How IBM Uses Customer Feedback To Optimize User Experience & Hack Growth [Podcast]

Starving for Insight — Eps 01

In this week’s episode, I’m chatting with Nancy Hensley, Chief Digital Officer over at IBM Analytics. We talked about how she and her team have used customer feedback to improve user experience and grow their revenue by an incredible 200%. We chatted about simplicity, the importance of having not just a great product but a great user experience, and how I really need to get myself an Apple Watch.

Scroll down for the full transcript, and be sure to leave your comments below to let us know what you thought of the discussion.

 3 Key User Experience Takeaways

  • In today’s market, being best in class often comes second to delivering a better user experience
  • Modern customers are trading more functionality and features in favor of high levels of consumability and accessibility
  • A constant flow of feedback is key to great products and hacking growth

 

Time Stamped Show Notes

[0:02:20] Introduction

[0:04:16] McDonald’s

[0:06:00] Spatial Model Analysis

[0:11:08] Apple User Experience

[0:13:24] Design and User Experience

[0:20:14] Design, Usability & Consumability

[0:21:54] User Testing

[0:22:52] Surveying

[0:25:08] NPS Program & Slack channels

[0:28:08] Customer Feedback

[0:41:28] Good User Experience

[0:44:22] Following Your Intuition

[0:46:17] Making Decisions

[0:48:44] Habits That Contribute to Success

 

Full Episode Transcript

Hi everyone, welcome to this week’s episode of the Starving for Insight Podcast. Today we are very lucky to be joined by my friend, Nancy Hensley. She’s the Chief Digital Officer over at IBM Analytics. 

 

Thanks. I’m very excited to be here. So I work at IBM in the, in our analytics division where we have lots of great products that help people leverage their data and get it ready for artificial intelligence and data science. And my job is to actually take those products and make them much more consumable through digital. So, it’s a great challenge that I love getting up and doing every single day.

 

And I bet they’re glad to have you there to. What did you do before? What’s your background, Nancy? What did you do before IBM? Have you always been in marketing?

 

No, I’m one of those people that has jumped between product in marketing for quite some time over my years at IBM. I remember when my boss would ask me when I ran marketing, “What do you want to do, product or marketing?”. And I would just say yes. And she’s like, stop it. You have to choose. That’s the beautiful thing about digital and growth is you don’t have to choose, right? Because the product is the experience. So that’s why I love it so much. Prior to IBM, I worked for McDonald’s corporation. I was a consultant and then an employee and that’s when I really fell in love with data and analytics, because what we did was use algorithms and modeling to decide where we would actually put the next McDonald’s. We were very, very ahead of the curve back then doing spatial analysis long before it was cool to do it, and I just fell in love with the whole data and analytics side of the world. So that’s when I joined IBM, so I could actually do it full time.

 

So not to divest too much, but that’s really interesting. What were you doing with McDonald’s, and when were you doing this? I love hearing when you were ahead of the curve. I don’t know this story.

 

So I did a couple things around data. I was in the international side of the business and we were working on how we would get data from the POS systems and into our back office systems so that we could actually analyze the data and do more with it. That’s where I started to play around with data a little bit more. But in the later years I ran a team that did all this spatial analysis. So, most people don’t know that at the time, things might have changed now, but McDonald’s was the biggest real estate holder in the United States next to the Catholic church. So picking the right real estate for where we would put a store was pretty important from a revenue perspective and we had all sorts of models to do the analysis for that. But it was all done manually. And so what my team and I did was build an automated, a GIS spatial information model that the real estate agents could use to go scout different pieces of real estate and mark them on their application. Then they’d come back to the office. They would upload all the coordinates of the locations that they scouted. We would run the model overnight and then spit out this report that had all the analysis of, if we put a McDonald’s there, what would it do for us? That was pretty cool and we optimized their time. It was amazing how much more we could look at. Because back then actually our competitor was Walgreens because they were starting to do these standalone stores and they were looking at the same pieces of real estate that we were. And for McDonald’s, having the right location was really huge.

