Posts tagged “client”

Doug’s War Story: Knock-knock! Who’s there?

Doug Cooke is founder of Tinder, a research consultancy focused on people-centered innovation.

In a recent research and strategy project focused on defining a new global platform for a medical device, our research plan required us to shadow clinicians and others as they used existing devices in the “context of care.” With minor issues like HIPAA protecting patient privacy and other security issues at big urban hospitals in the US, our team decided that conducting research in Europe provided a better opportunity to understand these devices and their users.

Planning started with all the usual steps: multi-day client sessions to assess the domain, issues and problems; auditing reams of client data and documents; becoming familiar with competitive products, etc. We developed a research protocol that went through many rounds of revision with a large, multi-location client team, arriving at a clear understanding of relevant and important user issues. We developed screening criteria for participating medial institutions. Pilot studies were run at US hospitals. Months of preparation were spent in making sure our research team was fully prepared to bring back insights and perspectives that would help define the next generation global respirator platform. Ready, set, on to Europe!

Our first stop was a hospital in Wales. They had lined up the appropriate people for us to shadow and interview, including department heads, physicians, and medical techs. We spent two days shadowing, probing and gathering, and everything worked according to plan. Wahoo!

At our second stop in London (hauling two large model cases that would not fit into London’s very spacious cabs), we arrived at the check-in desk and ask to see Dr. Smith (or so we’ll call him). Upon arrival at his department wing, we learned that Dr. Smith was not in. Even more concerning was that Dr. Smith was out of the country at a conference and had not let anyone else know we were coming. After speaking with a few more people, the answer was “Please come back at another time when the doctor is in.” Ouch! In spite of all the planning, effort, and resources to get here, a few uncooperative people were about to jeopardize our research program.

How could this happen? Well, I ignored one of my primary rules: never let the client take on a critical path item that could endanger the project’s success and my firm’s reputation. Specifically, because of the difficulty of gaining access to the right people and institutions, and extremely high cost if we were to use a traditional recruiting process, our client took on the responsibility for arranging our visits to hospitals through Europe. Few clients understand the level of effort needed to screen, schedule and triple-confirm each participant. When the “research gig” is complex and requires the participation of a number of people carefully choreographed in a short time, it is essential to have a dedicated, experienced resource to make that happen.

We made it all work in the end. With no Dr. Smith and an apparent dead end, we literally started on-the-spot networking, walking up and introducing ourselves to doctor after doctor until we had made some friends that would grant us two days of access in the ICU and ER. It worked out in the end, but presented unforeseen delays and stress to an already pressure-filled project. Painful but constructive outcomes, nonetheless.

The rest of the trip in Germany and Italy presented various levels of preparedness on the part of hospitals we visited. Some hospitals were planning on hosting us for our full two day itinerary and some were expecting only a few hours meeting (which we were able to extend by turning on our best charm).

I have always been a very careful planner and can fastidiously orchestrate research logistics. I know what it takes to gather user insights. But the lessons learned from this European research foray is a clear reminders that whenever I can, I must control the recruiting and scheduling process. I hope to never again knock on any unsuspecting doors.

Vanessa’s War Story: DDoSed in Vegas

UX Researcher Vanessa Pfafflin shares this great story, where she finds success in failure.

My colleague and I were visiting Las Vegas for a trade show and decided to tack on some field visits at a couple of our Vegas clients’ businesses. We planned to help out at the trade show booth for two days and then do one day’s worth of observational research before catching our flight back home. The first night we were in Vegas, we were notified that our company was experiencing a DDoS attack and our software was completely down for all 17k clients. (To give a little background, my company provides health and wellness based businesses with business management software centered around scheduling and POS). Our sales people were panicky. The show was 5 days long and we knew that it would be a really terrible week if they were unable to access the sales demos for the show if the server remained down.

Unfortunately, the attacks continued for 2 days before we were able to install a new firewall and switch to a different data mitigator. We humbly kept our booth up sans demos. By this time our war-torn trade show team had improvised with screenshots of the product. Some of our clients showed up at the booth – many offering re-assuring words, while some met us with anger.

At the end of the second day, connections were restored. I contacted the two clients we planned on visiting the following day, asking if their sites were up and working properly. Both clients assured me that their systems were back up and running just fine, and that they were anticipating our visits tomorrow.

The next morning, we visited our first client, a massage therapy business, and were greeted warmly. We spent three hours onsite (mainly troubleshooting) and they thanked us with complimentary 60 minute massages! After two days on the DDoS battlefield, it was the best gift a girl could ask for.

Our next client was a thirty minute cab ride away. By this time in the day, the temperature was in the 100s and we pushed through the wall of heat up the steps and into the lobby of the second business, a yoga studio. When we walked in, the girl at the front desk studied our business name embroidered on our shirts and said “Oh you guys, you’re on our sh*t list right now”. We apologized on behalf of our company and offered to help in any way we could. The girl did not want to have anything to do with us. Our software outage had made the last two days at work so difficult for her that all she wanted to do was scream. I asked to speak with the manager, with whom I had been working to schedule the visit. After 30 incredibly uncomfortable minutes waiting for him in the lobby, we made the decision to leave.

The reactions of our two clients were so dramatically different that my colleague and I were left feeling quite bewildered as we waited for our flight back home. In retrospect, I’m glad we decided to go forward with the visits. Although the visits turned into more PR than observational research, we felt good about showing up and offering our support. In this situation, external factors put a damper on our research and put us in some pretty uncomfortable situations. In one of the situations, we were presented with an opportunity to help, and in the other, we learned when it is best to just stop and walk away.

