Some of my blog readers know I started my tech career in BI and Analytics and am not new to algorithms and their use. Ready Set Go Social! (RSGS), my consulting company, was an early adopter on on implementing social enterprise applications. Often consulting to medium and small businesses on the use of customer reviews. We’ve long praised the power social sites and reviews as a key to a business’s digital exposure and success. But we’ve admittedly spent the bulk of our consulting work in and around Silicon Valley. We’ve catered to digital leaders in technology and innovation.
RSGS an early Yelp Inc. (Yelp) fan, jumped on the social network and transparency train for all the value it could bring. Admittedly we were unwittingly biased by working in areas whose consumers had early and often digital exposure.
Today, I am going to blog as a small business owner in Tucson, Arizona. Tucson a place where Yelp has not had much of a foothold. Tech innovation is sadly lacking as is digital savviness. Having relocated to Tucson in 2015 to releasing healthcare apps using machine learning and AI, I had no idea of my surrounding market’s naivete. Industrious by nature in 2016 I expanded my local business portfolio to include a pool repair and maintenance business. Three years later, Ace Pools Tucson (APT) went live on Yelp February 6, 2019. This launch enabled Ready, Set, Go Social! a first-hand view into Yelp business model unlike we have had before. As well as, a bit of a test for Yelp from a small business perspective. In a town where word-of-mouth make up the bulk of effective business referrals.
Tucson, is a small-town city, that attracts a large population of retirees and snow birds. The place enjoys stunning weather 8 months out of the year and then becomes hell on earth for 4 months when temps can reach as high as 115 Fahrenheit. Pools are a staple in many homes. Owning a pool business is a bit of a no-brainer in a town like Tucson. A typical pool maintenance customer in Tucson is an absentee homeowners (snowbirds), a retiree, or someone who just don’t have the aptitude or interest to do the work themselves day-in and day-out. Coincidently, the bulk of Tucson’s pool maintenance consumers are not heavy Yelp users.
In fact, three APT customers wrote 5-star reviews within a couple days of going live and Yelp hid all of them. APT called Yelp’s Customer Service to see if some sort of error going on. The response we got was disturbing and prompted this blog.
APT was told that Yelp’s algorithm removes reviews from reviewers who don’t have “enough” Yelp history as reviewers. Needless to say, this makes up most of APT’s pool maintenance customers as well as the bulk of Tucsonans.
The principal consultant at Ready, Set, Go Social (RSGS) went back to Yelp’ mission statement as it was written Jan 13, 2013: (https://www.yelpblog.com/2013/01/introducing-lives)
“Yelp's mission is to connect people with great local businesses; along the way, we hope to enrich lives of consumers and small business owners. In pursuit of this mission, we want to provide the most helpful information possible about local businesses”.
Yelp’s mission statement implies a social network catering to local customers and local small business by transparently offering independent reviews that overtime elevate great business from their customers’ experience and as result bring more business to those businesses. A wonderful mission but one that is not working in non-tech markets where Yelp is not yet a common tool.
RSGS calls for Yelp to either re-dedicate to its mission with all its implied transparency by adjusting its algorithm to account for local variances or limit itself to only certain markets and transparently admit join the ranks of paid reviewed services.
Yelps algorithm is faulty-- as it no longer functions to remove fake reviews in fact, by only keeping reviews of active reviewers it supports them. Yelp needs to readmit all the reviews that it now hides based on novice reviewers if the local market is made of novice reviewers.
Originally Yelp algorithm’s mission was to hide reviews it deemed violated it’s “user agreement.” User agreements require the use of appropriate language and some admission or volition by use that the reviewer is actual customer of that local business’s services or products.
There are many companies (e.g. Amazon) that use a verified customer model—to add value to their reviews. This is an option that could clearly clean up and benefit Yelp reviews.
