Business Performance Conversion Testing Customer Experience Product Development UX

Deceiving your customers: dark patterns or bad design?

(This post originally appeared on the carwow Product & Engineering blog on Medium)

You may find this hard to believe, but not all people behind your favourite websites have your best interests in mind. Some, you might even say, are out to squeeze every last penny from you before you leave.

Ads covering every spare pixel are tiring and overlays can be downright condescending, but at least they’re being upfront about their intentions. The sneaky ones, the ones you can’t easily see, the ones built into the design – the ‘dark patterns’ – perhaps they’re the worst of all.

What are Dark Patterns?

Sounds like some kind of conspiracy theory from the dimly lit corners of the web, but ‘dark patterns’ is the term coined for practices on the web that deceive users into doing something unintended. You expect one thing, you get another., a site dedicated to educating people on the practices and naming and shaming offenders, describes it as:

“Normally when you think of “bad design”, you think of the creator as being sloppy or lazy but with no ill intent. This type of bad design is known as a “UI anti-pattern”. Dark Patterns are different?—?they are not mistakes, they are carefully crafted with a solid understanding of human psychology, and they do not have the user’s interests in mind.”

There are some great examples of this in the library on that site, but I want to share a possible dark pattern I personally encountered last week.

Colour me bad

Now on the grand scale of things, this one isn’t in the ‘Super-Evil’ category, more in the ‘Oh, that’s cheeky’ tier. And I feel a little bad naming them, as I liked the product and it was very helpful to me on a recent research project, but…

Informizely, formerly known as Insitez, offer a number of online survey tools?—?I’d used their very useful exit survey product to help understand why users were leaving a particular page on our website. It served it’s purpose, but I didn’t need it any more and didn’t want to keep on paying the monthly subscription fee.

So I logged into my account and opted to unsubscribe. This was the message I was presented with:

colour based dark patterns

It seemed so simple, but I hesitated. My brain went ___________. What had stopped me? It was only a fraction of a second and as soon as I realised I had to chuckle.

The colours were the wrong way round. Accepted norms in colour psychology say ‘red means stop, green means go’. If I want to proceed I click the green thing. Don’t I? Er, no.

Were they trying to trick me into keeping my subscription or could it just be ‘bad design’? The latter is possible, I suppose. A quick straw poll of a handful of designers in the office was met with laughter.


I’m guessing they’re not convinced. I’m just not sure what the thought process could have been behind the innocent selection of those colours and labels.

We’ll never know. I cancelled anyway. Using the red button. (that was the right one, wasn’t it?)

Lesson Learned

What can we take away from this? To borrow from Google… ‘Don’t be evil’. If you’re charged with growing a business, employing dark patterns might deliver you short term gains, but it leaves a sour taste in the mouth of your duped (/nearly duped) customers, serving only to build long term distrust in your brand.

**Bonus Dark Pattern**

In writing this I realised I encountered another potential dark pattern recently, buying trainers on the Sports Direct website. has a category for this type?—?the rather descriptive ‘Sneaky into basket’.

I selected a pair of Astroturf trainers, went to the checkout to pay, only to do a double take when I realised a magazine had automatically been added to my basket. It was only £1, but I certainly had no interest in it and was peeved that it had been added.

I wonder what percentage of customers complete their purchase completely unaware of this surreptitious addition?

shopping basket dark patterns

Business Performance Conversion Testing Customer Experience Product Development

Don’t let the HiPPO drive the bus

This article first appeared on the carwow blog on Medium.

Gut feel and opinion go a long way, but it can also take you down the wrong path if you don’t listen to your audience. At carwow, we’re strongly opinionated but it doesn’t rule our decision-making. We use data and user feedback to inform our opinions and decisions about product development and we’re better off for it.

Where do the Hippos come in?

‘HiPPO’ is a term I first heard 5 years ago. It an acronym for ‘Highest PaidPerson’s Opinion’ and was used to describe how many companies make decisions about their product development and marketing. When faced with a decision, the choice was made based on the opinion of a senior figure, with an absence of data or a conscious decision to ignore it.

My view of a HiPPO is less about the seniority and pay grade of an individual and more about the mindset. It’s very easy to believe we know best, or to assume “I could easily be our target customer” but it can be a dangerous habit. I’ve been working on websites since the last millennium (1999?—?yes, I’m that old!) and I’ve lost track of the number of conversion optimisation tests where I’ve guessed the wrong winner. You just don’t know. You need more information.

So if guessing is not an option…?

If you can accept that you don’t know all the solutions to your business problems, then the answer is very simple. You listen.

There are cryptic clues, hidden messages, explicit complaints, enthusiastic endorsements all over your business and from a wide variety of sources. Sometimes you just have to shut up and listen for them.

It’s a trait that’s strong in those who contribute to developing the product at carwow.

So how do we listen?

The information you seek comes in many forms and so you need to listen in different ways. This list isn’t extensive but does highlight a few of our methods.


To see what is happening we use a variety of data reporting sources?—?primarily MixPanel, Google Analytics and our own internal customer data. We can see who is using our website, how they interact and convert, and identify bottlenecks that are hindering growth.

On a more granular level, we can review pages using clickmaps, heatmaps and (one of my favourites) video recordings of users interacting with specific functionality on the site.

Feedback methods

Analytics is great at the ‘what’ part, but pretty lacking when it comes to understanding the ‘why’Why are users bouncing from your homepage? Why are they dropping out on your signup form? Why are they unsubscribing from your beautifully crafted emails?

Listen. They’re telling you why.

User testing sessions

These are fun, try it. With user testing, you ask a participant to carry out tasks on your website, whilst you sit next to them and observe. They think out loud, telling you what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and how it makes them feel. All the while, you’re screaming inside your head:

“Click the big green button! It’s right there in front of you!!”

It’s an enlightening experience that really underlines the (potentially incorrect) assumptions you’ve made about how your product should function.

Don’t pass over this method thinking you don’t have the capability or experience to run these sessions. Instead, pick up a copy of Steve Krug’s book ‘Rocket Surgery Made Easy’. It’s a quick and immensely valuable read that will have you testing within the week.

