Usability in Everyday Life

May 17th, 2011 — 9:34am

As an account manager working in digital media, I spend a lot of time thinking about usability at work.

I’m always checking out landing pages, contact forms or different design elements, and asking myself if they make websites more or less usable. But that’s mostly just during my nine to five.

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of my different day-to-day experiences through the lens of usability. An example.

I arrived at company X for a meeting and walked into the lobby. The front desk was unattended, but there was a sign-in sheet with columns for name, company, time in and time out.

I signed my name, wrote down my company name and then reached into my pocket to grab my phone. It was dead.

And I don’t wear a watch.

I looked around the room.

No clock.

Although most people carry a mobile device with them at all times, and some people wear watches, you shouldn’t ask someone to write down what time they checked in without providing a clock. A simple wall clock would have been so easy to install.

I want to give some credit to Justin Davis at Madera Labs, for hitting me over the head with the word “usability” so much in the last three years I’ve lived in Nashville via his many appearances at Podcamp, Barcamp, NSW, etc., as well as the great work he does over at Madera Labs.

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Digital Account Management: Know Your Role (Bonus)

April 21st, 2011 — 7:54am

This is part seven of a six-part series (that’s right; this one is a bonus) recapping my presentation, “Happy Clients: An Intro to Digital Account Management,” from Podcamp Nashville 2011.

7. Know your role

Unless you work at an agency that only provides one service, you typically are advising your client on a number of specialties. Within the world of digital media and online marketing, this can span best practices in a Twitter strategy, to designing for the iPad to selecting the best content management system (CMS) to grow with the needs of your client’s organization.

You end up being the interface between your developer, your designer, your copywriter, etc., and your client. When your client has changes, opinions or edits, it’s tempting to lose sight of your role. Ultimately, it is your job to figure out the problem, and deliver the solution, but it may not be your job to create the solution, per se.

Hang with me here.

Say your client has an issue with the way a certain functionality works on the website. It’s your job to figure out why, ask a lot of questions, figure out what the real problem is. Ultimately, if the problem is a truly a development problem, it’s your developer’s job to find a solution. And that solution is almost always guaranteed to be a better solution than you or the client can come up with alone.

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Digital Account Management: Take the Long View

April 19th, 2011 — 7:40am

This is part six of a six-part series recapping my presentation, “Happy Clients: An Intro to Digital Account Management,” from Podcamp Nashville 2011.

6. Take the long view

Taking the long view can mean sacrificing in the short term in the hope of long-term gain. It can mean assuming risks along with your client that a company in a traditional “client-vendor relationship” normally wouldn’t take. It can mean throwing out agreements, sitting around a table and just figuring out what makes sense.

Ultimately, though, it’s about valuing partnerships more than you value transactions.

If you work at a company that takes the long view, this can be an incredibly satisfying part of your job as an account manager.

On the other hand, if you work at a company that does not take this approach, and you work as an account manager, this can be incredibly difficult. You’re responsible for growing revenues with your client, right? It’s the end of the month and you’ve got to bill all that you can.

Just remember, you’ll be serving yourself, your client and your company better if you invest in those long-term relationships rather than sacrificing them for a quick transaction.

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Digital Account Management: Take Your Time

April 14th, 2011 — 9:29am

This is part five of a six-part series recapping my presentation, “Happy Clients: An Intro to Digital Account Management,” from Podcamp Nashville 2011.

5. Take your time

Do you have children?

If you do, you know how refreshing it is to be around children because they live in the present moment. Everything, their entire universe and all that they understand, exists right now.

There is no later. There is no yesterday. Delayed gratification is not a concept that they understand. It can be a beautiful thing.

Most of the time.

Unfortunately, clients can behave similarly, especially when it comes to projects they don’t fully understand, such as search engine optimization or web application development. (And why should they? They’re experts in their fields, not in ours. That’s why they hired us.)

The proposal needs to be ready now. The website needs to launch now. The campaign needs to go live now.

And, similarly to how we work with impatient children, we need to take our time. We don’t give our kids candy bars to avoid meltdowns (or at least we shouldn’t), and our clients are a thousand times more reasonable than our children.

If you take your time, you will do better work

Jason Fried, the co-founder of 37signals and creator of Basecamp, gave a great lecture at TEDxMidwest about work, the nature of work and why work doesn’t happen very often at work. One of his quotes from that lecture really stood out to me:

People really need long stretches of uninterrupted time to get something done. You cannot ask somebody to be creative in 15 minutes and really think about a problem.