RSGS proposes an effective algorithm for Yelp needs to reflect the local population if its function is to assess the value of a review in a local market. Valid reviewers need to be vetted by age, social contribution aptitude, location verification, and some active customer verification for a local business. All dubious reviews should allow for some verification by the small business owner whereby they can prove that the review is a verified customer. In fact, market customization could be a win-win for Yelp.
It could expand its exposure, viability, and usability in a local market by engaging first-time local reviewers with a welcome packet that explains how to use Yelp to benefit the local community. RSGS welcomes all commentary on this blog.
I was walking back to my car from a client’s office this morning when I overheard the casual conversation of two coworkers. They were discussing current projects and the one asked the other if he could tell if they were actually making any progress. I knew instantly that they were talking the tough challenge inherent in agile methodology.
“Are we getting any closer to delivering a final product?” Priorities change, user research results happen, and projects shift suddenly. It can become like a fast-paced roller coaster that begs one to wonder is there a product end point in agile with a GA delivery?
I couldn’t help myself, I turned around and said—"A good product manager keeps the Story Map in play." His response was, “We don’t build products we just work on projects.” To which I confidently replied, “Your projects are your products.”
In short does agile methodology spin a never ending cycle or rework? Does agile deliver a better or faster product? Yes, it can is the answer to both questions.. Agile more than any other methodology can get derailed by minutia and scope creep. If no one has the true end point in sight a team can go on into Epic-infinitum. Typically this is evidence of poor planning.
A good product manager—gets the whole team involved with the effort at Sprint 0. Sprint 0 is when the team comes together and works with the story map. The story map is the visual display that aligns strategy, user needs, and stakeholder needs. This is the time for buy-in to get built into the work. Ideals and approaches, challenges, and resource needs are identified upfront and worked out so that they present minimal delays later.
A story map's the holistic view of the user experience throughout the whole journey. The Release Plan for sprints develops out of the story map and UX determines its pace to code build at that time as well.
Priorities shift, requirements change, and iterations happen. The product manager keeps pace and grooms the priority backlog. Without the phase 0 agile can become short sprints working on a set of ever-changing priorities. An unruly agile team is akin to riding a roller coaster that never ends.
Google Glass--How The Social Brand Of An Innovator is Stronger Than The Black Eye Of Product Failure
I believe all innovators are worthy of applause for having the vision and courage to try something new. As a product manager who has launched many products I want to review what went wrong with Google Glass. As a SME on Social explain why its had little impact.
Google Glass launched in 2012. It was pulled eon in tech time later—Jan 2015. Hindsight is 20/20 because we can all find a reason after the fact. In Google’s case we find:
1) Launch Confusion—It was never clear if Google Glass was actually a launched product or a prototype test in which people paid to participate.
2) High Price--The cost to own a pair of Google Glasses was $1500. This price point prohibited mass-market appeal.
3) Poor Choice in Target Market—With a high price of entry these glasses went to a specific group of users. Users fell into a few select groups; tech zealots, toy collectors with deep pockets, or employees of tech companies that were given a pair. In an era where social sentiment carries high market impact, Google Glass owners did not have a positive Social weight.
4) Ignoring Social Sentiment—Google seemed impervious to the bad social sentiment surrounding their offering and less than positive nicknames Google Glass wearers were given.
5) Pulling the Plug Too Late—It had been apparent for a while that Google Glass was not making it. The multi-tasking required for interacting with the virtual world in one's glasses while engaging in the real world proved too much for most users. No iterations or new releases were introduced. Instead Google, let the product decay like a rotting carcass. Maybe there was no good time to kill it.
6) Confusion Continues—Google continues the lack of clarity even as it pulls the plug. It leaves the door open for a possible return by telling us that Glass was “graduating” from the Google X research lab moving closer to commercialization.
7) Transparency is tough for Google—Google has tough time admitting vulnerability. It took today's earning miss for Google execs to finally admit management shake-ups around Glass headsets earlier this month, reflected investment cutbacks due to the project's failure to meet internal targets.
