Like me, I'm sure you are working on complex challenges when it comes to data.
Multi-petabyte data warehouses. Multi-touch, cross-channel attribution analysis. Media mix modeling. Predictive analytics. Human-centric analysis. Oh, and let's not forget the application of machine learning to every facet of your work.
It is genuinely fun to work on these opportunities. They’re difficult, and every step forward offers a renewed sense of excitement and inspiration.
Despite the joy in these high-level, forward-thinking initiatives, I've disciplined myself not to let the unsexy fundamentals go overlooked. I’m particularly vigilant about avoiding friction in the core systems that facilitate the flow of money into the company and beloved products out of it.
So today, that valuable reminder for you kicked off via a case study inspired by Condé Nast. To inspire, and jump-start, a change in your focus, we’ll also look at Heal, Facebook and prAna.
Before we proceed with the stories… The unsexy fundamentals in this post focus on user experience. If you are a reader of my newsletter, The Marketing < > Analytics Intersect, you’ve seen me apply it to metrics (last TMAI was on Bounce Rate), reports, frameworks and more. The concept touches all facets of our professional universe.
Condé Nast | A Story of Unrequited Love.
Condé Nast is in a world of hurt, along with everyone else in the print business. In 2017, they've twice replaced the company's Chief Revenue Officer. They are pursuing a variety of digital experiments, and it remains unclear whether any of them will stick (unlike the New York Times, where new initiative such as "The Daily" podcast and T Brand Studio have proven overwhelmingly successful).
You might assume that Condé Nast, through these changes and new initiatives, would have solved the fundamental issue of subscriber retention.
Join me on that journey.
I love The New Yorker.
"Love" is an understatement. I ADORE The New Yorker magazine. I love David Remnick. And Amy Davidson and Sheelah Kolhatkar and John Cassidy and Jia Tolentino and… all of 'em. Hence, I'm proud to be a paying subscriber. The nourishment that your soul craves is in The New Yorker, and I encourage you to consider your own subscription.
As I almost exclusively read the articles online, I visited the website to switch to digital-only (from digital + print) when my subscription expired in October.
I recall this simple task posing a surprising challenge. I was busy, and ultimately, I gave up. Last week, in my guilt for reading articles online for free, I decided to try again.
The first step was to log into my New Yorker account.
I was already logged into the site and thus found this to be a bit of a nuisance. But, no biggie.
Post-login, I was taken to my profile page, where under the Edit button I received a lovely reminder of my tardiness.
[Full disclosure: The New Yorker, starting May 2017 had sent me at least 14 reminder letters via postal mail with a form to complete fill out and return with a check. I don't know who does this anymore, certainly not us. I want to add that I did not get a single reminder via email – with a direct link to renew. This despite the fact that The New Yorker has my email address, and it would be cheaper to send me 14 emails than printed letters. Clearly, the Department of Postal Mail is vigorous at Condé Nast.]
I clicked on Customer Care (but not before taking a tangent to explore what "Amazon Digital Subscriptions Manager" is, turns out to be the most expensive way to get a subscription to the magazine!).
Amazingly, I was asked to log in again, this time on a completely new domain.
It was a bit odd to see the captcha. I wonder just how many hackers are dying to access the Condé Nast subscription website to help process renewals!
Mildly irritated, I did as I was asked.
Once again, I was presented with a summary of my account, and I began scanning for my next action.
I simply wanted to change my subscription from digital + print to just digital, and to know what it will cost.
I scanned my options on the left navigation, with few promising options.
I give "Renew" a try.
My only choice was to up the game to two years.
I wondered what the Wired cross-sell says about New Yorker subscribers. Had it been tested?
Next, I tried "Digital Access." It seemed to smell right.
Wrong choice again.
This just told me how to access the magazine anytime, anywhere! 🙂
Back to exploration mode.
(At this point, I was not irritated. I realized there was a lesson to be learned. So I began taking screenshots of this unnecessarily painful journey, wondering if any Condé Nast employee had ever tried to change their personal subscription.)
I revisited "Manage Your Subscription," to make the next best choice: "Adjust auto-renewal."
Right choice? No. Wrong again.
I didn't want to update my credit card.
This, I was forced to resort to the last bastion of the frustrated: "Subscription FAQs."
I hate FAQs; they are almost always useless. Will Condé Nast prove to be the one exception to the rule?
"How can I renew my New Yorker subscription," seemed somewhat promising. I dutifully choose "clicking here."
I was right back to where I started, amazed that this company is in so much trouble financially but won't offer someone desperate to pay them a seamless way to do so.
Left to the footer, I clicked "Subscribe." At that point, what did I have to lose?
