Episode 150 | Posted on

Customer Experience, on Steroids! with Gerry McGovern

The words you use in your marketing and in your customer communications matter. You need to use the words that connect to the experiences that your customers and prospects want to have. You need to understand the path that these users take as they are navigating your website to get to the outcomes they are after. There is a science to identifying and optimizing these paths. It’s called Top Tasks Management. You’re about to learn all about this and more in this episode number 150. If you care about customer experience, then you are in for a treat.

Our guest is Gerry McGovern. He’s the Founder and CEO of Customer Carewords. Gerry helps large organizations deliver a better digital customer experience. A highly regarded speaker, he has spoken on digital customer experience in 35 countries.


Gerry, it’s so great to have you on the show.

It’s great to be on the show.

Let’s talk about customer delight and customer care. One trademark term that you’ve come up with is customer care words and I’d love to have our audience understand what that means.

It’s a connection between the search words and the words that then drive behavior when people get to the site. Sometimes they’re not the same thing. The words that we search with don’t always trigger our attention when we arrive at a site. You might search for a cheap hotel but when you get to a site, you want a five-star hotel at a two-star price. There’s a certain set of words that will bring you to a website and there’s often a different set of words that will then bring you through the website in order for you to buy the thing or do whatever you came to do.

One university we dealt with years ago doing Master’s courses, they found that the phrase, “Advance your career,” was very important when people were going through their site trying to figure out what they signed up for this particular MBA. The core recurring question was, “How will this advance my career?” Those are the sorts of language or words. They wouldn’t go on Google or whatever and search, “Advance my career,” or stuff like that. Sometimes they are the same but sometimes they are different. Sometimes you don’t want to see those words, like cheap or stuff like that when you arrive. There’s a different language when people are on your site that you need to understand, not just the language that brought them to your site.

What would be an example of a company or website that’s doing it well and a company or website that’s doing it poorly?

Sometimes you get subtle variations of this. If you go to the BBC website, you will see typically headings on the homepage that are more care boards, so to speak. Whereas when you click on the actual story, it’s more designed for longevity and for SEO. It’s more practical and functional and it’s written. In media environments, sometimes you’ll see a difference in the heading that’s presented into snippet on the homepage than you will see on the actual page that you click to. You’ll see more about the practical, “The inflation in Vietnam goes up by 12%,” the more end point but on the new section on the homepage of the snippets will be maybe, “Vietnam suffers from a major recession.”

You see that linkage or that passing off in good media websites. It’s harder. I can’t think off the top of my head sites that are doing it. There are lots of them. Connected or related to that is the type of often horrible language that marketing uses this elevated, “We love you. We’re here to serve you. We want to help you change the world,” and all this waffle language that is neither search words nor care words. This vague, meaningless, effusive type of language that unfortunately, tends to be at a core of a lot of marketing. Marketers think it is useful language but in my experience, it drives customers mad.

Fake marketing was there long before fake news. Click To Tweet

What would be some examples of waffle words?

“We’re glad you’re here. We want to serve you.” It’s like you meet a stranger and 30 seconds later, you’re telling them how much you love them and how much you care for them. If you ever talk about simplicity, then you’re obviously not practicing simplicity. If you were practicing simplicity, you wouldn’t have to talk about it, “Our app has gotten so much simpler,” these sorts of things. Organizations are talking about themselves or are talking about how much they care about you or talking about how much they’re going to help you or talking about how much their product is going to change your life. There’s a huge shift today of people saying, “I don’t care about most of that. I used the thing. Give me a free trial or a freemium or something like that or I’ll look at the rating reviews and I’ll judge it from that.”

Connected with that, I did a big conference in Seville with marketers and communicators from universities. I asked them what websites that they were in control in the audience actually had solid reviews from students? Not just the, “Nice, we’re all having an amazing time,” but the good and the bad reviews that we get on Amazon. Not a single hand went up in the audience. That’s a classic. If you go to university websites, you see the multicultural group of people. There are six students smiling. One of them is Asian, one of them is African-American, one of them is Caucasian, that mix of fakeness. Fake marketing was there long before fake news. You’ll struggle to get the cost of the course and you’ll struggle to find out what it’s like to be a student at that university because they’ll only pick a few perfect students telling an amazing story. It still works but it’s not working the way it used to. It’s less and less effective that false, fake marketing that seems to dominate in so many environments.

It’s inauthentic. What should, in this case, the university do instead so that the potential students feel spoken to in a very real and authentic way?