Customer visits

Unlike user testing sessions which can be done in your office or in a testing lab, you can also learn a great deal by observing your customer in their own environment. carwow is a two-sided marketplace, matching car buyers with dealers, so we often visit the dealerships to see how our business customers incorporate our service into their working lives. You quickly spot the holes you can’t see from your desk.

Customer feedback loops

One of my favourite elements about the structure of carwow is that the Customer Service team are part of Product Development. If our goal is to build a product that enables the best car buying experience you’ll ever have, anyone needing to interact with Customer Service is evidence that we must continue to find ways to make it better. And if you’ve ever looked at the information handled by a Customer Service team then you’ll know it’s an embarrassment of riches for anyone looking to improve their service.

First places to look? Dive into your helpdesk enquiries, chat session data and your phone call transcripts. You’ll find problems, solutions, ideas and emotions.

Exit Surveys

When you look at analytics data, the most depressing moment is when a visitor leaves, task incomplete. Why? What put them off?

We’ll never know, is the natural assumption, they’ve gone. Well, true, but we can always ask them as they head out the door. Add an exit survey to your problematic page?—?a little slide-in single question survey box that appears as the user’s mouse moves perilously close to the browser menu bars?—?and ask them what’s wrong.

We did this on a signup form on carwow, asking:

What made you decide not to sign up today?


The results were illuminating, giving us some quick-fix issues to address and food for thought for some conversion tests to run. Handily, they’re also a great tool for capturing the voice of the customer, so you can use the same terminology they use in your web and email copy and not the usual jargon-laden marketing babble.

Insights as far as the eye can see. Now what?

I think you’ll agree, if you’ve looked at your analytics, spoken with customers and observed their actions, then you’re in a better, much more informed place to make decisions.

At carwow, all this information feeds into our design and development process. Our product managers, UX designers and developers assimilate this knowledge into our designs and code.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say, so we A/B test major changes with our audience, ensuring that the choices we made based on their feedback were the correct ones.

And if not, we go back to the information, we listen some more and we iterate.

Business Performance Conversion Testing Customer Experience

Is Google’s No Captcha reCaptcha A Conversion Killer?

Spam is a pain in the arse. That’s pretty much something we all agree on. Some of it’s destructive; some malicious; most of it pointless; clogging up email; bloating CRM systems and messing up tracking and reporting.

reCAPTCHA, the most common counter measure, has long been a frustrating user experience, resulting in many an abandoned attempt to submit a web form. So when I heard about Google’s re-imagining of the reCAPTCHA I had to take a look.

So what is Google’s No CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA?

In announcing the release on their online security blog, Google claim that their new API, which ‘radically simplifies the reCAPTCHA experience‘, will enable users ‘to securely and easily verify they’re human without actually having to solve a CAPTCHA. Instead, with just a single click, they’ll confirm they’re not a robot‘.

Sounds great. Check out their video, it’s worth it for context:

Sounds a little geeky, but I was genuinely excited to give this a try.

So does Google’s No CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA reduce spam?

To test it, we implemented the reCAPTCHA on a lead generation form on our online accounting website.

Google reCAPTCHA on lead generation form

And the impact? Did it reduce spam?

Yes. It did, but it also had a rather painful unintended consequence – it killed genuine conversions.

In the interest of fairness, it’s worth saying this isn’t the most robust of evaluations – ideally tests should run longer, with more data. It ran for a full 24 hour period before we removed it. Given the numbers, I wasn’t prepared to keep it running.

So what happened?

If we compare the 24 hours with the reCAPTCHA versus the 24 hours prior without the reCAPTCHA, I can confirm it had the desired effect on the spam. Gone. Happy days.

Regarding conversions, lets take a look at some observations from studying the page and form data:

  • The pageviews for the two days were very similar
  • The percentages of unique users clicking the form submit button (‘Get started’) were practically identical over the two days

This suggests that the presence of the reCAPTCHA wasn’t off-putting to visitors. Those who wanted to sign up, would still try and do so regardless.

So far, so good.

The problem comes when you dig further into the conversion data. The number of successful form submissions FELL by 73% from one day to the next.

If we look at the number of unique users clicking on the form submit button and compare against the total number of clicks on the button we find our problem. Once the Google reCAPTCHA was added to the page the number of times the button was clicked DOUBLED – from an average of 1.7 times to 3.4 times.

Why? I can’t be sure, but I have a theory.

3 reasons why No CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA kills conversions

1. The appearance isn’t customisable

As far as I can tell, the appearance of the reCAPTCHA is not customisable. It can only look like this:


As such, I don’t think it looks like part of the form. It looks more like a banner.

2. The checkbox is unconventional

I’m not convinced the ‘check box’ looks like a typical check box. It just looks like a square and as such a user may not be aware that they have to click it.

3. The copy is ambiguous

I have a concern about the ‘I’m not a robot‘ text. Does the average person know what a ‘robot’ actually is in this context? Considering you’re reading this, I’m assuming you’re a web marketer or pretty tech-savvy. You know what a robot is, but are you an ‘average’ user?

The text also doesn’t have any instruction. Nothing tells you to check the box, so you have to work it out. In the words of Steve Krug, don’t make me think.

As such, my suspicion is that the ‘banner’ is ignored. The user believes they have completed the form and clicks the submit button. When nothing happens, the user continues to click the submit button thinking something is wrong with the website. This causes the number of form button clicks to double.

After a few clicks with nothing happening, they abandon the form and leave the site. Reduced spam, reduced customers.

Good effort, must try harder

I think Google’s intentions here are good. Everyone hates those old reCAPTCHAs. I’d happily never have to squint and cock my head to try and figure out another blurry photo of a house number just to access an online account. The new one does provide a better experience. I love the idea that they’re looking at the user’s entire engagement with the process – especially the mapping of a human’s jerky mouse movements that a robot struggles to recreate – but I think the execution needs more thought.

Personally, I’d rather any solution completely takes the onus off the user and is dealt with in the background by the technology. Less friction is not as good as no friction.

So, to quote their headline, ‘Tough on bots, easy on humans‘… yeah not so much Google. There’s a little more work to be done yet.