 

Yeah, no, the Catholic Church and McDonald’s. Interesting. I did not know that. And then Walgreens. Interesting. If you don’t mind me asking, just for those who don’t know, can you explain what the spatial model would be and what kind of analysis that is?

 

Sure. Basically we would analyze a piece of property for different parts of the model on a couple different ways. And spatial was a much easier way for people to look at data spatially. When you look at, is their competitors in the area, are there things that would generate business, things that would take away business, how close is the next McDonald’s. We could actually model that out all through geographic data in a map-like interface and this was just really easy to consume. And what was nice is that we would then use that core application to do other things like look at security for the stores, look at recruiting for the stores for HR. So the spatial analysis, using a map, which is what most people do today when they use Google for almost everything on their phone, was just a really easy way for people to consume data and look at data because it was very intuitive and it didn’t require a lot of training.

 

Yeah, no, that makes a ton of sense. And when did you, when did you guys do all this great work? I’m talking early 2000s.

 

Yeah. Yeah. We started the work in the late 90s and the early 2000s. So we were really, really ahead of the curve back then.

 

You were really, really ahead of the curve with back then. No, that’s a really great story. One of the things I always like to ask people, given that this is the Starving for Insight podcast, is what business do you most admire, Nancy? I’m really curious.

 

So, it’s probably a company that most people have never heard of, but it’s a company called Unshattered and it’s one of my friends who was a peer of mine at IBM, another executive at IBM, left a couple of years ago to start this company. And what it does is that it works with women who have either been struggling with abuse of some sort, whether it was drug abuse or physical abuse, sex traffic, you name it. She works with these women in a halfway house and they take discarded materials that people throw away, whether it’s clothes or draperies or whatever it might be, and they make purses out of them and sell them through various outlets. The business is pretty new. It’s doing so much good because it’s giving these women purpose and what I love is the whole mission behind it, that they’re taking discarded things, which is kind of how these women felt, and making something beautiful out of it. And it’s basically giving new life to these women. But it’s also now a thriving business as well. I mean, they make some gorgeous purses and handbags and totes and briefcases and this thing grew so quickly. In fact, she recently made a trip to the White House and they sat with several members of the White House staff talking about opiate addiction and some of the things they’re doing to help. But it is a business with a purpose that I just, I really, really admire. I just love everything about that company.

 

That sounds amazing. It sounds like a good place for me to go look for a new computer bag as well. I will have to take a look at the website. And that’s a common theme, you know. That question almost always is answered by a mission driven company, by a values driven company. So it’s very interesting to see that, that everyone answers it that way. I think we’re seeing a real trend there towards more mission-driven companies and those are the companies being rewarded financially as well. But I particularly love that story. So, I like to ask as a follow up to that, and the answers to this are also very interesting. What company would you consider yourself to be an undying raving, loyal fan of, if any?

 

I would probably have to say Apple is the closest thing. I am that person that gets up at 2 o’clock in the morning to order the latest and greatest Apple things. I admire their ability to do design and user experience just so well. And to me that’s so important. It’s driven a lot of the work that I’m focused on and they just nail it, right? They know the user experience that they want to deliver and they deliver on it and they do it in such a differentiated way. It’s nothing short of admirable.

 

No. I’m a huge Apple fan as well. So you’re an Apple junkie product. I said that the wrong way. Kind of mixed those words up there. My apologies. Do you have an Apple Watch? Because I am on the fence about it. You do, do you love it? Is it just that you have to have it to be part of the ecosystem? It’s just something you have to have, should I get one?

 

Yeah, I think you should. I think the product market fit that they nailed me was that I had my regular watch and I had my Fitbit and I wore those two things all the time and I really, really wanted… Fitbit just wasn’t nailing it for me at the time from a design perspective and it wasn’t integrated as well into my phone. And so I think the first version of the watch wasn’t awesome. It was a great start, but it needed to do a little bit better on some of the fitness apps that I was really interested in using it for. And I think on the second one they nailed it, so it got significantly better and the new updates, which can’t come fast enough for me, I think they have done a much better job at the exercise, fitness part of it, which has made it a better competitor to Fitbit. But like I said, for me the product market fit was that I have one thing that I wear that integrates with my phone and that was why I did it.