The core thing, which is a deeper challenge and it’s not just universities, is they need to change their core focus away from this constant Casanova effect of focusing on future students. 95% of marketing is about being a Casanova, being a cool dude or a cool guy in a nightclub trying to capture people’s attention. It’s all promises. 5% of it, if 5% at all, is focused on the current customer. The huge shift is the shift away from the relentless pursuit of the potential customer to the nurturing and care of the current customer. If you look at the vast majority of activities in universities and their internal systems, they treat their current students terribly. Most marketers and communicators totally and absolutely ignore them. If you were creating a great experience for your current students and making sure that their scheduling systems are simple and that if they had challenges or problems in finding accommodation that you sorted all those nitty-gritty, then you’re nurturing your best possible sales reps. While these universities have not got these rating reviews on their own sites, all of these third party sites are totally blossoming and exploding at the moment, becoming an Amazon-like review site where students are actually going.

Increasingly, that’s where potential students will be going to make decisions. They won’t be going to the university websites at all. It requires a very different shift in culture and thinking where marketing and communication begins to focus much more on the current student and the current customer. In social media, it is the current customer that is the driver of value, not the potential customer. This would shift away from promises to, “What’s it like in reality?” The people who know what it’s like in reality are your current customers. It’s that cultural shift, which is extraordinarily difficult. Marketing only cares about potential customers.

In social media, it is the current customer that is the driver of value, not the potential customer. Click To Tweet

Most marketers, I wouldn’t say all of them.

There are smart, brilliant marketers who totally get this, but they’re in the minority, maybe 10%, 20%. In my experience in twenty years more doing this stuff, the constant challenges of these traditional marketers are killing the future of their organization’s websites with smiley faces and false promises. People wanting to try and get details and specifics are struggling to do it because marketing is so many times the problem, not the solution.

This reminds me of a couple of episodes that I’ve done here on Marketing Speak with some great guests like Marcus Sheridan. We had a powerful conversation about answering the website visitors’ questions and the potential customers’ questions before they leave the site. Let’s say that you’re a consultant and you don’t have anything about your pricing on your website. That’s going to be a key question that people are going to have when they visit the website, “How much does it cost to work with you?” Not even addressing that question leaves this big gaping hole. That was a powerful conversation to talk about, “Answer these questions.” Even if it’s not the answer that they necessarily want, it is an answer.

False or fake marketing that seems to dominate in so many environments are becoming less and less effective.


You’re not going to find a price list on my website because every project is bespoke. It’s custom. It’s based on the scope of the engagement, how many websites you want to be optimized and how big your team that’s going to be implementing. Are we going to cover things like ORM, Online Reputation Management, as well as SEO and so forth? That’s why I don’t put a price list. Here’s the beginning prices. These are the minimums of projects and monthly retainers. Another one that I’m excited to have on is Joey Coleman. He’s the author of Never Lose a Customer Again. We focused on his process for the first 100 days of onboarding and delighting a new customer, a new client. That was a great episode as well. Do you have any kind of methodology or process for nurturing current customers that you teach your attendees and your keynotes or your clients on some onboarding or ongoing nurturing process?

The basic method that I’ve been developing over the last fifteen years, I call it Top Tasks. In essence, it’s a methodology to clearly identify what matters most to people, but equally what doesn’t matter to customers. I’ll give you an example the Norwegian Cancer Society used a number of years ago. “What matters to you?” There’s a whole process of getting together the list of things that they will select from, “Please look at this list and choose up to five of the things that matter most to you.” We went through a big research phase to develop that list of potential things. What came out at the top was no surprise. It was treatment, symptoms, prognosis, diagnosis and the closure stuff around these issues. What was important, if we looked at the website at that time, was getting donations.

A large part of the site was covered, “Please give us money because we need to raise money. We’re not a government agency.” They had this organizational need, “Please give us money,” that was dominating a lot of the old page. At the very bottom of the list were all those tasks. The things that nobody was voting for was donations or tax gifts or anything like that. They looked at the results, this hierarchy of needs, which Top Tasks give you. They were shocked and said, “What are we going to do? We still need to raise money.” They were very brave and they created a site focused on the core cancers, top cancers, symptoms and treatment and stuff like that. They also cleaned up a lot of content. They had 5,000 pages and they got rid of 4,000 pages. They hardly had any buttons or anything connected with asking for donations.