This took me to a third site, where, finally I was able to choose a digital-only subscription!
No. Not really.
This is a "12 Weeks for $12" offer that only applied to new subscribers. This offered no path for an existing subscribers.
What was even more frustrating — massively so — is that there was also no answer to my other question: How much would a digital-only subscription cost?
In fact, on this subscription page (the one I linked to when recommending The New Yorker above), there is no way to determine how much The New Yorker costs per year.
Let me say that again. If you are trying to subscribe — new or returning — Condé Nast does not tell you the annual subscription cost!
What kind of con are these people running?
This put me at my wit's end. I'd failed to give them my money.
I revisited the second site to select "Chat Now."
Having logged in three times, as indicated in the top-right corner, I am asked once again to supply my credentials.
I waited an eternity for the chat session to start, completely absent of any status indication (x minutes remaining, or you are 10th in the queue).
Bored, I jumped back to the other window to tinker.
That's where I noticed the suddenly appealing "Cancel" link. Click!
I found the three choices intriguing.
How many of those who visit the page to cancel their subscription would like to improve the experience? (It was also not clear what "experience" meant.)
I opted to "Reconsider and save $10," simply because I love The New Yorker, and I wasn't going to give up on them. I am going to subscribe no matter how inept Condé Nast is.
A friendly message informed me that I was to wait for an email containing my $10 discount.
Why do I have to wait, I wondered.
Did Condé Nast have so many employees that someone was going to review my "case history" and validate my worthiness for the $10 discount, which, let me remind you, they offered proactively?
My chat window came alive. Hurrah!
No. Not really.
"Leah" seemed unfamiliar with the Condé Nast platform. She directed me to pages I couldn't see, and asked me to go sign up for an intro offer which I knew I wasn't allowed to get (that was clear in the legal terms on the page).
After not helping at all, I admired her chutzpah in asking if she can help me with anything else.
Frustrated, I choose "End Chat."
I decided to wait for my $10. I felt I'd earned it by now.
Now, it has been a couple weeks. Crickets from Condé Nast.
Since I still love The New Yorker, I'm considering a digital subscription under my wife's name. She'll get 12 weeks for $12, which is sad as I want to pay full price.
12 weeks into that subscription, perhaps I'll finally come to find the full annual fee.
Ensuring loyal customers are able to renew and modify their subscription is the most fundamental of functions. It is not revolutionary to say that you really don’t want friction there.
Condé Nast has analysts upon analysts upon analysts. They have a world of user experience experts. I am genuinely and absolutely confident that these 400 people are executing large complex projects to save Condé Nast from financial trouble. None of them though thinks that that starts with something simple and fundamental: Fixing renewals. Or, telling people what a subscription actually costs.
To say that this breaks my heart is an understatement of galactic proportions.
Up next, you.
Condé Nast is hardly alone. I highly recommend a close self-evaluation to ensure that this isn't true for you as well.
To inspire prompt action by you, let me share a few more UX examples that are super-close to the company making money (the thing they/you should positively nail).
Heal | A Story Unfulfilled Forms.
Heal has an irresistible value proposition: They’ll send a doctor to your house!
I’m blessed to have health insurance. Still going to a doctor is such a pain, and even with an appointment the doctor makes me wait. Heal it is.
I install the mobile app, and proceed to making my first appointment.
The very first thing I have to enter is my date of birth. Seems reasonable.
Here’s the screen I get…
What is the reasonable number of times the Heal UX team thinks a human should be expected to click the little < button to get to their date of birth?
I won’t tell you how old I am (very!), it is a lot of back clicks for me. A lot.
I just gave up.
For this article I opened the app again. There has to be a (hidden) better way.
I tried to click on “January 2018” hoping it pops up a calendar. No dice. I then clicked on “Sun, Jan 7.” Nope. Nothing else seems clickable. Looking… Scanning… Then, I clicked on the little “2018” on the top left. I get a list of years, score! I scroll, scroll, scroll, I’m old, scroll, and find my year of birth.
Consider this: You are a startup trying to upend the existing insane healthcare system. Should you have a simpler way to fill out the date of birth? Unsexy fundamental.
In the month of December, when I needed an annual exam, I could not get the address field in the Heal app to get my home address in there. (Unsexy fundamental.) I had to make an appointment and drive to the doctor. Oh, the humanity!
Facebook | A Story of Unsent $100s.
The only way now to get to your followers on Facebook is to buy ads.
No problem. After I would post something I want my Facebook followers to see, I would click the blue Boost button and pay Facebook $100. That seemed to solve the Reach problem.
Then one day a little while back I’m greeted with a new button: Boost Unavailable.