Everything about Google's brand says playground for innovation. Their campus employee perks position it closer to an amusement park rather than a business park. Google will weather the earnings shortfall better than most because today the innovator is valued above all else. Today innovating is much a greater Social win than the black eye of any product failure. Rather than comparing Google to Microsoft it should be compared to Mad's Alfred E. Neuman
Nothing says fall for me like Pumpkin Pie. Which got me thinking about food and how Social has changed how we eat.
Used to be that Zagat's reviewers were my respected food critics, I admit I've traded them in for Yelp. I look for the highest number of reviews and highest rating
Most Social communities not only enable us to share our opinion but a picture of the item itself. A picture may say it all or simply support to review we are making.
I found a great little article by Lori Barber, New Research: How Social Media Affects Our Food Habits. She led me to the Hartman Group and more findings on Social's effect on our food habits. Here are a few ways Social’s changed our habits around food. Some might surprise you.
· Most buying decisions about what to have for dinner happen 2 hours before mealtime.
· Most Millennials learn to cook from YouTube – not from their mother.
· At least 2 out of 3 daily meals are now eaten alone--while online.
· First time online food shoppers first try buying groceries online because of a Groupon offer.
· Most use a phone while in the store to call or text home and ask the question about their food purchases: “what do you want to eat tonight?”
The best advice for what to cook for dinner tonight comes from:
· 20% Pinterest
· 18% Medical Professional
· 25% Website
· 89% own network (close friends)
All in all, Socials had a huge impact on our food and food choices. In fact most of what we rely on it making eating decisions today did not exist 5 years ago.
One of the topics of the G2Summit 2014 was that gamification is over. If this is true there is a reason.
The biggest challenge facing gamification is that companies want the results that gamification can bring, but they limit themselves to only adding elements to what they were doing. Gamification done right is about understanding behavior and what drives people to behave in certain ways, Using game elements without behavior drivers will deliver lackluster results..
This is about gamifying a non-game setting (business). Gamification application companies are just as responsible as the business for the lack of stellar results. Some SAAS providers approached the market with a focus on selling licenses. The importance of selling licenses overrode the focus on doing gamification well. Other SAAS providers hired traditional game designers. Game designers may not have the needed grasp on business to effect deliberate behavior change in organizations.
Although the game design process seems simple enough it requires studying the business. That means understanding current drivers and hinderances to user behavior. There needs to be a clear understanding of a company's past efforts and where they have missed their mark and a clear definition of the project's future success. In order for gamification to be susscessful there needs to be a game consultant with a clear understanding of the company, why it is gamifying and a vested interest in the company's success.
The work involved is thoughtful, deliberate, and based on science borrowed from other disciplines (i.e. OD) but the measurement, is pure business ROI.
Success can be stellar when its done right.
It appears that gamification is moves through Forrester's trough of disillusionment. I stand up for my unique position as an experienced designer of games in business setting and give a shout out to companies willing to hire professionals to do gamification right.
Gamification is not a fad. It's a great behavior change tool. The irony is this is a tool who's time has come. But from a viability standpoint--success hinges on skill and experience.
A company's brand is constantly in a state of flux impacted by the reviews customers and shoppers leave on Social communities. Today everything else about the brand is chalked up to company spin and takes a back seat to your customer reviews. While it may be true that no single customer engagement will make or break you, a video or a poor review history certainly can.
Despite the fact that most companies agree that the cost of maintaining an existing customer is much less than the cost to acquire or regain a customer, few companies are doing all they can to improve their standing in the transparent economy. A great example of a company who does well with transparency is Amazon. It’s not a coincidence that the customer experience /satisfaction is their primary focus. Transparency is not rocket science but it does mean your company has to walk its talk.
Here are some quick tips on how to make a customer love you so much that they cannot help but say so and the results are guaranteed to improve your transparency.
1. Keep the main focus of the company on the delivering a great customer experience. Make this is your first and over arching focus of the entire business.