Business Performance Conversion Testing Customer Experience Innovation Product Development Search Engine Marketing

How to growth hack your business and achieve sustainable results

The first rule of Growth Hacking? Don’t talk about growth hacking.

That was my paraphrased tweet quoting one of the speakers at the Growth Hacking Conference in London recently. It seems I’m not the only one who isn’t a fan of the name but feels the principles behind it are sound, if a little misunderstood.

Many people (maybe just us Brits?) roll their eyes when they hear the phrase ‘growth hacking’, thinking it’s a cheesy term applied to the processes of inflating numbers exceptionally quickly with a goal of reaching a ridiculous valuation figure that gets Mark Zuckerberg jingling his pocket change.

So it was refreshing to hear so many of the speakers at the conference talking about sustainable growth – yes, build a product that scales, but also one that provides value to its audience, not just for 3 days, 3 weeks weeks or 3 months, but on an ongoing basis. A product that would be missed if it were no longer there.

I scribbled a lot of notes throughout that day, so let me share a few of them here, along with the speaker slidedecks. If you want more, head over to the collaborative Google doc that was edited live throughout the event.

Find Product / Market Fit

The Father of Growthhacking (or at least the phrase coiner), Sean Ellis (@SeanEllis) hosted the event and shared his thoughts on the drivers of growth:

  1. Right product in the right market and
  2. Successful execution of ideas

Product / Market fit was a theme throughout the day. Ellis posits that without it, sustainable growth just isn’t possible. In fact, it’s critical for strong organic growth (Growthhackers are particularly keen on organic growth. Most argue the paid stuff should come once you have traction. That’s not to say you can’t scale a paid channel to achieve growth. You just need deeper pockets).

Ellis has a useful way of determining if a business has a strong product / market fit. He surveys the customer base and asks how many would be ‘very disappointed’ if they couldn’t use the product anymore. If you can hit 40%, then you have a strong product / market fit. Then you need to stack the odds in your favour by understanding what those people are getting from your product so you can reproduce it / scale it with others.

Hustle to find scaleable growth

Zack Onisko (@zack415), from Creative Market, talked of trying out creative, out-of-the-box ideas to get to your goal in the shortest possible time. He referred to it as the Hustle stage – trying out a variety of channels, potentially non-scaleable, to try and find one that could be unlocked and scale.

Gaining Early Traction by Doing Things that Don’t Scale (Hustling) from Zack Onisko

He gave 20 ways to hustle, of which my favourites were:

  • Speaking with customers to find out how to improve the product
  • Go above and beyond with customers – sending them surprise gifts, thank-you messages, building brand loyalty
  • Give something away for signing up – asking for info is high friction, so do an exchange. They give you their email address, you give them something of value to them (i.e. a book, free service, money)
  • Forge partnerships with other likeminded businesses – help each other
  • ‘Eat your own dog food’ – make sure you use the product yourself. Understand it, know its weaknesses and improve them

Build a positive Net Promoter Score

NPS Driven Growth or How to grow your startup w from Nilan Peiris

Net Promoter Score (NPS), was discussed several times, particularly by Nilan Peiris (@nilanp) of TransferWise, as an effective tool for measuring how your audience views your brand or product. NPS asks a single question:

How likely is it that you would recommend us to a friend or colleague?

Customers answer on a 0-10 scale and labelled Detractors (0-6), Passives (7-8) or Promoters (9-10). To calculate your company’s NPS, take the percentage of customers who are Promoters and subtract the percentage who are Detractors.

Clearly you want as many Promoters and as few Detractors as possible. How do you do that? Build a ‘must-have’ product, provide great service and exceed expectations.

Be aware though that a large number of Passives isn’t ideal either as those people are indifferent to your product, meaning they’d have less resistance switching if an attractive alternative product was available.

Study your successes

It’s very easy to get caught up trying to figure out how you can persuade the disinterested to buy your product. An alternative approach was suggested by Dr Karl Blanks from Conversion Rate Experts. He suggests it’s more productive to focus on those that did buy. He recommends asking customers immediately after they have purchased this question:

What was the one thing that nearly made you not buy from us today?

Whatever their one thing was, it wasn’t enough to dissuade them, but it could be putting off many others who are dithering over their purchases also. If you can identify those issues and fix them, you’ll win those ‘almost-in-reach’ customers. That has got to be easier than trying to convert someone not interested in buying.

A bonus tip from Blanks: reverse engineer success by creating a custom segment in Google Analytics for those that bought from you. Then look at their behaviour and the content they looked at and try and figure out why those were successful.

Find your customer’s voice

SEO Tactics to Love vs. Leave from Rand Fishkin

Moz‘s Rand Fishkin (@randfishkin) and his legendary coiffed hair adorned the stage to speak about organic SEO growth. His slides were full of great nuggets but if I’m only to pick one, I found his thoughts on using the customer’s language thought provoking. He discussed ‘intent keywords’ and how to build a list of them to target with content. Keyword suggestion tools have their limits, so he recommended these three activities to generate them:

  1. Look at your competitors activity – see what they rank for
  2. Talk to customers directly (and your sales people) – what words are used in the conversations
  3. Look for conversations online in forums and places like Reddit – what is the language used?

It’s surprising how often businesses make assumptions about the words to target for SEO and content. The gap between assumption and reality is often a chasm. Locate the words used by the customer, not you.

Other Awesome Speaker Decks

There were so many great speakers at the Growth Hacking Conference, it would take quite a lengthy post just to summarise the main takeaways. So instead I’ve rounded up the remaining slidedecks I could find and included them here.

Hands-on Hacks – A Flipbook of Inspirational Growth Wins from Marie Steinthaler

The 3 Ugly Ducklings of Growth. from Geckoboard

 A Growth Checklist

As the day closed, I tried to summarise the main takeaways in a list to take back to the office. So in my newly educated opinion, If you want to build sustainable growth for your business I would suggest:

  • Build an awesome product (find Product/Market match)
  • Develop a strong Customer Value Proposition (i.e. why you’re relevent, what you offer, why you’re better)
  • Provide great customer service
  • Build in feedback loops to your product (and act on it)
  • Find likeminded partners to promote
  • Ensure data / measurement are baked in to your product and processes
  • Optimise the journeys (using conversion rate optimisation testing, i.e A/B or MVT)
  • Delight your customers (and measure with NPS)
  • Find smart people to advise you (and to ground you when you fall in love with your product and can’t see when you’re wrong).

