Wednesday, May 29, 2013

How not to keep customers

Here is a great post by Stephen Pollard I have just read in the Daily telegraph.

I had to share and add a short build of my own:

Want to create loyal customers? Screw up and annoy them (seriously). When they draw your attention to the screw up, fix it in such a way as to make them gasp with pleasure. Because most customers receiving great service wouldn't know it if great service danced naked in front of them. A hiccup in great service put right, rapidly and effectively, is what creates long term customers.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Applying Pixar's story telling rules to report writing and insight generation

I stumbled across Pixar's 22 rules of story telling the other day and was struck by how similar they are to the way we (at EthOS) have to think in order to disentangle insights from everyday, sometimes mundane events.

I have listed their rules below and will add my take under whichever points resonate with a particular way in which we work. Don't rely on the below as the only way to reframe the ordinary as extraordinary or to disentangle insights. We use GT (I will write this up in a new post soon) too.

Here goes:
  • You admire a character for trying more than for their successes. This is all about coping strategy. How does your participant cope with all sorts of issues in their lives?
  • You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different. Look at this from a participant perspective. They will only share what they want to share. How do you unravel and explore locked down values and beliefs they can't readily explain or rationalise. Or, another way of putting this is that, participants can only respond to questions they are capable of answering. How do you make a breakthrough?
  • Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite. This is a great point when applied to writing reports. You think you know your themes and insights? Go to bed, wake up and re-read everything afresh. If nothing new comes to you then you're doing something wrong.
  • Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___. This is too literal but do try to think in terms of thinking frameworks. I'll give you an example; many years a go we conducted NPD ethnography's for a brand of bleach. After our successful debrief, and over dinner that evening, a junior client said to me: You gave a great debrief about bleach, but it wasn't about our bleach. It was innovation ideas about any bleach... A framework to set their particular brand within an overall context would have helped a great deal.
  • Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free. This applies to cutting together your insight films. It's a brutal process. You can't include everything. And you have limited time to convey captured events by theme. Stick to around half a dozen themes and 3 minute films to keep your report/presentation/workshop punchy, memorable and useable.
  • What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal? This is all about moderation. Ask banal questions and get banal answers. Push them (when appropriate) and get interesting snippets to further develop. Don't keep everything nice all the time. One of the problems around any kind of qualitative research is that it's a financial transaction and they (participants) want to do their very best and look their very best for you. 
  • Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front. I have more or less finished my presentation/report before much of the data has even come in. Why? Sounds really crazy... because it's a bunch of hypothese and a thinking framework which I must first set up in order to even make sense of the entries that come in. I throw them at my report and decide on amendments, changes and improvements. So my presentation isn't created at the end of the process, it's something that is alive and changes throughout the process. 
  • Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time. Not sure how this applies... Any ideas?
  • When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up. Here is something I talk about all the time. Look at the captured events and write down what isn't happening, what might have happened and even what nearly happened. See how much new thinking comes to you.
  • Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it. Don't not use your own personal experiences as a sounding board for the ideas you are exploring. You need to identify/empathise with people's experiences and realities before you can properly convey them. Same as anthropologists in the field.
  • Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone. This point reminded me of how important writing down your thoughts is. Even if you can't think of anything to write about a particular footage, photo, audio or text entry. Just start writing and I guarantee you, the act of writing will open the taps of your creative juices. See? I just wrote 'open the taps of your creative juices'. How creative is that?
  • Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself. A critical rule. It's never, ever about your first idea.   No matter how excited you are about it and how excited the client gets about it. Keep thinking (and writing).
  • Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likeable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience. Or give your participants beliefs and values which are embedded in their past life experiences. Don't just cluster together a bunch of entries in the hope of making up a fully rounded set of insights.
  • Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it. One way of applying this rule to what we do is think in terms of a set of codes and rules which define your participants/their behaviours and reactions. Or perhaps a cultural backdrop which defines the codes and rules. 
  • If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations. This is self explanatory. Become each and every one of your participants. What would you have done, thought, felt, said, etc.? Compare and use it to develop your ideas.
  • What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against. A wonderful point. What are the risks participants are weighing up each time they do something, anything, no matter how trivial. Our coping with risks define everything we do but rarely become part of our narratives.
  • No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later. In other words, go to bed and wake up to re-read/rewrite with fresh eyes. Unless it's your last day before the debrief in which case you are stuffed.
  • You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining. I don't understand, can't apply this rule. Any thoughts anyone?
  • Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating. Not a direct application but do try to understand people's everyday lives as one huge coping strategy. Especially if you are having problems disentangling nuggets to build on.
  • Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like? This is an interesting idea. Redesign your thinking framework as often as you like, if it helps to unlock interesting ideas.
  • You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way? When writing your report, you must set up the characters up front so that your report isn't simply a series of clustered events. Events need to sit in an overall context.  
  • What’s the essence of your story? Most economical way of telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there. I always create two presentations. One which is a quick start version, and a more detailed, appendix style, document, which I start from the outset. I present from the quick start version and selectively add detail from the appendix version based on what clients want to drill down into. This is my way of running a half day insight workshop. It works best when you have films to show.
To close, I want to add another extremely important method for extracting insight from sequences of video. View at least 4 times. Ideally more. Each time you do, write down what you see. But be careful not to describe what is happening - think about motivations and intentions. So if you saw someone looking for a product on a shelf, you need to break it down into sequences which will lead you to make notes (perhaps) about benchmarking and  and reference pointing. More in another post.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

More learnings from the world of mobile ethnography

Let me cut to the chase here with the briefest of backgrounds. A client is running their own explorations of current account holders. Tasks carefully designed and scheduled, segments generated and tags finalised.