 

No, that’s really good to know. I’m a bit of an exercise junkie, so to be able to incorporate that into my daily life, because I just don’t wear the Fitbit, would be great. So Nancy, you also said something back there while I’m getting personal shopping advice from you, about how Apple has driven a lot of the work that you do in terms of design and user experience. Would you be able to tell me a little bit more about what you meant by that?

 

You know, as we’re looking at the digital transformation work that we’re doing, the thing that I’m constantly preaching to the product team is that it’s all about the user experience. You know, for years we’ve built a really great products, best in class, enterprise-grade, most features and functions, you know, if you tick the checkmark against what we built in versus what our competitors have, we always win that. And that’s great. But there’s kind of an evolution that’s happening in the marketplace, no matter what products you’re looking at. And that is that customers are trading off more features and functions for user experience, consumability, accessibility, things like that. And so products that aren’t really best in class that are really consumable are starting to dig ahead in the marketplace. And I think the great thing about Apple is that they’ve managed to combine both, being best in class from a technology innovation standpoint as well as usability. And that’s where evolution really is happening, is around the user experience. And I think it started with instrumenting with NPS and really starting to get that constant feedback. Which was a big change for us and a big push by our chairman. That’s opened up a lot of eyes, because in the past when we’ve developed products and look for feedback, it’s been with a small group of customers that we’d meet with a couple times a year. Honestly, that’s just not good enough anymore. We need that constant feedback about how we’re doing in an agile world. And so it’s really all about that user experience and that’s what basically drives me everyday for us, to not just be building really great products, but be building really great experiences with those products because you have to have both now.

 

No, absolutely. I couldn’t agree more and I think you hit the nail on the head. What surprises me, time and time again is that  simplicity almost always wins. You strip down, you make things simplified, and the metrics go up. And it’s so counterintuitive and it’s so hard for product people and it’s so hard for founders, but almost every single time simplicity wins. And I also think that what you said about Apple combining simplicity with best in class, that is such a hard challenge to do. And I know you’re doing that an IBM. Do you have any advice on trying to mesh those two things together? Because user experience (simplicity and consumability) don’t always go, as you said, with a best in class from a technical standpoint.

 

I think it really comes down to you have to be sure that in everything you do, it’s highly consumable. It’s really easy to get into the Geeky side of innovation, especially for our development teams because we were really proud of some of the things that we do, especially things that are born in IBM research that we’re bringing to market quickly. But those things all have to be very consumable, we can’t be blinded about that. So we’ve got to test everything and make sure that what we put out that this new awesome technology is as consumable as it is cool. And that means a lot more surveying, a lot more diving into the NPS comments, a lot more time and what we used to call data, which is now just early release. A lot more focus on that feedback and the user experience side. And that’s a challenge, right? Because we’re a technology company. We’ve been focused on technology and patents for years. And so it is a mindset change to focus on the experience and I think our shift to user-focused design thinking a few years ago has really helped that. So our design team really has led our thinking in changing that, and I think it’s made a huge difference in our business.

 

What kind of differences in your business, can you articulate that a little bit? In terms of quantification or anything like that?

 

I think it really starts with when we’re in the early cycles of product development. We are much more focused on design and usability, consumability and the design teams are now much more integrated into our development teams than they ever have been. So there is constant reminders about that user experience. And we’re doing several user experience studies post market as well, so we’re looking at, how do you take existing products and improve them significantly around that user experience? Which is probably one of our best growth hacks we’ve got in terms of user experience stories. I think having the design team integrated as a part of that team, as a part of the squad, both in the early cycles of development, as well as in the growth work that we’re doing has made a difference in the user experience of our products because we’re thinking differently than we did before.

 

No, absolutely. So just to clarify that, you have members of the design team not only sitting in really early on product development but also on the growth team.

 

Correct. That’s, that’s a huge change, a huge difference in the last few years.

 

No, and I was going to ask you as a follow-up question, that  must be a hard shift. Was that hard to get air cover or buy-in for, in terms of making that change?