This Week @ Portigal

It’s sunburn weather this week (well, today at least), perfect for zipping from place to place, which is indeed what we are doing

  • It’s a busy fieldwork week, as we are going into the homes of (mostly young, mostly male) gamers to see what they’re doing and get their reactions to a prototype.
  • No sooner do we finish fieldwork than our clients come to our office at the end of this week to help untangle the data and identify the key takeaways
  • I’m putting the final details together my sold-out workshop (as well as a short talk) for User Experience Lisbon next week.
  • We’ve launched a new series devoted to fieldwork War Stories.
  • What we’re consuming: Frittle, Aguirre, the Wrath of God, scopa (the game), Scopa (the restaurant).

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Geek Power: Steven Levy Revisits Tech Titans, Hackers, Idealists [Wired] – The real problem, Greenblatt says, is that business interests have intruded on a culture that was founded on the ideals of openness and creativity. In Greenblatt’s heyday, he and his friends shared code freely, devoting themselves purely to the goal of building better products. “There’s a dynamic now that says, let’s format our Web page so people have to push the button a lot so that they’ll see lots of ads,” Greenblatt says. “Basically, the people who win are those who manage to make things the most inconvenient for you.” [Strongly worded insight about the state of Internet business rings tragically true /SP]
  • Organizing Armageddon: What We Learned From the Haiti Earthquake [Wired] – One of the biggest ideas to hit the humanitarian community in the past decade is the notion of surveying the recipients of aid to see what they think. That’s very commercial ­ treating them more like clients than victims…After the Asian tsunami, the Fritz Institute conducted one of the first-ever surveys of aid recipients. Only 60 percent of families surveyed in India and Sri Lanka said they had received timely aid and were treated with dignity in the 60 days after the tidal wave hit. Almost everyone reported getting water within the first couple of days, but just 58 percent of Sri Lankans reported receiving shelter in a timely manner. In general, post-disaster studies tend to measure “throughput indicators” like how much food was distributed, or how much shelter got provided, instead of “output or outcome metrics” like lives saved or suffering alleviated. [A powerful reframe on saving lives, with more cultural shifts clearly needed. /SP]

Consulting Co-Creation

One of the interesting things about having a small business is the flexibility in how we can work. Our business model is based around a certain type of engagement: typically 6 to 8 weeks of half to 3/4 time, working directly with medium to large number-sized client team. But many other things come up (i.e., two of our last few projects involved direct collaboration with another agency, who had the original client relationship). Sometimes these different ways of working don’t work out, sometimes they are non-starters (like the call I returned a few weeks ago in which my guy had to wrap up the call to claim his court time; had an idea for a new company “but we’re not doing it for money”, and despite my clarity that this wasn’t a fit, was told I would be hearing from the partner, who of course didn’t follow through), but overall, I like the possibility that others can construct (or suggest) scenarios beyond what I may have thought of.

Recently I had a fun and simple gig; spend a day with a team, helping them to synthesize some data; pulling out some key themes and putting some text to it. There was no proposal, no deliverable, it was just a day of thinking, talking, synthesizing, organizing, writing.

Of course, we’re all hoping that it turns into more, either more like that, or more bigger, but as a first step, it was pretty fun. Variety is one of the key benefits of working in a consultancy, and varying the structure of the engagement is one source that I am always learning more about.

Don’t Abandon Expertise For The Fleeting Pleasures Of Collaboration

In a thoughtful piece that carefully debunks some of the co-creation hype, my friend and colleague Denise Lee Yohn writes about Viewer Created Adverising Messages at brandchannel

Much more important, however, is the fact that these ads likely miss the opportunity to demonstrate brand leadership; that is, to express the unique and compelling brand point of view that transcends the product or service being sold. The ads everyone points to as having been the most disruptive, and therefore the most successful, are ones that represent the thought leadership of the brand. Think Apple’s 1984 commercial and Nike’s original Just Do It campaign. No consumer, no matter how talented or cool or brand fanatical, would have ever come up with those ads.This is because consumers know what they know at the moment-they know why they like a product-but they don’t know the vision of the brand. They don’t know the company’s dreams and aspirations for the brand, and so they lack the insight and foresight to realize an ad’s full potential. Their ads may be cute or clever, but they won’t further brand leadership. Just as product development should be consumer-informed, so should creative development. But innovative, game-changing companies don’t ask consumers to actually develop new products for them; they shouldn’t ask consumers to develop ads for them either.

Now, I’m not questioning the effectiveness of some brands’ consumer-created ads. Converse and MasterCard stand out as companies that have not sacrificed brand consistency, thought leadership, or alignment in their efforts to engage their consumer base in fresh, interactive ways. And before you accuse me of being some old ad agency type pining away for the good ol’ times, let me tell you, I’m not. I’ll be the first to assert that the old advertising model is broken and creative teams need a big wake up call. But that wake up call needs to come from the clients, not consumers, and therein lies the fundamental reason why V-CAMs [Viewer Created Advertising Messages] are a mistake.

Brands are the responsibilities of the companies that produce them. Companies are ultimately responsible for the perceptions of and relationships with consumers that brands develop. Although the consumer now has more information than ever on which to base her brand perceptions, and she is in more control of the brand relationships, it remains the marketer’s role to shape and nurture brand image and equity.

In the blogosphere, consumer-generated content thrives. So even if companies don’t solicit V-CAMs, they’ll still be created. And that’s okay. But actively pursuing consumer-generated advertising as a marketing strategy is a lazy and irresponsible approach to branding. Furthermore, it’s doomed.


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