Speaker spotlight: Gerry McGovern on creating a better customer experience

Gerry Mc Govern

Why have so many companies lost touch with (and the trust of) their customers?
In general trust has declined in society. In the early sixties something like 70 percent of people trusted government, certainly in the US and many other Western societies, and after the Vietnam War it had dropped to about 30 percent!

It has been declining ever since. As people got better educated, they realised that the trust they placed in many institutions was misplaced. I think there's a general societal disconnect between people and their institutions, maybe in some countries not as much as in others. In Scandinavia, China or India you still see strong figures but broadly speaking there's just a big shift. People are becoming more skeptical, and the web is a vehicle of verification. You can check and compare things.

In another area, however, trust has not disappeared at all. It has just shifted. Business models like Uber's or Airbnb's are totally dependent on trusting strangers. We're trusting our peers much more because we now have mechanisms to amalgamate the opinions and the expertise of our peers. But we're trusting experts less, and I think justifiably so, because experts in so many areas have got it wrong and it's not that they don't have a role — a core stable role, but they're not nearly as all-knowing as they might have pretended to be.

What's the Top Tasks methodology?
A few years ago we worked on a project for Norwegian hospitals and there was a big debate. All the hospitals had different websites and approaches to content, and we really want to understand the purpose of a hospital. You'd think you should know the purpose but what's the difference between a hospital and a health centre, for example? So we asked Norwegian citizens to look at a big list of 70 or 80 things around health and decide what really mattered to them. There was this overwhelming sense that it's about treatment, and there were three sub tasks: before, during and after treatment.

That's what Top Tasks is about. What's absolutely critical? What's the essence of buying a car or choosing a university? It's really about cutting to the absolute chase of a particular problem, but also about identifying what’s not the essence, what I call the "tiny tasks". Often the digital team spends most time on these because they reflect the ego of the organisation and the desire to have puff pieces and all sorts of propaganda that are often disrupt the journey of the top tasks.

Who is the method most suitable for?
Many smaller organisations have used it, but it's more suited for complex, political environments with a whole range of competing interests that need to create an absolute clarity of what matters. If you've got a very small business, your top task should be clear. You should have that clarity of the essential product or service you deliver and the core stuff that the customer wants or needs to know.

How do you select the customers to help identify and test the top tasks?
That's a crucial conversation. For the top task identification you need around 400 people, who actually use the site you're analysing, to vote to get statistical reliable data. You'll typically end up with about 10 to 12 top tasks, and to actually measure their performance, you need a hell of a lot fewer people. In traditional usability thinking the consensus is somewhere between five to eight. That'll work to identify core problems. But to really start getting reliable data, we found you don't need to go out all that much more, just to about 15 to 20 people. The core thing is that you repeat this, for example, every six months, not with the same people but the same profile of people. So you're measuring the evolution of the customer experience on an ongoing basis.

Why do you think organisations should delete up to 90 per cent of the content on their sites?
Because 90 percent of almost everything is crap! We have an existential challenge in modern organisations. The way we manage and measure is creating far more problems than it is solving. It comes from the old world of manufacturing. A hundred years ago, if you as a manager could deliver 200 finished cars a week instead of a hundred, that was great. But we've taken that industrial concept of measuring success and brought it into a digital world. When something is right, it can't be left right. It has to be changed because you've got to show that you're doing something, and the way you show your value in most organisations is you produce stuff. It creates a culture of production and glutton.

Can you give us an example of how your methodology made a difference to an organisation?
The Norwegian Cancer Society deleted 80 percent of their website content, including calls to donate money that the front page was covered with. They stripped all of that away and just focused on the core top tasks. The next year their donations doubled, and they have gone up 50 percent plus every year since they launched a new environment that was radically simplified and just focused on helping people in really getting what they need.

Apart from Gerry's talk on designing an intuitive navigation, Pixel Pioneers Belfast on 23 November also covers ecommerce design, new web technologies such as CSS Grid, Web Components, Custom Properties and the Web Animation API, CSS for the next billion users, and more. There will also be workshops on Smart Responsive UX Design Patterns (save £45 on a conference and workshop bundle) and an Adobe XD deep dive.