 

No, because several years ago we started to really focus on design thinking, led by a team out of Austin, Texas actually. And our general manager was very much bought into this. So I mean from the very top of our organization, we’ve been focused on user-focused design in the way that we actually develop products. And then in when we started the growth team, the design team was very much a part of that as well because we needed their insight around the user experience work.

 

No, and the reason I bring that up is I just did an episode with our mutual friend, Dani Hart, the head of growth over at GrowthHackers. And one of the challenges that they have is the organizational change to adapt to a more growth process and cross functional teams. So that’s why I had to ask. I’m glad to see that that was a bit of an easier change for you. Just to kind of dig back, you were talking about how you guys have making things more consumable by having the design members sit in early. Do you have a litmus test these days that you can share with the audience, a quick litmus test so you know you’re striking that balance between best in class and consumability?

 

Well, I don’t know if there is a litmus test. I think that if you’re introducing some new features and functions and they’re not being utilized by the client base, that’s a big red flag. And when I look back at all the work I’ve done over the years from database to information integration to the data science products, the success of the products depends on how much of that new technology the customers are using. And so, you start to see a pattern over a period of time about what they can actually absorb that you’re putting out. And you have to pay attention to that pattern. Because we went from producing major releases once a year to 18 months in the past to cranking out new products, in some cases, weekly. And you really have to make sure that your clients can actually consume all of that change, because if not, it’s better to shift your focus to the consumability side of the work, of the product, rather than putting out new features and functions. And so we’ve been doing a lot of surveys, a lot of post-user testing. In fact we’ve just kicked off a couple of user experience tests with the design team in the last few weeks around a couple of our products to make sure that what we are putting out there is actually being consumed, and how well it’s being consumed, and what that user experience is like. So we do take these pauses in the post-market to make sure we’re doing that. We pay attention to those patterns very closely.

 

No, absolutely. Pattern recognition is the name of the game. If you don’t mind me asking for your user testing, are you doing user testing in person? Are you using a tool online like usertesting.com, or usability hub, what’s your stack there?

 

A combination of things. We do use usertesting.com for that I know of. We also just have the design team has a method that they go through where they do a lot of the work directly. That one’s tougher to scale because you have to have a lot of designers to get the work done that you want to get done, but they have their own method that’s tied into our design thinking method that we go through. And so I’m anxious because we’ve actually kicked off one of our first post product, post-market design experiences in the last few weeks that we’ve done, that wasn’t just focused on growth but just post-market what’s going on. So I’ll have more to share with you about that, but they’re using a lot of their own method and some tools like usertesting.com, but we’ve got a design team that basically is highly engaged in working with us and directly working with customers as well to capture what that user experience is like.

 

No, that’s fantastic. I always like to dig in a little bit there and demystify some of these processes because, you know, to a lot of people, this more qualitative side while incredibly important is just messy and they kind of steer away from it. So any practical tips there I always try to get into. For a survey, do you have to do that in house? Do you have a choice of software that you like to use for that?

 

We have a couple of things we use and a couple of things we’ve been testing out too. Lately because of GDPR it’s a little bit more of a challenge for us. So one of the things we’ve been testing out is putting banners onto our elite space in the marketplace page that had the surveys embedded into them. That way we have less of an issue with the opt in, but know I’m sure most people are struggling with the same thing as we are in terms of being able to proactively reaching out to the client base because of some of the GDPR regulations. We’ve got to take a step back and figure out how we do that within compliance.

 

Yeah, I know no, I think everyone’s grappling with that issue right now, but the good news is I’m sure there’ll be this in between era where we’re trying to figure out where that line is and then we’ll figure everything out and all this GDPR stuff can die down and we can get back to doing the great work. Before we move on, because Nancy has a couple of stories that I have to make sure we get out, I have to dig in. You mentioned a little bit about your NPS program, the changes you’ve made in that. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? Because NPS for me, I think you’ll likely agree, is one of the most important metrics for measuring all of this great stuff we’re talking about.