So, all in all a great conference, one of the best I’ve attended. There aren’t too many events you can attend where you can discuss product, data, conversion rate optimisation, customer service, partnerships, entrepreneurship, with smart people who are equally happy to talk about their mistakes as well as their successes. If its on again next year, I’d recommend you attend. I’ll see you there.

Awesome photo courtesy of Dan Barker, ecommerce & online marketing expert and dab hand with a camera. Worth a follow on Twitter @danbarker

Business Performance Customer Experience Search Engine Marketing

NatYes or NatLess: NatWest Campaign Lacking TV & Digital Integration

From personal experience, I know TV campaigns cost a lot. Digital campaigns can be no small change either. But regardless of the size of your budget you need to be smart about getting maximum return on your spend.

This requires joined up thinking across your campaigns (or preferably your single integrated campaign) and plenty of forward planning.

With this in mind it’s disappointing to see the latest campaign from NatWest.

Check the video below of the new TV advert and watch out for the call to action in the penultimate ‘frame’.

Did you catch it? ‘Search NatYes‘.

Go search for NatYes – what do you find?

Nothing. Well, except for that paid adwords ad at the top of the page. Absolutely nothing about NatYes in the free listings.

This is a missed opportunity for NatWest – and an opportunity for a competitor to jump in and steal some traffic.

  1. If you’re going to ask your prospective customers to search for a keyword, then you need to make sure your website or landing page appears if someone searches on it. This requires preparation. You need to create your landing pages in advance of your campaign and given the gap between storyboarding a TV advert and the ad going live you have plenty of time to get this sorted.
  2. The advantage of using a phrase like ‘NatYes’ is that it is a unique word that no one is using – see the above search results as a case in point. Therefore, it should be easy to optimise for your chosen term(s)and get a top listing quickly.
  3. You might also want to go grab the URLs –,, etc. Customers will likely just search for the phrase, but you never know if some cheeky competitor or affiliate marketer might jump in and secure a higher listing than your page
  4. At the very least NatWest have sponsored the term on Adwords. This is essential if you have no organic listings. Even if you do you’ll need to be prepared to spend some money on PPC to support the campaign just in case any of your competitors decide to sponsor the term too.

Where NatWest have done well is the landing page. Whilst you can only get to it from the paid ad, there are a couple of things they’ve got right:

  1. Firstly they have scent. They have continued the visual design from the ad onto the landing page, using the image of the boy actor in the Indian headdress. This gives the user confidence that they have arrived in the right place. Removing doubt in the customer’s mind is a key objective of every landing page.
  2. They have reused the slogan ‘NatYes’ from the TV ad on the landing page. The only thing I’d suggest is using it a little higher up the page. Currently it is beneath the fold and not visible in that crucial first second when the user scans the page.

In summary, think about the customer journey from end to end. Everything must be consistent and flow. At no point do you want the flow to be interrupted – those are the moments you lose your customers. Even worse, is if you lose the customer to a competitor who was smart enough to optimise their activity around your campaign.

Say Yes to smart, joined up thinking.

Update 10/06/13:

The story doesn’t stop there. NatWest’s sister brand RBS are using the same approach, with a call to action of ‘Search RBYes’ in their TV advert. This time though there is a rather unfortunate run-in with Google spelling auto-correct feature that renders quite different results…

Business Performance Customer Experience Mobile Product Development Social Media

3 principles of realtime interaction in an Always-On culture

It’s remarkable how quickly the Always On culture has established. It’s insinuated itself within our lives to the point people often remark they cannot remember what they did or how they coped before it. Social and Mobile are, of course, at the heart of its meteoric rise. The adoption of both as ‘must-haves’ in our lives has changed the way we, as individuals, behave.

As a consequence it has also changed our expectations. Urgency and immediacy are the expected norm. Like much in modern life we want things now. The big difference is that the new channels have given the consumer a voice. The relationship between brands and people has changed. The message – controlled by the brand – has now become a conversation, with the individual exerting more influence than perhaps is comfortable for brands. Brands need the individual. They must work together in collaboration. And that’s not the future, that’s now.

Shifting the approach

So, if the behaviour of the comsumer has changed, has your brand adapted and followed suit? Sadly, brands are often hippos to the consumers’ gazelle when it comes to changing behaviour. Look at mobile: consumer use has reached a hygiene level and many brands are still discussing the need for a mobile-friendly site.

What’s needed is a shift in thinking from top to bottom through your organisation. We can’t keep doing things the old way.

Here are three principles to consider…

1. Understand the moments that matter for your audience

Success in business stems from having a clear idea of who is your intended audience and what need your product or service fulfils. That concept extends throughout your company whether it’s Sales, Marketing, product development or customer service.

Regardless of your department, you need to answer the questions: Who, what, where and when? Who is your customer? What do they need/want? Where will you find them and when do they need you?

To be particularly effective in this ‘Always-On’ culture, you have to understand the moments that matter for your audience – when is it they need your product or service (or those of your competition)? If you can deliver at that time, you’ll develop / strengthen the relationship between the customer and your brand. Likewise, fail at that moment and the customer will be gone.

Let’s consider Product. In this case, for an insurance company. As the brand I may think that I should simply replicate my desktop site onto a mobile site, complete with its homepage sales messages. However, as a consumer visiting via my phone, am I there to buy a new insurance policy? Maybe, but unlikely – it doesn’t strike me that that is something I’d want to research on a small phone screen.

So as a brand setting it’s mobile strategy, I need to think about what my customers are likely to want in the moments that matter and prioritise the appearance and functionality accordingly.

If I’m already a customer, the moment that matters to me would be an emergency situation, such as a burst pipe, where I want to be able to use my phone to quickly find your telephone number, be able to access my policy details and maybe even a simple way to file a claim or record the damage. I don’t want to find a site unoptimised for mobile that requires me to hunt for a support number and with no help information easily available.

