Thursday, July 01, 2010

Experience game on and the clear winners are the fans

The facts:
  • Forrester Customer Experience Forum, New York, NY
  • June 29-30, 2009
  • 900+ attendees (original target for Forrester was 500)
  • Adobe role: Adobe VIP luncheon on building great experiences for the enterprise with presentations by myself and Jonathan Browne
Analyst meetings:
  • Liz Boehm - Healthcare
  • Victoria Bough - Customer Experience practice lead
  • Vidya Drego - User Experience Practices
  • Paul Hagen - Customer Experience
  • Emmet Higdon - Financial Services
  • Andrew McInnes - Customer Experience (awards)
  • Ron Rogowski - User Experience - Emotional Experience Design
  • Brad Strothcamp - Financial Services

Some side discussions:
  • Ally Financial
  • BMO
  • Effective UI
  • RightNow
  • Tandem Seven
  • UX Magazine
The idea:
Since I effectively missed 72 hours of the World Cup I will use 'the game' as an analogy for my report.  

The story:
No clear winners yet, except the fans
From the first kick right through to overtime, the Forrester Customer Experience Forum here in New York was a mental and physical challenge made all the more exhausting by the back-to-back 1-on-1s that were generally a lot more like 1-on-3s as my team mates lead the way into battle.  While my time was primarily spent introducing some analysts to Adobe’s thinking about customer and user experience in the enterprise, I did welcome the opportunity to present to some of our invited guests and a few of our customers at a VIP lunch, took in a few of the excellent track sessions, and tried to meet with as many of the vendors that were sponsoring the event as humanly possible.
My customer experience (as a Forrester customer) was very positive.  Harley Manning’s keynote speech was stacked with great data and energized and prepared the room for his colleague Ron Rogowski, who delivered a passionate and tear-jerking follow-on performance that knocked the whole idea of emotional experience design out of the park.  Ron sailed us through the personal journey of having just completed a 100 mile run across the California Sierra in under 23 hours and surfed through some good, bad and ugly of some valiant attempts at experience, and then touched us down with the incredibly insightful and powerful example of how engaging the senses online had a direct impact on his family during his wife’s pregnancy.  Everyone is fine today, thank goodness, except maybe a few brands that might want to look into why they made the wrong side of that presentation.
Forrester’s coach had already been quick to realign the team based on individual strengths, moving the first line around role-based research and it showed.  Pre-conference investment in hardening a well-heeled practice around Customer Experience Management had the team looking great and the even better news was that it left the refs no choice but to make sure we all played fair from now on. It was indeed a great experience for the much larger than expected turnout.  Incredible presenters, great side conversations, worthy and productive meetings and signs of some clear shots on goal for us, our partners and our customers. We lined up behind the ball and got ready to engage directly with this brave team of analysts lead by fearless and thoughtful leader, Victoria Bough.
For me this experience crossed the goal line in a lot of different ways.  If you know me you’ll know that while I do have a lot of opinions about customer experience but I tend to apply them a little more rigorously to thinking about user experience.  Good news was that as soon as I had the ball I had no shortage of opportunity to pass and shoot, including a very insightful and unexpected sideline conversation with EffectiveUI author, Jonathan Anderson.  Time melted away and I dug a little deeper to expose some of the more meaty issues that were going to decide the game.
Then a break – and thankfully our local NY sales team saw fit to make sure their out-of-town counterparts got a good local and late night tour of NYC so there was nothing keeping me up at night anymore after that.
Spending time with analysts like Vidya Drego and Ron Rogowski should be my full time job – I really love the kind of practical and tactical thinking which I can apply tomorrow to the things that I am working on today.  But its not – and that’s because the challenge is actually much larger than methods, tools, patterns and practices, wireframes and the craft of user experience.  The challenge, the journey we have begun, is into the back office, the culture, the IT group and the solutions and products that are going to fuel a revolution in how great consumer experiences are going to be.  The challenge is uncovering the ROI, finding the budgets, shifting focus and effort, finding our allies and knowing our enemies, as we march towards our ‘happy spot’ and beyond the islands of hope created by a few thought leaders who have already been able to wrangle some budget to get it right.  The fact that some of our expectations are being met and that we are occasionally delighted serves to fuel the urgency of this discussion, and that urgency actually adds even more complexity to the equation.
In a very insightful chat about healthcare with healthcare analyst Liz Boehme I grabbed onto something I will be able to use forever when I need to explain why sometimes the problems require a broader stroke than just UI or interaction design to solve user problems.  We were deep in a discussion about the complexities of the mythical electronic health record, and had gotten on to a great tangent about how the underlying information in insurance systems dealing with patient conditions and treatments was actually written out as short-form legal definitions of how an insurer (payer) might define the cause of a claim or the potentially insurable treatments they need.  As we discussed the futility of simply trying to build a better mousetrap (website) Liz exclaimed, “Now we can get to the information we don’t understand faster.”
Boom!  Trying to dribble the ball beside her in my newly expanded understanding and respect for healthcare solutions I ran directly into the wall, popped out through the windshield and bent my nose on the scratchy brick wall in front of me.
A new brand innovator’s dilemma for me – I can fix what appears to be broken but what if I’m busy making useless information look usable.  Maybe I should let sleeping dogs lie.  If a customer’s best option was to pick up the phone and try and sort out some confusing information then a great user experience simply gets them to an FAQ and a 1-800-HELPS-ME.
Not one to bother searching for silver bullets, I pressed on in search of wood behind the arrow.  I continued mining until I had several tons of insight about healthcare, financial services, the various ways that Forrester is approaching inquiry and the growing demand for land in the new frontier of experience.  I tirelessly ducked around the obvious impressions of what Adobe builds and does.  I bounded between islands of PDF ubiquity, Flash value reassurances and some hand-waving architecture that I use to describe closing the gap between user expectations and complex enterprise systems, and why we continue on unwavering after 10+ years of building things that work for banks, governments, insurance companies and a host of other verticals, each with unique constraints and issues.  “This is all real, all available now,” I reiterated to raised eyebrows, “But what we are doing is taking this on from a more holistic approach and we are working with our customers and our partners on real customer-centric and very engaging solutions that are changing the mindset around how to effectively tackle big, tough traditional IT problems.  We have the personas, end user needs and known gaps, and they happen to fit very neatly into the domain d’jour.  Not so much by design as by demand.”
In the end, we all smiled and nodded.  This was good.  We had a lot of work to do but noone was scared to roll up their sleeves.  We would see each other again soon and we would be further along than we were today.  We would be better equipped to help.  We would have more case studies and excellent examples of how design was unlocking the ROI we always knew was in those complex systems.  Our products would be further along and more people would know about them.
In the end, I didn’t cover the entire field, I just couldn’t.  But I felt like I had done pretty good and the dull, peaceful state of mental exhaustion and contemplation was going to be my travel companion for the rest of this trip.
We knew that our team was one step closer to the finals, we had turned up a few yellow cards but no real red ones, and that the teams, structure, process and ideas that were on the sidelines were going to move us one step closer to the podium.  The vuvuzelas went quiet for moment and we left the field to huddle and get ready for the next bracket.  And the fans, those tireless consumers of sites, products, apps, experiences and more – gave a quiet cheer somewhere in the NY heat.  They knew that no matter what happened on the field, it was they who would be the winners in the end.
Their voices had been heard above the noise.

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