Within twelve months, their donations doubled and they’ve been growing 20%, 30% every year since then. If somebody comes and they’re worried that they’ve got cancer or their child has cancer and you create a site that helps them solve their problem, they’re more likely to donate to you than if they come to your site and it’s screaming at them, “No, give us money. Donate to us. Help us in the process.” That idea of clearly articulating what matters to people and making that easiest thing to do and the stuff that doesn’t matter to people, getting it out of the way and then measuring that. We would take the Top Tasks. In Cisco, the Top Tasks was download software. Every six months, for five or six years, we measured a bunch of those tasks with real network engineers. We’d give them tasks like, “Download the latest firmware for the RV over to router.”

In 2010, it took 280 seconds to do that task and it was fifteen steps. By 2013, it was down to four steps and 40 seconds because we began to manage the experience of the customer and the network engineer as they were seeking to do stuff. When you help them do all those nitty-gritty things, non-sexy, non-traditionally seen as marketing-type tasks, communication-type tasks, they buy more from you. They stay longer with you because it’s easier to do business with you. It’s easier to be a customer. Most of those basic things are neglected and ignored to the real cost and detriment of most organizations out there today as current customers become less and less loyal and more and more likely to switch.

It’s like many companies are not customer facing out there. I love this analogy I learned from one of my first clients. He told me that when you are facing the company instead of facing the customer, you have your butt to the customer. You need to turn around and face the customer. It puts your butt to the company though, so you might lose your job because you’re not playing the political games as much but it’s worth it. That’s his assertion and I agree, but it might be a little scary to think, “My job might be on the line because I’m not as aligned with being company-focused anymore.”

You’ve summarized the dilemma. Most people over the years, who I have found who have been championing customer experience within their organization are in trouble. Their career has stalled. They’re truly and genuinely talking BS about customer experience. That’s how you get jumped up the hierarchy. Genuinely trying to deliver quality customer experience is a dangerous career move in 90% of organizations. It shows how broken 90% of organizations are. I was telling you about this book, Valley of Genius, about the early days of Google in their own words and how they tried license PageRank.

They didn’t think they’d be able to create a search engine on their own because they were just grads and they didn’t have much money. They went around trying to license that to the traditional search engines. The head of Excite, they showed him a sample that says, “You searched for days and use PageRank with Excite and it delivers better results.” The guy looked at them and said, “That’s terrible. We don’t want people to get better results. We want people to stay on our website, so as we can sell more ad dollars of them.” Larry Page left that meeting and he says, “What? They are a search engine and they don’t want to help people to find stuff? Isn’t that a dead company?” He was right. There are a lot of dead companies walking today. If you’re not solving people’s problems, you’re going to get caught out fairly quickly by a new entity who is solving people’s problems. There are big changes in the world today. The challenges of trying to help your organization to change and keep your job, trying to help your organization to survive, is not a good career move in many organizations.

It is quite a dilemma. This dead man walking scenario is going to happen a lot more as the speed of technology change accelerates and companies are following old models that they think are going to take them through the next decade. It won’t even take them through the next year or at least the next couple years. It reminds me of a great documentary called The Corporation. In that movie, the assertion was that corporations are designed to be sociopaths, and I completely agree. It’s very short-sighted and selfish pseudo-individual that a corporation is. It’s a corporation is an individual by law that’s criminal. It’s crazy to have that. We’ve created this monster where it’s all about short-term, profits and, “Who cares about externalities? Let’s just dump the waste into the river.” It’s pretty bad.

That model has its use in certain areas but essentially, it’s the organizational models. It’s not that the technology is creating these structural changes, but it’s the cultural organizational changes that are far more important and that are far harder to do. It’s so much more difficult to turn your butt to the organization. Look at so many of the people who end up getting into senior positions. Not alone do they not get it, they don’t want to get it, because they feel that getting it is a career ender for their whole way of living and thinking.

It’s not that the technology is creating these structural changes, but it’s the cultural organizational changes that are far more important and far harder to do.


In many cases, it is a career ender. They’re coming from a place of pragmatic reality but it’s not a place of empathy or of consciousness.

Say you have 50 people signed up for Slack and five of them stop using it, they’ll send you a discount. They’ll monitor that and say, “We see those five people who haven’t used it in the last month or so. We’ve put those accounts on hold. Now, we’re just charging you for 45 and here’s a discount for that half of the month that those five people didn’t use the service,” or something like that. That’s a nightmare to traditional SAS pricing thinking because if you’re a salesperson in those service-based models, your whole idea of success is to sell 300 licenses when they only use 200. That’s how you’re making the bonuses in the process.