2. Anticipate & Prepare: Realtime is too slow

Real time is too slow. Your response is a reaction to something happening and this can take time. The gap between the event and your response can often determine the success of your activity. This applies to responding to a comment in social media, content marketing, your promotional mix or product functionality. So it becomes more about anticipating what your audience wants  – and when – and then being ready to answer the call when the moment that matters arrives.

For instance, if content marketing is part of your strategy you’ll want to be aware of and prepared for the conversations you know will be happening – Oreo’s set up for the Superbowl is a great example of the big pay-off of anticipation and preparation. You’ll need to determine which of those conversations are relevent for your brand to participate in. However, more importantly, you need to be prepared for the conversations you don’t know are going to happen. They will be the true test of your planning, structure and resources. Can you react in time?

An example:

Within minutes of the Pope resigning earlier this year, (my employer) began to see tweets linking the brand to the news (i.e. jokingly wondering if the job would be advertised on Jobsite).

Firstly, it was great to see our brand-building work paying off by being mentioned, but also it presented us with three opportunities:

1) to engage with our existing social community

2) to produce sharable content that’ll reach a wider audience

3) an opportunity to generate valuable social signals for the search engines to help our rankings

With the help of our agency iProspect, our team produced a spoof job ad advertising for the role, but using modern business language (i.e. ability to build a global strategy, whilst recognising local differences, strong negotiation skills, office with a view, use of a company car, etc.).

From the news breaking to posting the ad on our blog was about 3 hours. It would’ve been quicker if I hadn’t had to deliberate over whether it was right for the brand to have a little fun with a religious subject. Which illustrates a key point about being prepared – yes, you need ideas people, creatives to produce assets, a clear and responsive sign-off process, but you also need to have a clear idea of what you’re comfortable doing with your brand. How do you want to behave and how you want to be perceived?

To answer my Pope question I referred back to one of my own principles: I won’t take advantage of or mock someone else’s misfortune, particularly when someone has lost a job. However, in this case, the outgoing Pope resigned by choice and we weren’t ripping religion, so I was comfortable to sign off the creative.

The response to that post was fantastic. We had more shares of that post in the first few days then we had for all blog posts over the previous 12 months. To top it off, 77% of the traffic to the blog post came from new visitors to the site, so we’d succeeded in reaching in the new audience.

Awesome Reactive Content from @jobsiteuk – Seeking New Pope For Immediate State #contentmarketing

— Chelsea Blacker (@ChelseaBlacker) February 11, 2013

The principle of anticipate and prepare also extends to your advertising mix. Are you prepared for what happens after your audience see your advertising?

Take TV advertising for example. Your ad appears on screen – what happens next?

Whilst TV is often used as a tool to raise brand awareness, it can prompt realtime action.Depending on what you’re selling this can be difficult in the space of an ad break.

So you have to anticipate and prepare.

1) Can your audience find you? Make sure your web address is in your advert for starters. Bear in mind though, people don’t always type in the URL directly. Sometimes they will do a brand, product of keyword search. With competitor bidding allowed on Pay-per-click you can’t just rely on being no.1 in the organic listings for your brand name. You also need to be in the first paid slot. So make sure you’re using day parting on brand term campaigns, giving you 100% visibility for a period after your ad airs.

2) Once the visitor lands on your website, do you make it easy for them to achieve their goal or have a process in place to capture their details for future activity?

3) Is your site mobile friendly? Increasingly consumers will be visiting via mobile devices – what will they see? Is it usable?

4) Anticipate they won’t have time to purchase / sign up to your site before their programme re-starts, so deploy behavioural retargeting to reach those that did not convert first time around.

3. Bring value to a customer at a receptive moment

Value = answering a question, providing a service, providing escapism (i.e. a game or humour)

Receptive moment = at the right time rather than realtime

The absence of value for the customer makes your interaction spam, noise or frustrating, and doing it at the wrong time can be instrusive.

Providing customer service via social media is considered a best practice no-brainer, even if its still not actively happening in many companies. However, according to a consumer privacy study by Netbase and JD Power there is perhaps a disconnect between what businesses think should happen and what the consumer wants. The conclusion of the study was:

Consumers find social listening intrusive…except when they don’t.

It’s obvious when you drill down that us consumers are fickle creatures, who clearly want things our own way – in part, a result of the empowering nature of social.

The study showed:

  • 51% of consumers want to talk about brands without the company listening in
  • 48% want companies to just listen in to improve products
  • 64% want brands to respond to social comments only when spoken to

So you’re kind of damned if you do and damned if you don’t. That’s why it’s important to understand what your audience needs and provide value at the right time.

Another Jobsite example. We monitor and engage via a product called Radian6. One Easter I’m standing in line at Starbucks playing with my phone as I wait. I open Radian6 and see a jobseeker venting on Twitter about our service. There are several tweets getting progressively worse about the jobs we’re sending her aren’t in the right location and she’s ticked off.

On a normal day our customer service team would respond and fix the problem. But its Easter and I don’t want to leave it, so I respond back to her, calm her down and promise we’ll fix it when the office opens on Tuesday. She was appreciative and said something that stayed with me “thank you, I just wanted someone to listen“.

As it turns out, she hadn’t actually told us where she wanted to work, so it was easy fix to remedy the situation. This became a win for us because we’d anticipated the need to monitor, we engaged at the moment that mattered and we provided value by listening and delivering on a promise.

Away from social listening, another good example would be National Rail Enquiries.

They know that travel can be frustrating – customers are sensitive to delays, cancellations etc.  – so they’ve developed a number of realtime services that are there at the right time to make the experience better. This includes a mobile app, a text service, a phone line and social media updates.

Personally, I use the mobile app to plan journeys – even when sat in front of my PC – it’s just quick and simple. I use it on trains and on stations – it can be quicker and more informative than the departure boards.

National Rail Tunnel Damage

Interestingly, they even share photos of damage to tracks and tunnels with customers via Facebook. Brands usually prefer to hid defects in their service, but in this instance I believe it’s done to make the delay more tangible for customers. If you can see why a train is late, you may be more understanding of the situation. Whilst National Rail Enquiries can’t make the trains run on time they can at least keep their audience informed in the moments that matter to them.