Whether we’re defining the scope of work for a project or just creating a status report, we need to carve out the time to do it right. At the end of the day, you’ll be more likely to look back on your work and be proud of it, and your client will appreciate it as well.

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Digital Account Management: Find Root Causes

April 12th, 2011 — 9:28am

This is part four of a six-part series recapping my presentation, “Happy Clients: An Intro to Digital Account Management,” from Podcamp Nashville 2011.

4. Find Root Causes

This concept originated with Toyota and emphasizes finding the root causes of problems, rather than treating symptoms. Ahead of my presentation at Podcamp, I trolled the Internet for good examples where this concept had been put into practice, and stumbled upon this one involving Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (courtesy of Pete Abilla).

Essentially, Bezos was visiting an Amazon fulfillment center when an employee injured his thumb in a conveyor belt. When Bezos heard about the incident, he got very upset and wanted to make sure it didn’t happen again. Rather than succumbing to a knee-jerk reaction or creating a committee to investigate the problem, he put the methodology behind finding root causes into action, by using the “Five Why’s.”

The concept behind the “Five Why’s” is that if you get the right players in the room and commit yourselves to finding the root cause of a problem, you should be able to find it by asking why no more than five times. Here were the results:

Why did the associate damage his thumb?

Because his thumb got caught in the conveyor.

Why did his thumb get caught in the conveyor?

Because he was chasing his bag, which was on a running conveyor.

Why did he chase his bag?

Because he placed his bag on the conveyor, but it then turned-on by surprise

Why was his bag on the conveyor?

Because he used the conveyor as a table

In other words, Amazon didn’t need a committee, or better safety standards surrounding their conveyor belts or anything else, they just needed to make sure that their associates had access to tables.

As it relates to working with clients

Now, I’m not actually suggesting that we need to be running our clients through this exercise every time we encounter a problem. On the contrary, I doubt that we ever need to bring this up to them.

What I am saying is that we need to be more proactive when problem-solving, and making sure that we are getting at the root causes of problems rather than treating symptoms.

For example, I find this is a major issue when working with clients on web designs.

Frequently, the client will ask questions like: Can we make that color pop more? Can we move that search box over here? Can we just tweak that?

By asking more questions of our clients, we can figure out what the real problem is. Perhaps it’s that the client wants to emphasize a certain feature more than others. Or that they believe a certain layout will convert better.

By finding the root cause of why they want to change things, we arrive at a place where we are discussing things that are more objective rather than subjective, and more measurable than abstract.

We can move the search box around all day long, but if we don’t understand what the underlying cause is, we’re never going to find a solution that solves the client’s problem.

1 comment » | Digital, account management

Digital Account Management: Own Your Mistakes

April 7th, 2011 — 9:02am

This is part three of a six-part series recapping my presentation, “Happy Clients: An Intro to Digital Account Management,” from Podcamp Nashville 2011.

3. Own your mistakes

Don’t make excuses.

Don’t pass the buck.

And, no matter what, don’t be defensive.

Just own your mistake. Apologize, explain how you’re going to make it right and move on. Your client will appreciate your honesty and your integrity.

My pet peeve

If you’ve ever worked within an account management role, you’ve probably received this email:

Dear account manager,

My website is broken.

Love,

Your Client

(Or something to that effect.)

You get the email, and your immediate, innate and perfectly human response is to feel a little defensive. And that’s alright. An email like the one above puts you on your heels a bit.

Your next impulse is to start thinking of ways to troubleshoot. The questions in your head include: what page are you on? What browser are you in? Are you on a PC? Mac? Mobile? Do you even have an Internet connection?

Whatever you do, don’t put it in an email.

Pick up the phone, and call.

If you put it in an email, you’re effectively passing the buck. Email is a passive means of communication. It is “turn-based,” and not inherently collaborative or real-time. In essence, you’re saying, “That’s a bummer about your site being down, but I don’t have enough information to help. Your turn.”

You’re putting the onus on the client, when all they care about is their site being fixed.

If I were in your shoes, I’d visit the site in a couple of browsers. If you know your client, you may know them well enough to guess which one they are using. Quickly visit a few high-traffic pages. Try a few popular bits of functionality. If the problem isn’t obvious, then pick up the phone and call.

There’s nothing wrong with needing to gather a bit more information from your client, but you need to own the situation.

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Digital Account Management: Manage Expectations

April 5th, 2011 — 9:01am

This is part two of a six-part series recapping my presentation, “Happy Clients: An Intro to Digital Account Management,” from Podcamp Nashville 2011.