The idea that you would go back to those people and say, “You’re only using 200. We’re giving you a discount,” sales reps are having heart attacks even at the very concept of that, that you might treat the customer fairly in the process. The customer is much more independent. The customer is much more powerful. The customer is much more informed and they’re much more connected with other customers like them. Maybe there is now a business model in actually treating customers well.

That reminds me of a great book. One of my favorite business books of all time is Freakonomics. In that book, the authors talk about these different systems and how the incentives that are baked into those systems do not align with their customers or with society in general. For example, with public schools, teachers are cheating. They are helping their students cheat without the students even knowing it because their job is on the line if they don’t hit a minimum threshold of test scores. Sumo wrestlers are cheating and letting the opponent win because of the way that the system is structured.

What you’re describing with 300 seats of being sold and only 200 are being used, instead of giving a credit back for the extra 100, you just hope that they don’t notice for months and months on end and you get all that extra revenue and the bonuses and all that. That’s a misalignment of the incentives. That’s got to be corrected in the system itself. Otherwise, we’re going to see that continue across lots of industries.

The metrics drive the culture and the metrics drive the behavior. If you start managing customer outcomes rather than organizational inputs, the core shift in metrics needs to stop measuring the company and start measuring the customer, their experience, their behavior. How long is it taking them to download the software? How much of their time is being wasted? It used to be in Cisco, the internal software designers updated the firmware and they said, “We’ve created the firmware update. We’ve tested it and it works. We put it up in the system. We’re finished. Our job is done.” The way they were measured changed to, “No, your job is not done until the network engineer can find the right version and can download it.”

You’re measuring the outcome rather than the input. If we can shift those metrical thinking, towards if you want great customer experience, you’ve got to measure customer experiences and constantly look at, “How do we make it simpler? How do we make these experiences better? How do we measure the improvement of these experiences in the processes rather than our internal activities? What’s our latest project, program, initiative or whatever? How many people did we get to click on the banner for this program in the process?” Shifting the metrics, you don’t have to do it 100%, but at least adding much more metrics of the actual customer’s experience and particularly the current customer’s experience would be a very positive direction to go.

The core shift in metrics is when you stop measuring the company and start measuring the customer, their experience, their behavior. Click To Tweet

We deep dived into that very topic in one of my early episodes with Jared Spool, episode eighteen. That was a fantastic episode. We talked about metrics for measuring customer satisfaction, customer delight and how things like monthly active users was a terrible metric. Even looking at bounce rate is not a good metric and conversion rate even, so customer delight, not just satisfaction and how to measure that. We’ve talked about focus groups and net promoter score and how that’s a flawed metric as well or flawed a process. It’s just a fascinating episode. Are you familiar with Jared Spool?

He’s one of my heroes, one of the great pioneers and he’s absolutely insightful. He’s somebody to listen to. He has fantastic insights. Think of the word conversion. Think of it from a conceptual point of view. What does that mean? I meet you on the street and I’m an atheist and you tried to turn me into a Catholic or a Jew. Conversion is hard. The very concept of conversion is that we are going to make you do something you weren’t. We are going to convert you. We’re going to convert your €10 into $12. How about people who want to do something? Help them do it. The whole culture in marketing is a hunter-type of culture like, “I’m going to hunt you as a customer. I’m going to capture market share, I’m going to capture you.” That’s the type of culture that is encouraged. The customer is something to be captured and converted in the process. If we give you an experience, it will be our experience, not your experience. It will be an experience we want you to have. At the end of it all, we want you to go, “Wow.” That still works for Coca-Cola but in a whole bunch of areas, that model isn’t working anymore.

How about, “I want to buy something. I’m interested in this product, answer my questions and help me make a decision that I’m already interested in making. You don’t need to convert me.” If somebody searches for golf clubs, are you going to convert them into buying a bank loan? What are the chances of them buying anything other than golf clubs if they’ve searched for golf clubs? Go with the journey they’re on. This whole culture of, “Our job is to convert you. Our job is, “You came looking for this but we’re going to sell you this because this is our latest gizmo. This is the thing that I get a bonus on or whatever.” If I convert you from doing this other thing you wanted to do, to doing this thing I want you to do, I’m a hero.”

It’s like you’re objectifying your customers and prospects.