Your happy customer

Times are a-changing. You can’t just rely on your advertising budget to win new customers. The one way broadcast is on the decline. You’re now part of a conversation. Are you ready for it?

Remember, know who your customers are and what is important to them. Know how you can help. Be ready for that time. Look for the moment they need you and then deliver.

Business Performance Customer Experience Social Media

Smile! You’re Feeding the Facebook Machine

Yesterday Instagram revealed that  as of January 16th, it will have the perpetual right to sell users’ photographs without payment or notification.

This disturbs me.

I’ve been a fan of Instagram for a long time, though not a prolific user. I admire their journey, how they built this incredibly popular tool and network with just a handful of staff.

The day they sold to Facebook, I had mixed feelings. On one hand, the founders got their big payday, the pay-off for all the hard work they put in. Can’t blame them. On the other hand, I had a sense of dread that Facebook were about to royally fuck it up.

Guess what? I think that just happened.

I’m a believer that a company can’t create a community. You can *faciliate* a community, by giving common-minded individuals a platform and the tools to connect. But you can’t force them to talk to each other; you can’t make them share their personal stuff.

For every Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, there are thousands of empty social network platforms that just didn’t take off or thrive (jury is still out on G+). All those successful platforms worked only in part due to the technology and tools. It’s the users that have made them successful.

Today, I think the community of Instagram users are feeling a little betrayed. Today is the day they realised they are in fact the product.

If you’re not paying for the service you are the product. These businesses have to make money eventually and the data you give up as a user is like crude oil to these new business giants.

Facebook paid $1Bn for Instagram and now they want some return. It had to come evenutally.

It’ll be interesting to see if any details emerge regarding the number of accounts deleted due to this change. I’m already seeing tweets and posts from individuals to that effect. I for one haven’t decided what I’m going to do with mine yet.

However, I suspect it won’t kill the network. Indifference is likely to be the common response (or lack thereof). The masses are generally unaware of what is happening to their data – they don’t see their holiday photos as valuable data – so I can’t see them leaving in droves.

There will be some media outcry, blogs will be written, indignant tweets will posted, then it will fade away. And the oil will continue to flow through the pipeline.

UPDATE: 9:20 am 19th Dec. 2012 – Last night Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom issued this statement to clarify the situation. He says there is much confusion in the media and it is easy to mis-interpret legal language. He acknowledges they need to behave like a revenue producing, sustainable business, so changes will be necessary. This was the section that drew my eye ‘it was interpreted by many that we were going to sell your photos to others without any compensation. This is not true and it is our mistake that this language is confusing. To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos. We are working on updated language in the terms to make sure this is clear.’

So there you have it. It’s not their intention to sell your photos. But then, they didn’t exactly come out and say they would not sell your photos. If their paymasters at Facebook say they have to do it, then I guess…

So we’re none the wiser really. Guess we have to wait and see how the language changes and then make a decision before the 16th January.

Customer Experience Social Media

Social Media: Are you listening to the good stuff too?

“Oh no. Have you seen what this guy said about us on Twitter?”

Words to strike dread into any Marketer.

“Stop what you’re doing, we need to fix this. Now”

If you monitor social media mentions of your brand, you’ve probably experienced a variation of this scenario yourself. It’s not fun and depending on what’s happened it can be a small inconvenience or a major headache. Like any good social media-aware marketer this is why you monitor and you know how you need to respond.

You have a strategy for dealing with negative comments and feedback – that’s great, you definitely need one.

But what about your strategy for dealing with positive feedback?

Huh? Come again?

Silence is not golden

It’s very easy to focus on the negative but what are you doing with your positive feedback?

  • Are you acknowledging it?
  • How are you using it?

Let me tell you a story.

Earlier this year my wife and I took our first overseas holiday with our toddler. We wanted to simplify the journey by removing any hassles – such as the shuttle bus journey from Long Stay parking to Departures at the airport.

We researched online for chauffeur services to collect our car at Departures and return it to the door on our return. There wasn’t much info around and no notable brand names in the market, so we had no pre-established ‘trust’. It was difficult to choose, especially when pricing was similar. So we went with the cheapest one and thankfully we had a great experience.

At both ends of the journey, we had waiting for us friendly, helpful chauffeurs – polite, reassuring and ready to answer any questions we had. These two guys, probably amongst the lowest paid in the company, convinced us through their manner and actions to use the service again. They cared about our experience and it showed.

So impressed, my wife felt compelled to write to the company to thank them for the great service. And their response?


“What a wasted opportunity” said my wife.

Sharing the love

So what could they have done? Or more to the point, what could you do in your business to ensure you don’t miss a similar opportunity?

1. Acknowledge it

  • Firstly, ask yourself this: who in your organisation will receive the feedback initially? Do they know what to do with it or who to pass it to? You have your onsite feedback form or email address which sends customer comments to a designated person in your business, but what happens if they write you a letter like my wife did? Who opens the mail? Do they know who to pass it to?
  • You need to acknowledge the feedback. People tend not to bother to pass on positive feedback, so if anyone goes to the effort of doing so, make sure you respond. At the very least thank them. It’ll cement the good feeling they have just associated with your brand.
  • How about doing something a little special and give them something? Along with your note, it could be a discount on their next purchase or an invite to an exclusive event.

2. Use it

If you’re in a crowded, price sensitive market with little brand loyalty, how can you stand out? Your margins probably don’t allow for another price cut, so why not be known for a great customer experience?

Firstly, you really do have to have a great customer experience if that is going to be your USP. You can’t blag that one. You have to examine your whole customer-facing service to see what works and what doesn’t, including speaking with your customers, and then make positive changes. Yes, it may mean spending a little money now, but it is an investment in repeat business in the future.

Okay, so you offer a great service and your customers love you for it. In fact, they love you so much they can’t help but talk about you. So how can you harness that?