Entries started to rain down on us; video mostly but also, photos, audio and quite a lot of text.

This is where I wanted to cut to:

Client calls me: Hi Siamack! I'm glad we only recruited twelve people. I might not have been able to make sense of any more participants.

Me, taken aback: But aren't you filtering and creating smart workspaces?

Client: I am but that's only half the story. I want to understand them as individuals, not a bunch of sorted entires. Even if I can theme and code them into clusters.

Me: But I showed you how to go to summary and see entries by individuals and work in sylos if you prefer.

Client: That's what I did eventually. And it was brilliant. Worked so well. Up to that point though, I found it hard to place the entries into the context of who the creators of the entries were. And even things like the cultural backdrop these participant's opinions and beliefs were formed in.

I was very happy that she had eventually recalled we do have different views including by participant. But our conversation had served to reminded me of the following interpretive pillars of mobile auto-ethnographic research:

1) Understanding the individual before you understand their entries is key
2) Participants decision to capture/share an entry/comment is also data
3) What isn't said/shown is as important as what is said/shown

There are a few more.

Now here's the thing, and I feel quite exposed sharing with you: I hadn't given enough thought to the understanding-participants-as-whole-people thing. Yes, you can look at entries by participants, but I am thinking about the researcher being able to build a collage, consisting of not only entries and notes but all sorts of other stimulus material.

I was thinking of those police suspect maps shown above. I'm still thinking. And work has already started on the researcher end of the web interface.

Stay tuned.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Makeup stories - join us

First it was my brother-in-law's car buying journey. Now it's my wife's makeup stories. You may well ask, how far will Siamack go to exploit his family for the benefit of his Ethnographic research platform?

My answer is that they aren't blood related so it's fine.

Today I want to invite you to join Varinder's makeup stories. I can add you to the project as a manager so you can engage, ask questions and much more. Drop me an email and I'll send you login details.

To be clear, V has started capturing all her makeup moments. Application, walkthrough of her makeup bag and more. It's really rather good. The point of this exercise is to blow you away with the type of outputs you can expect and the tools we offer to interpret the data. Up to you to add whatever meaning you like.

So let me know if you want an invite.


Monday, May 6, 2013

We pick you up if you fall down

Did you know that building a research platform is like giving birth to a living creature? You need to constantly feed it, love it, grow it, make it better if it breaks down, keep it clean and make people fall in love and stay in love with it. from time to time it also mis-behaves, delights or simply gives people whatever they were expecting. It just doesn't stop. I smile when I think back to 2009; when I thought that once finished and launched I could sit back and chill.

Something else you might not know is that you can't 'sell' a platform like you can, say, a consultancy project. Because clients usually have to use the platform themselves. So no matter how slick your walkthrough is, at some point you will have to stand back and leave a user to make sense of it on their own. Will they use 'Help & Support' if they get stuck or will they just think your platform doesn't work correctly?

An agency planner once said to me: "We feel this platform is still in Beta." I asked him to explain. "Because the tasks came out all mixed up." So I explained that they needed to press 'Enter' to create a new task and a new line. There followed a long silence. "Then why didn't you tell us?" To which I replied, "I did. And why didn't you just ask us when you saw the mixed up text?"

Lesson learnt. Don't leave anyone to use the platform by themselves for the first time.

Back to selling the app. No matter how slick your demonstration is, no matter how brilliant your product is, it's success comes down to the ability and opinion of the individual who is using it. There is no point saying, well, Malcolm Webster at G&T didn't get stuck with tasks.

I have had situations which had nothing to do with our platform or app at all. A client was getting increasingly cross about entries being slow to send (arrive). I tried to helpfully explain, "But you said households would have WiFi and none do. You also said that 3G was strong yet everyone is still on EDGE..." He was having none of it: "It worked much better before when you came over. Have you done something to your platform?" It didn't matter how many times I explained that their London offices with high speed internet was a very different place to the working class suburbs of Mumbai. In the end, we received 2,500 entries for a  project among working mums in Mumbai. Yes, our app successfully sent 15Mb to 50Mb files to our web interface over EDGE. It took time, but we didn't lose a single entry.

I challenge anyone out there to send 2500 files x 15Mb over EDGE without a single error. Prove it and I will promote you on this here blog.

I guess with almost 7,000 signed up users (excluding research participants), we will get some questions and support tickets. So to avoid the annoying problem of users forgetting how to work our platform and not getting in touch, we have created a bunch of short films to help users refer to specific topics, fast.

Let's see if it works.