You think you can change them. That’s harder today. It’s not impossible, but it’s the essence of digital and the essence of search where a lot of digital begins is self-direction. It’s, “I know what I want. It may not be what I need. I may need help to understand it deeper but I have a fairly good idea. If I searched for Dublin weather, I don’t want Pretoria weather, I want Dublin weather.” That sense of going on the journey that people are on is often the cleverest marketing today and the cleverest approach.

It all starts with the culture, then the metrics that drive the behaviors and all that come from a great culture. The words that are used on the page come from a great culture. For example, Zappos is known as being culturally a great company who cares deeply about the customer. That shows up in so many ways. There’s one example, a viral blog post that came out of just a very simple, thoughtful and empathic interaction with a customer. A customer service rep was on a phone call with a customer who wanted to return some shoes that she had bought for her mother and it was well past the return by date. She had explained that her mother had just passed away. She had cancer and her feet were swelling. She never was able to wear the shoes because by the time she was going to try them, her feet had swollen enough that she couldn’t wear them anymore.

Not only did the customer service rep say, “No problem, we’ll take them back. We’ll pay for the shipping and everything even though they’re well past the date. Don’t worry about that.” She also went above and beyond and without even letting the lady know she had arranged for a beautiful bouquet of flowers to be sent with a sympathy card that she hand-signed. That touched this lady, this customer and she wrote a blog post. She had no idea that the lady was a blogger and that anything would come of it. It’s just beyond spreading a little light in the world and it went viral. That’s the culture that spurs on viral stories, customer service experiences, using the right language, and having the right tasks identified and all that.

Zappos, I remember they used to have the tagline, “We are a customer service company who happens to sell shoes.” They set up in Las Vegas, a very service-oriented place. That’s a wonderful story you’ve recounted, but how could that happen? It could happen because the customer service rep was empowered. I’m sure it wasn’t in the policies and procedure, “If a costumer’s mother has died of cancer, send her flowers.” I’m sure that wasn’t a procedure. It wasn’t a policy. She had the power of independent thinking. Yet 90% of customer service entities around the world are utterly emaciated from thinking. They are seen as, “How can we automate this in a maximum way? How can we outsource this? How can we make it as cheap as possible?”

The way you make it as cheap as possible is to make it extraordinarily rigid, “You’ve got to call this number. You’ve got to call that number.” They train people in specific ways. If anything veers off the line you said, “Sorry, we can’t deal with that. We can’t deliver it on Tuesday. It has to be delivered on Wednesday.” That happens when you look at customer service as a cost to be absolutely minimized, whereas if you look at customer service as a way to build loyalty, as a way to create longer-term engagements with your customers so that they’ll buy more. Most organizations I deal with, they have customer service off in the attic.

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There was a big organization and it was the first time ever that the customer service people, seven or eight of them, were in the same room as the digital team. It was like aliens. It was like, “You’re from Mars. You know this about the customer?” The customer service people had so much knowledge that the digital team was utterly ignorant of. Some of the digital team responded positively and I could see others in the digital team getting annoyed saying, “I’m getting paid three times what you’re getting paid. I’m not going to listen to you.” It’s that contempt for customer service. The closer you are to the customer in most organizations, the less respect you have and the less pay you get. Doesn’t that tell the whole story of what organizations think about their customers?

Organizations are thinking poorly of their customers and of their lower level employees and not giving them an opportunity to provide feedback or listening to those lower level employees or the different departments that are up in the attic or in the basement. A great example of that is back in the early days of the space shuttle, they were trying to reduce the weight so that the space shuttle would take off and would get into space. The engineers were at a loss. They’ve done everything. They couldn’t figure out anything else to leave off of the space shuttle and there was this one guy, this one engineer who is a good person. He would say hello to the guy at the gate, the employee who was the gate guard every day and say goodbye to him on his way out.

One day when he was saying goodbye, he looked distraught because they were at their wit’s end. They could not figure out how to lose any more weight on the space shuttle. The guard asks him, “What’s wrong?” He has developed some rapport because he’s a good guy. He explained the situation. The guard looked towards the space shuttle, the big tanks and the space shuttle itself and he’s like, “Why are you painting the big tanks? You don’t need to do that.” That was the revelation and it was a guard who had it. That paint that was painted all over those two huge tanks was a lot of weight. When they got rid of the paint, they were able to be underweight and they could launch the space shuttle.