2. Identify key customer touch points and ensure that the customers experience is stellar. This means that product development; delivering a great Customer experience drives all design, UX, Service, Fulfillment, Sales, and Partner selection first and foremost.
3. Commiserate with the customer's feelings. Let them know you understand their issue and their feelings and that you are going to do everything you can to address the issue. Example: I understand how frustrating that must be for you. This does not mean transfer their call and require then to recount the issue to the next rep. A properly aligned company realizes that every transfer point and recounting of the issue worsens the CX. A customer-focused company does their absolute best to offer a one-and -done experience.
4. Let the customer know that you've heard their needs and that they matter. List out each need and discuss what you can or cannot do. I recently attended a Skydiving fundraiser for ALS. The key skydiver, a woman with ALS, had a list of concerns for her tandem partner. These were obviously important to her. He read each one back to her and looked at her and explained what he could and could not do. While not all her needs could be met, in the end he assured her that her safety was his main concern. Let the exchange with the customer say, "You matter to me." Simple Eye contact and smiles go a long way even if the exchange is fast passed and transactional.
5. Review all the major Social communities where your customers are on a regular basis. When issues arise do your best to listen, acknowledge and repair.
6. Make sure that customer experience is your main focus and that all operational requirements that impact that experience are congruent with that primary goal (review number one on this list). Support structures such as commission structure, return policies, warranties, employee empowerment, and delivery policies should support not compete with a stellar customer experience. When the customer experience is your goal all else takes a back seat. I once worked with a company that wanted to make hunters out of a farmer sales force. This company raised their sales quotas and asked sales to offer outstanding customer experience with every engagement. The higher quotas were inconsistent with being able to offer a stellar experience. A company whose main focus is the customer should never risk a workforce whose focus is only on the next sale to engage with a customer.
Companies that are truly committed to the customer understand that the customer is the only reason they have a viable business.
7. Always reward employees for keeping the customer the primary focus of the business. A company should never risk passing the cost of a great customer experience on to their employees. Never make an employee choose offering a great experience at the risk of a smaller paycheck.
If you do right by the customer every time you have the opportunity, transparency will take care of itself.
Not likely but that is where we are heading! How will Social continue to change the face of business? Lets take a look at whats been impacted so far:
Each of these items can no longer be the spin of spin doctors. No, each of these is gaining its own ground in reviews. As the weight of review grow in number the type of writing and it's relationship to brand will change.
Social is gaining not only because of technology, or cloud it's the ability to engage, share with power. It is the ability to know that each individual is meaningful. Their impact may be different but the weight that each of these now carries in scale cannot be denied.
Just read a great article in the New York Times on how Social is giving a voice, effecting accountability and motivating positive change
,(http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/25/us/backlash-by-the-bay-tech-riches-alter-a-city.html?pagewanted=2&_r=3&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20131125&). As individuals with access to Social channels we can impact injustice on a level we have never been able to before. We are seeing this happening globally in social uprisings that impact governments, politics, and your local hedonistic CEO. We, as a world, have gone Social and there is no turning back. Social is in business, in grocery stores, and on a BART train in the middle of the night. It’s being tweeted, videoed, blogged and liked everywhere. You can't hide in a limo, a corner office, a Swiss bank account, or a shallow conscience.
Social’s power is in it’s transparency, The ability that a moment shared can go viral in a matter of seconds and change history, government policy, or as we are told in the New Yorker article--even conscious awareness. We are “Little Brother “ and we are watching.
Smart business will understand the power of transparency. Embrace it and put in place a multi-channel sense and respond effort that engages quickly with an infinitely personal level of accountability. Equally, important is the awareness that whatever you offer rings forth with genuine resonance. Happy Thanksgiving!
Noreen Poli is product manager and consultant at Ready, Set, Go Social! Her projects range from award winning methodologies to end-to-end mobile gamified applications. Her background in product management is enhanced by experience in user research, analytics, human behavior, and social giving her a unique skill-set custom made for this era of realtime analytics and personalized products.