 

Oh yeah, absolutely. I’d say that it has really changed the way we develop product because like I said in the past, the feedback we would get was from a smaller subset of clients only a couple times a year. You know, we did virtual client user groups, we had face to face client user groups, but those touch points were a few months in between, maybe a month in between on some. Still not enough. And it was a smaller base of client. With instrumenting NPS and multiple touch points now, we’re getting this constant flow of feedback. And I remember when we first started seeing the verbatim,  that everything felt like gold to us and we quickly integrated it into Slack so that the product team would be well aware of the verbatims that were coming through and they could respond to them easily. We’ve now set up Slack channels to communicate with our clients more directly. So I think it’s opened up communication in a way we’ve never had before and opened up our eyes to a lot of feedback that we’d never had before. And I think it’s changed everything. The product managers have so much more feedback to work with an ever before from a broader set of clientele. And a lot of times we’ve taken a step back and say, well, you know, that’s not what we thought. And that’s a beautiful thing, right? Because the customer feedback is everything. And the fact that our chairman really, really has pushed us very hard on this, this is something she’s very much focused on, I think that that makes a huge difference because it started from the top.

 

That makes all the difference in the world, in my experience too. Why do you think there’s this focus on customer feedback and customer insight? I’d love to hear that from you.

 

I think it goes back to the user experience of everything. In our marketplace we are evaluated through a lot of analyst reviews, things like the Gartner Magic Quadrant or the Forrester Wave. And it’s interesting to look back at the last five years and see a pattern emerging across these publications with all the analysts, of these smaller companies coming out of nowhere becoming the leader is and all these publications. I mean it used to be the same old, same old mega vendors like us and Oracle and Microsoft that would basically own the leadership parts of those publications. And now you’re seeing these smaller, more agile solutions that are probably not the same in terms of features and functions, but much more highly consumable. And I think it’s changing the market. People want more consumability within the product, they want it much more accessible. That’s changed our business because, as you know, we’re traditional. We had been a traditional face-to-face business-to-business business, but to be able to really be more consumable and focus on that experience, we’ve got to actually think like B2C, within a B. And that’s what these companies are doing. They’re very focused on the user experience and I think it’s really changed the marketplace and in what customers value.

 

And you’ve said it numerous times here and I’m just going to kind of sum it up because I really hope that we can drive one takeaway home. What you’re saying is that user experience is the competitive advantage and you can’t have a user experience without that reliance on customer feedback and that overall organizational willingness to be customer first. Am I summing that up correctly?

 

Absolutely. I think it’s the days of having a great product without a great user experience are long past us. You have to have both. To have a great product with a great user experience. And if you have a better user experience than depth in your product, that’s seems to be getting getting people head because essentially people just want to find what they need and use it quickly and get what they need out of the product.

 

So Nancy, I could just dig into so many more things on NPS there, but I just have to leave it because I have to get into a couple of these stories that we were talking about beforehand. So you have this fantastic story about how you’ve used insight with your SPSS product. So can you tell us a little bit more about that? I’m really excited for the audience to hear this.

 

Sure. SPSS Statistics is a product a lot of people know. If you took statistics in college, you might have used it.

 

I did take statistics in college. Sadly enough.

 

It’s great because it’s a product that has, I would say, you know, well over a quarter million users and it’s very well know. And it’s in a market that was still growing, but our product wasn’t growing with the rate of the market.

And we couldn’t quite figure out what we could do to really growth hack this product at first. But we started digging in actually to the NPS data and when we started we were in the negative territory, so people were definitely not enjoying the experience of using it. In fact, we discovered about 22 percent of the customers were not renewing because the user experience was so awful. They couldn’t find what they needed. The ability to download a trial was terrible.

We took a step back and we’re like, all right, let’s, let’s just do this ourselves. Let’s see how hard it is to find. Let’s see how hard it is to download. And I remember we were standing in a conference room in Chicago and we had the digital journey mapped out. If you searched SPSS statistics, there was 46 different sites. So over time we just hadn’t really had good digital hygiene and so what we found is that we didn’t have a digital journey, we had more like a scavenger hunt. So it was hard to find and if you did actually find the right place to download the trial, the trial performance was terrible. It was failing.