It reminds me of a study I read. They analyzed these eighteen million scientific papers to see which one of them had the biggest impact on societies and were there any patterns in relation to those very successful scientific papers. They found that there were definite patterns and one of the patterns was multidisciplinary teams. The science that was having an impact didn’t just have physicist; they had biologists, behavioral scientists. It’s often that insight from that person who’s on the outside or who’s at the gate, so to speak, that can see stuff that everyone inside can’t see. We need a much greater multidisciplinary team thinking because the solutions to these complex problems are very difficult to achieve within a monoculture, a silo environment.

How would you structure this multidisciplinary environment? I know there are different models out there. There’s one, for example, that essentially throws the hierarchy out the window. It’s called Holacracy. Zappos has implemented it and a lot of the staff left because of Holacracy. They did not like it. What’s the solution here?

There’s a very interesting Dutch nursing organization called Buurtzorg. They started in about 2007 and they had four nurses and now they’ve got 14,000. They’ve grown quickly. They’ve become a huge success. They do home care type of work. Their model, they have no managers. There’s no middleman. There are 14,000 people, 50 at the head office and about twenty trainers or coaches. They’ve created small teams, ten to twelve. The small teams tend to be crucial. The ability to interact with customers and the ability to make changes based on that interaction is crucial.

They changed their metrical model. Remember that output versus input. Historically in nursing in Holland these home nursing, everything was absolutely measured. There was this documentary that was done about a nurse visiting a home and the laces would be untied. She said, “Now, I’m delivering product 27. I can do that in 35 seconds. I’m tying this person’s laces.” Everything was absolutely automated, “Sorry, I can’t change your bandage. A junior nurse does that. She’ll be here on Tuesday.” Everything was absolutely measured internally. They changed their metrics to basically independent living. The core metric was helping the patient live as independently as possible because that’s what older people want to do. They don’t want to go into nursing homes. They want to live in their own homes.

It’s the cultural organizational changes that are far more important and that are far harder to do. Click To Tweet

They made that their core metric and then they seek to create networks. The first network, they call the social network or the community network. The nurses and the teams would spend time, they’d go on to talk to the children, to talk to the neighbors and then they look at the local community and say, “How can the local community help?” That was their social network. Then the Buurtzorg network in the process was the next layer and then was the formal network, which was the hospitals and the doctors in the process. They had a dramatic impact. 40% of people are having to visit hospital less often and it’s the highest satisfaction.

The sense of teams that are much more skill-enabled rather than management enabled. You need to have the skills. They have no management, but they have a very good sharing model where they’re constantly trying to find the best process and then these teams come back and they share with other teams in the environment. It works for people who are independent-minded. It doesn’t work in certain industries where people don’t feel that they want to think empowering. Some people are not as successful as empowering others. Although I truly believe that the vast majority of people would like to feel more empowered about their job, like that customer service rep that they can make decisions within broad parameters to buy those flowers or to do those things if it results in a happier customer.

The metric in Buurtzorg was a happier customer is a patient who is able to live independently more of their life than living dependently in the process. I know a bit about Holacracy and lots of these won’t work in certain environments, will work in another environment. These smaller teams, somewhere between eight and twelve with the focus on the outcomes, they’re very much customer facing. The biggest member of the team is the customer in these multidisciplinary teams. If the customer is not on that team in an active way, I don’t see how these new models will work because it’s about changing your butt direction. It’s not enough to be facing the customer. You have to be listening, looking, talking, observing and interacting with that customer in the process. You’re bringing these disciplines together to solve the problem.

In Cisco they said, “Helping people download software, that’s just one job.” That required bringing all different technical groups to gather in Cisco, UX, people in CX people in content. There were farms, there were pages on the public website, there were multiple areas of Cisco that was impacting what seems like a very tactical type of process downloading software. You’re saying, “How do we help people download the software and who’s everyone we need?” Otherwise, “You’re doing the design? Let’s send it over to Ireland to get the graphics.” If you create the production line process, you’re not going to get the speed and the reactivity and the interactivity with the customer.

If you’re looking at the model, what model allows us to take feedback from customers, take good quality feedback, to digest and understand that and to move that feedback into an action as quickly as possible? If we changed the metrics, we will begin to evolve the team that is required to achieve those metrics. Who needs to be on that team is everybody who can help the customer download the right software faster in the process. What you’ll find then is actually a lack of a need for middle management. In that Buurtzorg model, they had all these managers monitoring and doing studies on how long it takes to tie your shoelace, how many seconds it is, what cost that is. They had a whole management model around measuring the nurse and everything the nurse did. When they stopped measuring the nurse and instead started measuring the patient from a positivistic point of view, everybody won.

