We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. T. S. Eliot Four Quartets


Extinction awaits organisations that do not use the web to understand customer behaviour says Gerry McGovern


© Gerry McGovern

In his new book Gerry McGovern sees the web as a laboratory of human behaviour running a never-ending experiment to understand what people do and measure customer outcomes. The goal is to be able to transform the culture of the organisation for which everything starts and ends with the customer.

Transform: A Rebel’s Guide for Digital Transformation offers a clear statement of what digital transformation means and what has to happen for it to be achieved. Why is this a truly major revolution? Why is traditional brand marketing now hopelessly ineffective? Why do communications professionals go spectacularly wrong? Why are IT professionals the new dinosaurs? Why are top tasks so critical for the online customer experience? Why should they be measured? These and many other questions are placed into a robust new model that all of us ignore at our peril.            

People now distrust the analogue world of traditional hierarchical organisations. The new digital world belongs to the customer

McGovern skilfully weaves together stories from a wide range of organisations and countries in order to illustrate how organisations must embrace the digital world. Take the example of a US company called Slack that has revolutionised the digital workplace and genuinely invested in the customer experience

Or take, for example, the World Health Organisation (WHO) facing the challenge of the ebola epidemic just two years ago. Its initial response was to allow all parts of its organisation to tell the world via its website what they were doing to help with the crisis. Unfortunately that is not what its customers wanted – they needed to know the ebola death toll country by country. A site search revealed a plethora of ‘pdfs’ inviting visitors to dig for the information. Yet a Google search put the information immediately on a plate for them without even inviting them to the WHO website.

Gerry sees the web as an extinction event for traditional organisations that do not adapt. The web should be seen as a laboratory of human behaviour. You use evidence of what people do, not say what they do. You test and test again and again. It is a never-ending experiment. Transforming the organisational culture is critical. It starts and ends with the customer. You must measure customer outcomes (eg the reduction of their time in doing things online). The new mantra is measure use, not production.

The flip side of the coin is the collapse in trust. Everywhere people distrust the establishment. The digital revolution has accelerated the trend. The examples quoted about BP’s cynical story of a green revolution undermined by the major oil spill in 2010 and about the financial and insurance industry ripping off their customers are indeed powerful. As the book is published in the year of the Brexit referendum and the Trump victory, these messages resonate very strongly with widespread disenchantment with the establishment about all aspects of modern life.

Looking instead to a recipe for success, he has great advice for digital designers. They should design for use, especially ease of use, not for style or visual aesthetics. This might have been the domain of the IT specialists, but regrettably they have focused on the technology not its application, and so this key opportunity to influence and contribute has passed them by. This is ironical given that technology is the agent of change and technologists have become the dinosaur even before they had the chance to rule!

There is a danger that people reading about designing digital experiences around customer top tasks will conclude that it is just the latest trend in website design to be replaced in the course of time by another set of bright ideas. That would be a great mistake. We are not talking here about a tactical improvement, but a major strategic change that should stand the test of time and one that requires a radical transformation within the organisation from top to bottom.

Gerry’s vision is coherent from all angles. Its strength derives from observation and analysis of many experiences and pieces of research, things that work and things that do not work. After absorbing the advice, you never see the world the same. Traditional marketing, communication, web design and silo management all belong firmly to the past, doomed to fail. It is difficult to imagine how a relatively slim volume (180 pages) crammed full with examples, captures such powerful messages, which as ever with Gerry are spelt out so clearly and with flashes of real humour. The one-liner ‘People are more likely to be struck by lightning than to click on banner ads’ sticks in the memory!

To understand the digital revolution whatever your role, you only need to read one book and this is the book!       

BUY Transform: A Rebel’s Guide for Digital Transformation HERE

Gerry McGovern’s New Thinking newsletter (subscribe here) provides a welcome but relentless focus on the importance of customer service in a digital world. Examples abound of the folly of organisation-centric cultures that stick to traditional concepts of marketing and communication, losing out every time to those that really breathe customer thinking at every opportunity.  


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