  • Testimonials – stick them on your site. It’s Social Proof. People hitting your site from a Google search may have no idea who you are or whether they should trust you with their personal information or credit card details. So show them what other customers – people just like them – think of you. When in doubt, people will follow the crowd when making decisions. Make it easier to see the crowd.
  • Video testimonials – talking of which, actually SHOW them the crowd. Ask your happy customers to give genuine, unscripted endorsements for your service, using short video clips. Retail sites using video on product pages often experience an uplift in conversions because of it. Try it with testimonials on your landing pages.
  • The great thing about videos on your site is that they’ll show up in Google results for searches on your brand name (assuming you optimise them correctly). A nice proof point for anyone checking out your reputability
  • Use them in your email newsletter or reactivation emails. If you’re trying to get previous customers back to purchase, add in recent customer comments into your email comms. It may have been some time since they’ve used your service and they may need reminding of how great you are (or you might want to repair your reputation if you weren’t so great in the distant past).
  • Testimonials don’t just need to go on your own site. There is a lot of value – both social proof and SEO – in gaining positive reviews on sites such as Google Places, Yelp and foursquare. Customers won’t always come to your site to form an opinion, they’ll check out what their peers say on review sites too. Why not add a link on your site to Google Places (Google incorporate review data into their search listings, great if you have a good score) or include a link in your reply to their Thank You email, saying how much you appreciate the positive words and would they mind helping out by posting a similar review on Google Places (or whichever is appropriate to your business).
  • If customers are saying nice things about you in Social spaces, such as Twitter and Facebook, share them with your own Followers. Just don’t overdo it –a stream of ‘look how great we are tweets’ can be annoying. Do it subtly and occasionally, just enough to remind people that their peers appreciate your service/product.Harness the positivity of your new advocates – invite them to participate in shaping your brand and offering. Create a group that can either meeting in person or online to discuss ideas, issues and new creative. Make them part of the process and it’ll strengthen their advocacy. Remember, don’t blindly follow their requests, but understand their needs and incorporate those ideas that make sense for your business and your customers (win-win).
  •  Share the good new inside your business. Chances are your colleagues don’t get to see much of the feedback from customers – though they might hear about the problems. Let them know about the good stuff and show them how they’re contributing to the positive experiences of your customers.

It’s very easy to be held hostage by negativity; afraid a criticism may damage your business. But focusing only on the negative is just fire-fighting. By addressing the problems AND harnessing the positives you’ll enable your business to both improve and grow.

How have you used positive feedback? I’d love to know. Please feel free to share your experiences in the Comment section below

Customer Experience

Salesperson of the Month: your Customer

Which do you trust more – a brand and its advertising or the opinion of your friends?

Unless you hang round particularly unsavoury types then I’m guessing you answered your friends.

When you buy a product on Amazon do you check the reviews before you buy?

If you’re like me, you do. Why? Social proof. When in doubt, you’re not going to blindly believe in the spiel from the company trying to part you from your cash, you want to see what other people – like you – have to say about their purchase.

So you trust your immediate peers the most but you’d trust a stranger ‘like you’ before you trust a company. That says a lot. People are sceptical of the promises and intentions of companies. Of course businesses are going to say their product is the best in its class. You’ll rarely see a company admit their competitor does it better.

So if your potential customers don’t really trust you and would rather listen to other people like themselves, shouldn’t you be spending a little more time, effort and budget developing advocates amongst your existing customers so they can do the selling for you?

Or to put it another way, which do you think is the strongest lead – the cold call between two faceless strangers or an existing customer raving about your product to a friend or colleague?

Creating advocates

There are two approaches to creating advocates and they’re not mutually exclusive from one another.


A great customer experience will create more advocates for your brand than you can shake a stick at. If they love your product or service you won’t have to persuade or incentivise them, they’ll talk freely about your brand.

How do you do that? Listen to them. Discover where the friction comes when buying from you and your competitors. Take a long hard look at what you’re selling. Dissect it, make it better.

Want an easy win? Speak to your Customer Service team and ask for a list of the Top 10 most frequent complaints from customers. You’d be surprised how small and trivial some of them will seem to you. To your customer though, it could be the difference between a poor, average or great experience. Fix them.


You don’t have to just rely on people recommending you out of the goodness of their own heart, you can give them an encouraging nudge through incentives.

It’s important to get the incentive right for it to be effective. A few years ago you couldn’t traverse the Retail district of the Web without being swamped with money-off vouchers for cases of Virgin Wines. From my perspective, the incentive failed on three fronts:

  1. lack of relevance – none of my activity was at all related to wine (and therefore my interests)
  2. lack of exclusivity – the offer was everywhere, I didn’t feel special
  3. lack of an actual incentive – I had to spend more money before I even got my incentive (a discount)

Give them something they actually need. Invariably that means more of the product they’re already buying from you or a taste of the one that is just out of their price range or budget. For instance, if you’ve a service based product, with a customer on a 12 month contract, give them a free month if they refer a company that signs a contract of specific minimum value.

You need to do the maths obviously. What is the cost you’re giving up versus your cost to acquire a new customer?

As we’re talking peer-to-peer recommendation, you might want to give some thought to rewarding both sides of the transaction. The Referrer gets a Thank You, the Prospect gets an introductory offer. You get two customers with smiles on their faces.

An example of this done well is LOVEFiLM, the (now Amazon-owned) film rental company. As an existing customer I can earn prizes ranging from a £20 credit on my account through to a Sony Blu-Ray Player for recommending new customers to the service. As the new customer you’ll get a free trial of the service for a specified period (ranging from 2 weeks to 3 months depending on the promotion).

It’s worth considering however, that a customer is still unlikely to recommend a shoddy product to a peer just to get an incentive. It would damage the trust within the relationship. So don’t focus only on this area at the expense of providing a great product and customer service.

Trust can take a long time to develop, especially for a brand. You can earn that by consistently delivering on your promise to answer your customers need. The good news is that you don’t have to do it alone. The time invested with your existing customers will pay off as they become an extension of your salesforce. If you can get it to snowball, customers delivering customers delivering customers, you’re going to look pretty smart making the change. Trust me.

Business Performance Customer Experience

Cut your advertising budget by 10% and invest in customer service

What do you think would happen if you took 10% of your advertising budget and invested it in customer service?