They saved costs. They charge more per hour because they pay their nurses more, but their nurses ended up spending less time over a year with patients than in the older model. In the older model that was supposed to save money by saving time, it didn’t save time because the patient gets sicker. They didn’t change the bandage, your wound is worse. “Why wasn’t this bandage changed on Monday?” “The nurse said she couldn’t. Only a junior nurse can do that.” There is a radical thing happening that’s initiated by technology, but it’s a real shift in how we live and how we work and how we create societies. As we can see around the world, there’s this battle between the old world and the new world that’s emerging as there always is.

Is there a role for a focus group in this? You’re measuring in the case of the patients, their satisfaction based on whether they feel like they are able to live more independently and so forth. Is it just based on measurement of the existing customers or do you actually get customers together and focus groups and ask them questions, give them hypothetical scenarios and have them walk through those? What’s the role of focus groups?

Focus groups are quite dangerous in many situations. The core thing that they’d measure in Buurtzorg would be visits to the doctor, visits to the hospital and how much time they stayed in the hospital. They’d have hard metrics that would be their core underlying metrics of independent living in the process. Interestingly, we did a big project for health in Norway for Norwegian hospitals. We identified the Top Tasks there, which seems self-evident but weren’t until they were identified. There was essentially a triumvirate of tasks, before treatment, during treatment and after treatment. Before I go to the hospital, there’s a whole bunch of stuff you need to note while I’m in the hospital and my recovery from the hospital.

Once they identified those core tasks, those Top Tasks, then focus groups became interesting because they’d go into the focus group. Going into a focus group with vague questions is very, very dangerous because customers fantasize, customers lie. They don’t know what they want. They don’t know what they do in many situations. I often say the worst way to design a website is five smart people in a room drinking lattes. The next worst way is fifteen customers in a room drinking lattes in the process. When they went into the focus groups and they sat with people and they say, “Before going into the hospital, what was it like for you?” They understood the Top Tasks and they could direct them. “While you’re in there, what was the recovery like? What were your major challenges when you were recovering in the process?”

If we’re going to get a true picture of the customer, we need good solid quantitative sources.


They knew the tasks already and they were trying to probe deeper. Then they got real empathetic stuff around the tasks as people said, “I wanted to know if I could bring my spouse in? I wanted to know about parking and I found it quite difficult.” Very open-ended conversations with focus groups, unless you’re very skilled, can lead you in the wrong direction. Once you’ve got a clarity of the core tasks that they need to do, then you probe deeper into that task. There are three types of research that we need to get a holistic view of the customer. We need the quantitative, the number of searches, the page visits. We need observational where you’re observing people do stuff. You’re observing these network engineers as they try and download this software. Observational base data is crucial as well. The third one is qualitative.

The qualitative gives you the empathetic cherry on top and in the sense. It gives you that feel that is so difficult to get almost impossible to get from quantitative and quite difficult to get from even observational in the process. We need multiple data points and inputs of research if we’re going to get a true picture of the customer. We need good solid quantitative sources. We need good solid observational sources and we need good qualitative soft type of sources as well to give us the full picture of the customer if we’re going to deliver an exceptional customer experience.

You helped this organization identify what their Top Tasks were, and that’s a whole methodology or process that you’ve developed of identifying these Top Tasks?

That’s the whole method. It’s been used by the likes of Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, Google, Toyota, Ikea and European Union. It’s been used about four to 500 times in the last fifteen years. It gives you statistically reliable data, “Here’s what matters but equally, here’s what doesn’t matter. Here are the Top Tasks and here’s the 90th task. This task got 2,000 votes, this task got four votes.” It gives you a hierarchy of importance. Then the next thing in Top Tasks is we take the top ten tasks and we observe customers, a sample of customers, as they try to do examples of those tasks. The Top Tasks, the first phase is task identification and the second phase is a time and motion study that will bring out metrics that says, “60% of customers failed to complete this task. For those who did, it took them five minutes and they only should have taken them a minute to do it.”

How would somebody work with you to do this Top Tasks Analysis or to identify the customer care words or in any of the other stuff that you are most known?

