What is the first thing you do when you wake up?
A few months back, for me, it was unlocking my phone to check up on how many hours of sleep did I get last night, what percentage of it was deep sleep, and from what time to what time was I in my desired REM sleep. What did it tell me? Fuck if I knew! I just liked looking at those charts and the numbers. Of course, since I was tracking it every day, my brain was automatically charting out a daily graph every morning. But that was more or less pointless since it wasn’t leading to much action (other than me muttering to myself — I need to start sleeping early).
So one day I stopped wearing my Fitbit. If I wasn’t going to use the data I am tracking to bring in some positive change, then what’s the point of tracking the data at all.
WE HAVE A FASCINATION WITH DATA
It seems like ages ago, but during my first startup days, I would want to log everything. What the user is engaging with on my platform, What he/she isn’t engaging with, if an engagement is happening, then how deep does that particular rabbit hole go. E V E R Y T H I N G!
No personal information thought, but all kinds of inputs on how users were engaging with the platform we had presented them with. Was I doing something with all that data that was being generated? Not really. At that time, I had no idea how to use that data in a way that would make sense. And as a business, there was always something that was more critical and needed my immediate attention. So why was all this data being captured? Because I wanted to understand my users better. If I knew what is it that they find interesting enough to engage with, I would be in a better position to improve the system into something my users would love even more. And I was of the perception that insights generated by data would be much more accurate than a user survey. (I still stand by that perception btw.)
Businesses have always been fascinated with data. Some more than others. But that fascination has always been there. And as times changed, it went through the natural evolution of providing actionable insights based on that data. And to do that, we measure everything we can think of.
Whether it is wearable devices, or mobile/desktop apps and platforms, today we are constantly engaging with an endless list of systems that are monitoring and measuring our performance on a daily basis.
The more you think about it, the more you will come to realize that in this day and age, we are more obsessed with optimization than we have ever been. Any business you name, somewhere in the thick of all their mission statements, you will find the term “data-driven”. It is that fascination to improve ourselves on the basis of data.
Because optimization holds a certain allure to it. It dangles in front of you that promised land of perfection. It gives you the hope that if you keep optimizing your processes, you will land on that quick-fix solution that will empower you in bringing about mindboggling results with minimal investment in time, energy and money.
But now this zeal to optimize our lives has reached to an extent where I am afraid it is doing more harm than good.
WE ARE A DATA-DRIVEN COMPANY. NEAT!
I am not saying data doesn’t help us. Data-driven strategies can help your business in unfathomable ways. After all, data is unbiased and objective. It can help you in charting out the trajectory for your business. But data is a double-edged sword. An over-reliance on data can end up doing more harm than good. It inhibits your ability to think outside the box, it clouds your judgment in making a business call as to what needs to be given importance and what could be put on the backburner for the time being.
No matter which optimization system you look at, they are all built with specific intent. They all do one thing, and one would assume that they do that one thing really well. That can be quite helpful when you are in a well-established setup where different processes are well defined and over time the machinery has gotten attuned to the extent where different moving blocks have the ability to move in tandem with no extra effort required in ensuring that. A startup is a different beast altogether. A startup is still trying to find its feet. So when you start focusing on every micro aspect of it, you tend to get lost in the tiny bubble you have created for yourself. As a result, as you take a step back and take a look at the overall picture, you may find yourself face-to-face with a number of pieces that work well on their own, but when it comes to those pieces working in unison, things start rubbing shoulders with each other.
For real growth, you need your pieces to complement each other. You need an A-team of business components that work in tandem and in harmony with each other, not individually great performing components that fall apart when you expect them to work towards a shared goal.
OPTIMIZATION IS THE STARTUP VERSION OF POT OF GOLD
This inane drive to optimize the fuck out of everything stems from a deep-seated desire to achieve virality, to become a “growth hacker”, to find that shortcut to success. It is essentially chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
A friend once wanted me to suggest a marketing strategy that would be ‘viral’ and help his app get hundreds of thousands of downloads. Starting as soon as the next day.
When have you ever seen actual growth happen without countless hours of hard work going behind it? But people have come to believe that by growth hacking it is possible. And they have drilled it down to an exact science. That they will be able to achieve the sweet spot if they just optimize their signup pages, their social media account management, the correct length of their first-born’s name and whatnot.
And that. That just doesn’t smell right to me. Eyeing instant gratification and quick wins, with absolute and utter disregard to long-term sustainable growth is something that has never worked in past, and won’t work in the foreseeable future too.