Your immediate reaction might be to think that whilst it’s a nice idea, it’s too risky to cut an advertising budget that doesn’t quite go far enough already. No Marketer in their right mind would willingly give up some of their budget anyway, right?

I’ll be honest, I’d be a little nervous making that suggestion to my Finance Director too. But let’s just play out the thought process here:

  • It’s often cheaper to retain an existing customer than it is to acquire a new one. This makes sense, as you already have the customer, you’ve just got to keep them happy. Yet, so many companies focus more on finding new business and playing the tricky – and costly – game of trying to convert prospects
  • Look at your current promotions. They’re aimed at new customers right? Sign up and get 5000 free minutes of phone calls. Transfer your account and receive a £100 bonus. When you’ve been a customer of a business for several years, how do you feel when you see a better deal being offered to new – and sometimes brand-hopping – customers? Shouldn’t you be rewarding loyalty in your customers instead?
  • One way to ensure a happy customer is to give them a fanatastic product or service at a reasonable price. And to keep on giving it to them. How much time and effort do you put into improving your product – changes both  big and small? Do you listen to customers or just use your own ideas? Do you monitor conversion data to identify the problems in your products or rely on gut feeling?
  • Look at the output of your customer service team. What is the average response time to customers who contact you via email or a website form? How long does the average customer wait in the queue on the phone? Now put yourself in their shoes. When something goes wrong with your order on a website or you need to arrange an insurance quote, how do you feel having to wait so long for an answer?
  • Look at the average salary of employees in each department within your business. Where does your Customer Service Rep fall within that scale? If they’re not at the bottom, I’d guarantee they’re not outside the bottom quarter. Maybe that’s fine – I’m not trying to devalue the skills and contributions of those in other areas of the business – but what is the gap between those salaries?
  • If the average customer service rep salary is one of the lowest in the business, how does that reflect on the company’s opinion of customer service? Does that perception and the renumeration motivate those that do the role or those that are considering joining your organisation?
  • Whether your company structure diagram acknowledges it or not, your Customer Service department is an extension of your Marketing Dept. – these Reps are your Marketers. They are the face and voice of your brand at the coal face and experience more interaction with customers in a week than most of your ‘official’ Marketers and Executive Management do in a year (or more). You want these people to be motivated, to be enthusiastic about your brand and product.
  • Don’t think it stops there either. Whilst your customer service people have the most contact with your customers, EVERY employee who speaks to a customer is a representation of your brand, be they in Accounts, Sales, IT, Procurement, Legal or wherever else. The experience an individual has with these employees IS the brand.

So when you say your customers are important to you, that you’re a customer-centric business, what does that actually mean? That you care about their experience, or that you care about their wallet? Put your wallet where you marketing message is, by investing in your customer experience.

Scott Stratten (@unmarketing) said at Jobsite’s FreshThinking event recently “People don’t talk about average, they talk about awesome”.  Consider how you can you can apply this to your customer service. How you can get your customers talking about the awesome service they receive from you?

So that 10%, what could you do with it?

  • To riff on Scott’s quote, awesomeness starts at home. Do something special for your customer-facing staff (and others too). Give them a thank you gift to show how much you appreciate their work. Don’t make it a one-off.
  • Give them £1000 to leave. I take no credit for this idea, it is all Zappos. For Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, great customer service is the cornerstone of a successful business. So following 4 weeks of training and immersion in Zappos culture he meets with each new staff member and offers them $1000 to resign. His thinking – if they take the cash they don’t have the commitment that it will take to do the job. What would be the equivalent in your company?
  • Give them the tools they need. Don’t make do with the tools and systems you provide your customer service team. Needs change, new products emerge – let your staff service your customers as quickly and efficiently as possible, using the right tools.
  • Look at your headcount. You’re in business to make a profit. That’s fine, but consider whether you’re scrimping on customer service headcount. Earlier when I mentioned the average response time, what was your answer? Happy with that? If you add extra headcount, what impact will that have your customers? Providing better service can lower costs by 1) retaining existing customers who were considering leaving due to an issue and 2) win new customers who were impressed with your business when they made enquires.
  • Consider time. Do your customers buy your products 24 hours a day? If you’re an internet business, then there is a good chance they do. So why do you only offer service between the hours of 9am and 5.30pm? Can you automate your product by providing a self-service option? What happens when a customer has a question at 1am – how will you deal with it? Can you earn new custom – and repeat business – by providing a product and support that reflects your customers’ buying behaviour?
  • Hire or assign a Marketing Manager to the Customer Service department. Or incorporate the team into the Marketing Dept. If your service reps are truly the ambassadors of your brand, shouldn’t they have a greater understanding of your business’ goals, marketing message and company ethos? It’d give them a greater voice in discussions about new product ideas, things to fix, and timings of launches – the opposite of the current situation in many businesses.
  • Continuing the thought on the awesomeness theme – what could you do for your more loyal customers? How can you say “thank you. I appreciate you sticking with us. I value your loyalty and custom. Here is _________ as a thank you”. The _________ is up to you. It could be a discount on their order or an additional product. Or it could be some other ‘value add’ or perk – like client activity days or free seminars. You’ll need to do the math. What is the activity cost versus the cost to acquire new business should you lose their custom?
  • Of course, you wouldn’t need to offer so much customer service if you had a great product. Or at least one with minimal flaws. Draw up a list of everything that is ‘broken’ and fix it. Listen to your customers and staff and ask them what needs to be done to make your offering better. Scott at FreshThinking put it best – “Think Stop. Start. Continue. Ask your customers: What should we stop doing? What should we start doing? What should we continue doing? If you can deliver on those answers then you’ll have happier, more loyal customers. Don’t use the excuse of lack of resource to make these changes. If you can’t divert your existing resources, invest in contractors to speed up the development and delivery.

The list could go on. You need to stop and look closely at your own business. Where can you make it better for your customers?

Find out the churn rate of your customers. Is the number acceptable? How much could you improve it with a greater investment in customer service? And would the value of that improvement be greater than the revenue generated by spending 10% of your budget on new customer attraction.

It’s a bold idea. Are you brave enough to try it?