The customer care words in essence are the task list. It’s the stuff people want to do. It’s prognosis, diagnosis. It’s before treatment, after treatment. It’s cost of the treatment. It’s all of the stealth connected with where to find my nearest hospital or what to do in case of an emergency. You go to a big research phase, you look at search behavior, you look at site visits, you look at all the research points that touch the customer. We did it for Toyota in fourteen countries to figure out how do people buy cars. What are the triggers that they are looking for? Warranties, service costs, features and specifications. What are all the stuff that really matters to people when they’re deciding to buy a car?

Interestingly, across the fourteen countries in Europe, it was almost identical. In Scandinavia, four-wheel drive was more important because they’ve got longer winters. Essentially, there are common human patterns when people are dealing with their health or whether they’re dealing with buying a car or otherwise. There’s a big process to develop the task ecosystem, the world of dealing with help, choosing a university, buying a car, whatever that may be. That typically takes about six weeks to do. There is a lot of intense research and collaboration and discussion. In essence, you come out with a task list that is somewhere between 50 and 80 in most environments. We’ve got this very unusual survey method where we give people the entire list randomly presented and say, “Choose up to five really quickly.”

We force them to trigger their gut instinct. Let’s say there are 100 tasks in the list, five of them will get as much of the vote as the bottom 50. That is a pattern that is repeated hundreds and hundreds of times. Every environment has a relatively small set of super important things to the customer. The next idea is, “How long is it taking people to find these super important things? How long is it taking people to do them?” When we analyze organizations, we often find that the stuff that’s super important is getting very little attention, and the tiny tasks at the bottom of the list are getting a lot of the organizations’ attention. You’ve got the butt-facing problem that most of the staff are facing inwards creating vanity content or new projects and they’re not facing outward helping the people. Top Tasks helps you to change your butt’s direction so that you’re facing the customer and trying to understand the customers. It gives you that clinical saying, “You think these things are important, but your customers don’t.”

Today's customer is much more independent, powerful, informed and they’re more connected with other customers like them. Click To Tweet

If somebody wants to work with you, but they can’t afford you because they’re not Toyota or they’re not a big organization, is there an online course that you’ve developed or a book that you can direct them to?

Through years and years of work, a really detailed manual coming out probably in October, November direction, which is a real nitty-gritty how to do this. There’s already quite a bit in my other books, but this is real. You want to do this, you don’t have the major budgets, here is in tremendous detail how to do it. We have started giving a training and courses and support because we’re finding that in certain countries, particularly in Holland and other countries, the Top Tasks have taken off and a lot of people want to do it themselves and build up skill sets within their organizations.

We’re now offering a type of a model where we hand hold you through a process. You do most of the heavy lifting and the research, but we give you critical support at each point in the process. That’s a much smaller budget, probably somewhere in the region of €5,000 to €10,000, whereas the other ones are up around €30,000 plus depending on the complexities of the actual environment. There’s a training and support option just being launched.

Do you have a title for the book coming out?

It’s just going to be called Top Tasks.

This has been fabulous and so much fun. You’re such a joy to talk to. What’s the website for your company?

CustomerCareWords.com. I have a weekly newsletter on GerryMcGovern.com, a weekly opinion piece I do.

Thank you, Gerry. Thank you to my readers. It’s time to take action from all this wonderful stuff that you’ve learned.

Important Links:

Your Checklist of Actions to Take

☑Create content that adds value to my clients. Use words that cater to their needs.

☑ Be open to feedback. Let my customer speak about their experience, accept the good and the bad.

☑ Aim to be authentic and genuine with my marketing. Fake marketing was there long before the fake news.

☑ Find ways to cultivate a healthy and long-term relationship with my existing clients. They’re the driver of value, not the potential customer.

☑ Apply Gerry’s Top Tasks Analysis. It’s a methodology that clearly identifies what matters most to people but equally what doesn’t matter to customers.

☑ Make it easy for my clients to do business with me. Simplify the process and let go of unnecessary steps.

☑ Quickly address my customer’s challenges. If I’m not helping them, someone else will.

☑ Figure out ways on how to measure their experience and behavior.

☑ Empower my customer service team. Make them feel valued and listen to their inputs.

☑ Grab a copy of Gerry McGovern’s book Transform: A Rebel’s Guide for Digital Transformation.

About Gerry McGovern

Gerry helps large organizations deliver a better digital customer experience. His commercial clients include Microsoft, Dropbox, Cisco, NetApp, VMware, and IBM. He has also consulted with the US, UK, EU, Dutch, Canadian, Norwegian, and Irish governments. He has written six books on digital customer experience. His latest is called Transform: A Rebel’s Guide for Digital Transformation.

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