A MORNING COFFEE MEET
Last weekend, I was having coffee with the founders of a startup I advise. Great guys, amazing clarity, and a great drive to bring to their consumers something worthy. And yet, I saw them debate for an hour on two things. The size and color scheme of some CTA buttons, and the font-faces for the content. For their landing pages.
It was mesmerizing. Hard to disengage from what was going on.
Will changing these results make a difference? Yes, it will. Performance measuring systems (read A/B testing platforms) had indicated so. With the changes one guy was suggesting, apparently, the conversion numbers went up by 1.17%.
Read that again. With me this time. 1.17%
Was that jump so substantial that they had wasted an entire day debating about it? (Yes, this debate had been going on before they came to meet me, and I have a feeling it would have continued long after I had left.) And more so, since making the 1.17%-enabling changes meant doing some UI changes to their existing website/app, you can understand that there was a further few days worth of task ahead of them once they had settled on this debate.
Now. Don’t get me wrong. Improving anything by 1.17% means a lot if you are a business with a few hundred thousand consumers transacting with you every week/month; but for a startup with a sum total of 1,000 consumers, I would think this time could have been spent on doing something else. Something that can have a far-reaching effect on the bottom line. Something that would actually improve the overall customer delight.
SO WHAT DO YOU FOCUS ON? CUSTOMER DELIGHT. PERIOD!
If you have to optimize something, then optimize this. How do you ensure that your customers are always delighted with you? How do you ensure that even a consumer who has ordered from you 10 times gets delighted with his/her experience on the 11th transaction? How do you win your consumer’s heart?
That’s it. That’s all that matters!
If you do that well, it would not matter that your CTA button on the landing page was a shade darker than the most optimal color picked by the UI society of the world. It wouldn’t matter that Hogwarts Business School thinks businesses should ideally tweet thrice on a Tuesday and you are tweeting just a few times a week — without any schedule penned in your calendar. If your consumer loves your product, you would win. And it is then when all the other optimization strategies start doing wonder for you. Doing it prematurely is just a recipe for disaster.
AND CUSTOMER DELIGHT? IT COMES IN ALL SHAPES & SIZES
And no. Don’t confuse delighting your customers with “making them happy with deep discounts”. A delighted customer will transact with you with or without discounts. A delighted customer will tell his/her friends about your product whether there is a $5 referral attached to it or not. I did not tell my friends about Dropbox because they gave me extra storage. I did so because I had been using it for a while, and good lord, I loved it. The fact that I was getting free storage out of doing so was just an added bonus.
Your consumers could be delighted by a number of things. Their overall experience of using your product (if you are a service company, your service is your product). The conversation they had with your customer support team. The time it took to resolve the issue they had. The humane interaction they felt they had with your business on Twitter, Facebook, Messenger. It all adds up to customer delight. But it all works if and only if you are putting consumer delight at the front and center of your business.
SO TRACKING DATA IS ALL A WASTE?
Not really. Take our first example. My Fitbit would constantly inform me of the number of steps I have taken in any particular day. Now, as per experts, we need to rake in a daily average of 10,000 steps to stay healthy. So any day I am lagging behind, I would know well in advance that I need to pull my socks and punch in those missing steps if I want to stay on top of my daily goal.
So, if your intent is to just meet up to your daily goals, tracking systems are a real gift. And that is exactly where the answer to this question is. What is the intent you have to track all this data?
Is your intent simply to improve your conversion numbers? Or is your intent making a company you can be proud of because it is loved by your consumers?
If it is the former, go nuts with data on all fronts, man. Change that CTA button’s width, make that blue 12% lighter, reduce that font-size a bit, tweet at the right time and in the right amounts, and do all those things.
But if you want to make a company loved by its consumers, start tracking the right kind of data. Start optimizing the metrics that really do matter.
- Are you able to reduce the number of support calls you get vis-a-vis the number of orders you are witnessing?
- Is your turnaround time for resolving the most common consumer complaints getting any better?
- Are you able to give your consumers a better self-serving mechanism for their most most most common issues?
- Are your consumers ordering from you again after having a bad experience? If not, what is the likelihood of them stopping because of that experience?
We all ask ourselves can we do better when we are designing a landing page, making an email newsletter, a social media graphic. And yes, the answer is always a resounding yes. But a lot of those are directly related to ads. And ads are something users absolutely detest, don’t they? Don’t you? So, if we are spending all this time, money and energy into doing something that we know users everywhere hate, doesn’t it make more sense we spend some time and energy into doing something that would actually make the users love us?
That’s all I’m saying.