So it was really clear to us that we had a great product with a terrible user experience. So we dug into that. It really was clear to us that clients wanted a change in their user experience. They wanted a change in the buying model. Even doing updates were difficult because if you had the product, we had to actually contact a sales rep to get an update. Now 40 percent of our client base is under the age of 25. This is just not how people buy that age group. They don’t want to call a sales rep, right? They want to get on an APP and get it instantaneously. So we just weren’t providing the right buying experience for our buyer.

So the product manager and I and a team of people got together and we mapped out, you know, basically let’s change the consumption model from a traditional perpetual license to a subscription-based license. Let’s integrate support in that. So we make it really, really easy for colleagues to get support. Let’s make sure that the community is integrated into that user experience as well. That’s changed the whole trial download process, make sure that’s easy, let’s collapse and get rid of a bunch of web

sites so that the journey it’s streamlined. And we gave ourselves just a couple months to do this now. Meanwhile, there was lots of doubt about whether doing this without changing the product itself would actually hack growth. And so we kept pushing back. We kept saying, nope, we think, you know, we can actually get some growth by just doing this and changing the experience. And of course it worked. We introduced it in late March of 2017, our NPS score jumped like 35 points almost immediately. And, looking back a year later, what’s interesting to see is that if you map out the clients that were buying through a perpetual license was rapidly declining and at the same time we had introduced subscription, we were getting about twice the acceleration of new clients as we were at the decline of the ones buying through the old method.

And what’s interesting is we weren’t trading transactions, we were actually getting about 90 percent new. So these were clients that we didn’t reach before because we didn’t have the buying model they wanted, and we were getting significant growth. Plus accelerated growth, because the time to acquire every 100 new clients was reduced by about 70 percent with this new buying model versus the old one. So we had growth, we had accelerated growth, we had new clients, we had a completely different buying experience. And now what’s exciting is we’ve put a ton of new investment into the products. So in a few short weeks for it, we’re introducing the new UI with an onboarding experience. And so we are doing that work to grow the product now in a different way. But it’s been exciting to see this thing really accelerate.

 

That’s such a great story. You know, I always say all the time, insights: the greatest growth hack of all. But you need these stories to permeate. And that’s why I wanted to have Nancy on this show. She’s shared this story before, but it’s such a fantastic story that I wanted everyone to hear it. And I also wanted to dig in a little bit. Just quickly before I dig in, you went out for a little second there. Nancy, did you say your costs went down 70 percent? Is that what you said about the 70 percent?

 

Yeah, the 70 percent was time to acquire 100 new clients was reduced by 70 percent. So what we essentially did was accelerated the growth of new clients because we’ve optimized the buying experience and it was a much faster buying experience through digital than our traditional face-to-face buying experience, especially for this targeted segment of buyer. That’s exactly what they wanted.

 

Yeah, no, that’s huge. If you had to kind of quantify the overall results of this in terms of growth rate or revenue gross, would you be able to put a number to it, just in a ballpark range for everyone?

 

We’ve seen about 200 percent growth in revenue through our digital channel on this. And it’s the only way we’ve gotten growth on a product in general because when, like I said, if you’ve looked at and compared the way people are buying those licenses, the only lift and growth has been through this new subscription model. So if we didn’t have that, we wouldn’t have any growth on the product. We would have remained flat . We would have kept the business we had, but we wouldn’t have seen any lift to that business.

 

That’s huge. A product of this size at 200 percent lift. And it wasn’t made by adding more features. It wasn’t done by finding, you know, the best craigslist, you know, a light joke on the famous Airbnb hack. It was about, you know, looking at your buyers and figuring out what the problem was. And then coming up with a solution. So I have to ask, Nancy, you mentioned a few couple of really good things. You realized, you know, your growth rate of the product was a little bit under market and they had more of this scavenger hunt user experience as opposed to a more streamlined linear user experience. And you figured out that the  audience that you go after, buyers around the age of 25, didn’t like this old model. How did you come up with all that insight?

