AF:   That’s right, it’s a growing problem.  So if you’re out there, we’d really appreciate some help.

MJ:   That’s awesome now before we wrap, we have some rapid fire questions that we want to spring on you and we do this to everyone.

AF:   Great.

NM: What are you grateful for?

AF:   Talking to people.

MJ:   Do you like rain?

AF:   I do.

NM: In the movie…

AF:   And Pina Coladas.

MJ:   Nice response.

NM: In the movie of your life, who would play you?

AF:   Hugh Jackman.

MJ:   Jealous.  What’s your greatest career fail?

AF:   Blackberry.

MJ:   Oh yes.  You did work there didn’t you?

AF:   That’s right thank you.

MJ:   That was okay though.

AF:   It’s all right, yeah.

MJ:   It’s a learning journey.

NM: Best ever career advice?

AF:   Talk to people.

MJ:   Summer or winter?

AF:   Probably more spring.

NM: Beach or mountain?

AF:   Beach.

MJ:   Who’s your hero?

AF:   Hero?  Grandfather.

NM: If you weren’t a marketer, you’d be a…

AF:   Magician.

MJ:   Chocolate or strawberry?

AF:   Tough, neither.

NM: What did you have for breakfast?

AF:   Crumpet.

MJ:   What would you rather have had?

AF:   A Spanish poached egg in a really nice little Pyrex dish with some beans, a little bit of ham.  Some herbs on top, probably roasted in my pizza oven.

MJ:   Yeah nice, except there should have been bacon.

NM: What’s the last conversation you have with your parents?

AF:   Well done Queensland on winning the State of Origin.

MJ:   Scrunch or fold?

AF:   Fold.

NM: If you could change one thing about the marketing industry.  What would it be?

AF:   Talk to more people and be less driven by the funnel.

MJ:   Can you ride a bike?

AF:   I can and I rode over the Golden Gate bridge last week.

MJ:   So did I when I was there not too long ago.

AF:   Did you?

MJ:   Yeah.

AF:   It’s pretty cool.

MJ:   That’s what you do.

AF:   It is.

NM: You bikers.  What’s your greatest frustration?

AF:   So many.  I don’t know.

NM: Is it getting Hugh Jackman to sign off on the movie of your life?

AF:   Probably, yeah, I think so.

MJ:   Touch, taste, sight, hearing, smell.  Which would you sacrifice to save the rest?

AF:   Sight.

NM: Dogs or cats?

AF:   Oh gosh, look at the pains…  I have a dog, but I’m not a dog person.

MJ:   Mixed up.  Favourite book?

AF:   Look, I’ll have to say, The Design of Everyday Things.  Donald Norman.  That’s probably a classic.

NM: Adam, if you had to change your first name.  What would you change it to?

AF:   Rodriguez.

MJ:   That is so cool.

NM: That’s very cool.

AF:   Thanks.

MJ:   Very nice.  Adam Faulkner, thanks for joining us.

AF:   Thank you, it’s been a pleasure.

NM: Absolutely.

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