I have 45k followers on Facebook, without boost I get just 4k.
So I want this problem fixed. I want to give Facebook my $100. Except. Boost Unavailable.
When I click on that button, I get this, to me, confusing message.
A long time ago I had a personal page on Facebook. A couple years ago they informed me that I was not a person, I was a brand and forced me to change that page to “brand page.” I lost all my connections, and got followers instead.
Now, I don’t know what to do with this message. This account is all I have.
I click on Manage Page Roles, to see what my choices are…
I have to admit I am lost.
I am confident someone at Facebook understands what is going on, they even understand every option in the 19 choices in the left nav. Sadly, I don’t. The end result is that I can’t give Facebook my $100 and get my posts boosted.
As you might have heard, Facebook is just fine without my $100 every other week. They are clearing $10 bil a quarter. Still, an example of an unsexy fundamental that their user experience team could consider solving for.
prAna | A Story of Unfiltered Sadness.
I appreciate the opportunity to support businesses that solve for fair trade, green and sustainable business practices. If their products last forever, even better as I have to buy a lot less over time.
prAna is a good example of such a company. I also admire their brand building efforts – from the logo to the shipping envelopes.
I can’t afford their clothes at full price, but can’t resist looking at the men’s sale section when I need something.
Filters are your BFF when you are in environments with lots of choice. You can quickly go from being overwhelmed to narrow focus.
prAna’s site has loads of filtering choices: Gender, size, activity (yoga, hiking…), fit (slim, fitted), inseam, color, fabric (fair trade, HeiQ…), performance (PFC Free DWR, quick dry…), rating, silhouette (button down shirt, flannel, that’s it, really!), country of origin.
Guess what’s missing?
Imagine you have go trawl through hundreds of items on sale for clothing you need. What is the first thing you want to filter by?
Yes! Type of clothing.
Pants. T-Shirts. Jackets. Shorts.
That is the one filter prAna does not provide. Unsexy fundamental.
Even with the other 9 filters, it is hard to quickly find what I’m looking for.
I have received 7 emails in the last handful of weeks from them with this subject line: “40% Off: End of Season Sale – Your Favorite Looks are Going Fast – Don’t Miss Out.” I wonder how long it will take the User Experience experts at prAna to figure out why the conversion rate is zero percent.
If the UX experts shop on the site, they’ll find these unsexy fundamental issues everywhere.
The most common reason I return pants are that they are not long enough. Pants with 34” inseam fit me.
I was looking for new pair of travel pants. The Calculus Pants look like they could do the job.
Two weird things.
No waist size. I can take a gamble on M, but length is not a gamble I’m willing to take. I scroll around a bit. Nothing.
I click on “Size & Fit Guide,” in case it specifies something for these pants.
I get the generic guide. It is helpful in that it confirms that I need “Long Inseam.”
Except. That information is not on the Calculus pants page.
Scroll up. Scroll down. Scroll around. Switch to mobile site, because why not. Nope. Nothing.
Perhaps these pants don’t come in the three choices (Short, Regular and Long). But at least tell me what the inseam size the Calculus pants are! Unsexy fundamental.
prAna charges $8 for returns, for any reason. That is a lot. Hence… No pants for me.
[For prAna’s UX team, possible inspiration: Patagonia’s men’s sale page]
Bottom-line | Recommendations.
Unsexy fundamentals are very sexy. I recommend two actions on your part:
1. Create a dedicated (small) team to obsess continuously about the most fundamental functions. Ensure that you have a special rewards mechanism in place for them (like every other company out there you currently only reward people who work on shiny object projects).
The team’s work will start with the fundamentals closest to your core transactions. Cart and checkout for digital; cashier experience in your store. Build from there.
2. Create incentives for your employees to be secret shoppers. In fact, ask your CEO to try and do business with your company. The frustration she/he/they feel will drive amazing impact (on User happiness and company profit).
Sure, it will delay your multi-channel attribution predictive analytics powered single source of the truth initiative, but it'll be worth it.
2018: the year of doing the unsexy fundamentals well!
As always, it is your turn now.
Do you have a program/team in place to focus on unsexy fundamentals? What currently stands in the way of your company obsessing about ensuring all pathways to making money have been smoothed over? What is the primary mechanism in helping you figure out what unsexy fundamentals are broken? Do you have an example of a user experience, any mobile app or site, that is persistently frustrating?
Please add your insights, stories, frustrations, and wonderful accomplishments via comments below.
Bonus | Read: More examples and lessons in UX/Design, from HTC, United and Patagonia: Suck Less | A Plea For User-Centric Design: Powered By You
Bonus | Process to Implement: Heuristic Evaluations