2. Manage expectations

In college, I had a professor who used to say, “The measure of someone’s happiness is equal to the difference between their expectations and their reality,” (which I’ve illustrated beautifully with the following graphic).

Happiness Equals Expecations Minus Reality

Now, as a whiny college student, I didn’t truly appreciate the inherent wisdom of that quote. Now, as an account manager, I’ve realized that nowhere is that more important than when working with clients.

Most typically, this comes up when it comes to metrics. The client expects 50,000 unique visitors to his website one day after launch, 10,000 downloads of his app or an open rate of 50% on his email campaign.

But, the most common expectation I find myself having to manage is the following:

Why isn’t my website at the top of Google?

In all fairness, search engine marketing is more art than science and plenty of SEOs purport to understand more than they really do, so clients can be forgiven for thinking that gaining a #1 spot in Google is as simple as launching your website and giving Mountain View a call.

So what’s the easiest way to manage this expectation?

Ask questions

Ask lots and lots and lots of questions, particularly when you’re on the front end of a relationship and haven’t developed a lot of history working with the client.

Figure out what your client’s expectations are before launch (preferably before the project begins). Heck, figure out what your client’s boss’s expectations are.

Start at a high level with questions like: Why are they doing this? What’s the business objective? What does success look like?

Then dig deeper with questions more specific to the project, such as: How much traffic would you like to drive to your website? What do you want them to do when they get there?

You’ll end up with a better proposal, a much better project and a very happy client.

Comment » | Google, Search, account management

Digital Account Management: Do Your Homework

March 31st, 2011 — 9:43am

This is part one of a six-part series recapping my presentation, “Happy Clients: An Intro to Digital Account Management,” from Podcamp Nashville 2011.

1. Do your homework

In school, they tell us to do our homework. The boy scouts say to “be prepared.” Ever acted? You have to know your lines. In sports, practice makes perfect.

Sounds simple, right?

I once worked on a project* with a client where a different third-party agency was responsible for creating branding a web design, and I’d help with the web development. The agency started by, you guessed it, doing their homework.

They googled the company, read all of the materials from its current website, read up on the industry and its competitors, then wrote up and delivered a comprehensive branding plan that included a positioning statement, recommended messaging and copy for the website.

The client looked it over, and said, “???”

The agency had googled the wrong company, and never bothered to dig any deeper to confirm they were on the right track.

Some places to start…

Yes, this a particularly extreme example of not doing your homework correctly, but it illustrates the point. Here are a few places to start:

  • Follow the company on LinkedIn
  • Create a Google alert for the company
  • Create a folder in your Google Reader (or RSS reader of choice) and follow relevant industry blogs
  • Create a list of the company’s competitors (and follow them too)
  • Attend a local MeetUp, or a larger industry event or conference

Where do you go to learn more about your clients and their business?

*Please note: the details of this story have been altered only to preserve the anonymity of those involved.

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I Found Out on Facebook…

March 29th, 2011 — 9:23am

In the past two months I’ve learned of two pretty big news items on close family members…via Facebook.

And I recognize that I’m not alone in my experience. As we continue to share more and more of our personal lives via social media, plenty others of you are undoubtedly in the same boat.

“Did you hear so-and-so was expecting?”

“No, that’s great! Did they call you?”

“Nope, I read it on Facebook.”

It’s become commonplace, almost expected that formal announcements that were once reserved for pen and paper, and then replaced by phone calls, now happen on Facebook. The thought struck me as I reflected on all of this, “Wow, how incredibly special it is to receive announcements such as these via mail. Imagine how special it will be in two years? Ten years?”

The Big Picture

In a larger sense, it’s interesting to wonder if consumer behavior and economic forces will collude to drive print media toward higher-end, luxury formats. Think Wired magazine with its beautiful spreads and high-quality paper versus Reader’s Digest.

From a marketing perspective, it’s an interesting time to be looking at print media. With people receiving so much less mail, your piece may actually rise above the clutter and be read.

As for me, I’ve decided to set a goal for myself to draft a personal, hand-written letter at least once a month to a friend or family member. (I know, it’s sad that once a month is daunting in its ambition.)

We’ll see how it goes…

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Podcamp Nashville 2011

March 27th, 2011 — 6:22am

Podcamp Nashville 2011 Logo

I just wanted to write up a quick thanks to the amazing crew who put on Podcamp this year in Nashville. The event just keeps getting better each year.

I gave an intro presentation called, “Happy Clients: An Intro to Digital Account Management,” and plan to post some of my thoughts as well as a bit of the feedback from the Q&A session here over the next few weeks.

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