 

A lot of it was NPS comments, a ton of survey. I was lucky to have a partner in crime with a product manager, Doug Stober, who knew his business, knew his clients. Constantly was surveying them to validate that feedback. But it really was a lot of the NPS comments that led us to that and gave us the validation. We could kind of see some patterns, but the verbatims and the feedback and the surveys that the product teams did really helped us validate that thought. And then of course when we ran the sprint over the period of time to change the consumption model and introduce it, then the results validated everything for us.

 

Wow. Okay. So just to kind of sum that up, you were able to hone in on the signal… it was the business model that wasn’t working for this market and validate that through the use primarily of NPS?

 

Correct. NPS really opened up the world of feedback to us and having that tied into Slack  where we spend a lot of our day, and seeing that pop up in the world that we live in, constantly. I think that’s helped a lot. So we integrated that feedback. So it was, it was flowing very easily to the product teams and they could see it coming in and it was an eye opener.

 

Can you tell us a little bit about how you integrated the NPS with Slack? Did you create a NPS-specific channel in Slack or is it automatic? Every time a new NPS comment comes in, it’s automatically posted to Slack? Can you tell us a little bit more about that setup?

 

I don’t know if I could tell you all the technical background of how it was integrated, but when a new comment would come in, it would notify the product manager so that they knew to go take a look at it. So it’s integrated directly into Slack. So they would get a Slack notification. We do have Slack channels as well, plus we have opened up select channels directly with our client base, which makes it really easy for them to communicate with a lot of the product and development team or teams.

 

Okay. So whenever there was a new NPS comment or response would come in, it would automatically notify the product manager. And would it get posted to like a general Slack channel that the product team was on as well?

 

It would get posted to their Slack channel for the product, I believe. So everybody, everybody was getting constant feedback and that rip, that floodgate opening up was world-changing for us

 

No, that’s why I’m really digging in on the, how you did this. These results are so impressive that I want to make sure I can take some super actionable nuggets for the audience here. You said you have some Slack channels now for direct communication with your customers. Did you select that from the NPS responses? Does everyone who answers NPS get invited? How does that work?

 

Every product is doing it, but they’re opening up. Especially when we do an early release of a product, we put the Slack channel out there so people can communicate directly with us on their experience. Te product teams and the support teams can engage directly with the clients. So it’s not pervasive across all of our products, but it is something we’re looking to do more of. So for example, when we released, one of the products I had last year was Watson Explorer. When we released a digital version or a community version of that, we opened up a Slack channel because we were anxious to get the feedback and interact with the people that had tried it. So we put that out there so they can engage directly with us. Some of the early products like that one hadn’t been instrumented for NPS yet, so we wanted to make sure we had a good engagement channel with the, with the consumers of the technology.

 

Oh, absolutely. I think that that’s huge. Do you know out of curiosity, and I can get this information maybe from you later and put in the show notes. Do you know what NPS tool that you guys are using right now? Or have you built it in house?

 

We use Medallia.

 

Medallia, okay. Perfect. I always have to get those suggestions in there. Before we move on, we’ve already gone a little bit over time as seems to be my norm. My sweet spot I’m trying for is 20 to 30 minutes yet and probably never hit that because my interview guests are just so fantastic and I have to get every little bit of insight out of them. I do want to ask, Nancy, maybe some rapid fire personal development question,  because insight is both on a personal side and a business side and often they go together. I have to ask you quickly, Nancy, if you could define a great user experience, because we’ve heard that word come up so many times in one or two sentences, how would you define that?

 

I think it’s an experience that gets you to that AHA moment of the value of that product very, very quickly. And the reason why I think that’s important is a lot of our tools either data science or information integration or database or hybrid data management systems. It’s really important that the client understands immediately the value of that product, and how we do that through onboarding and different tools to help them do that. I think that that really sums up a good user experience. If they can get that. I get it, this is what I want, I need this product. That to me is a good user experience.

 

No, I think that’s a fantastic litmus test. If your new customer or user gets into your product and they’re not immediately like, I get this. If that’s not the response, then that’s not a great user experience. Alright, so kind of going into more rapid fire style questions here just because I want to be able to wrap this up and not keep this… although I’d love to keep talking to Nancy and we’ll maybe we’ll have to have her back for another episode. Business intuition is so important about these things. Can you give me a quick story about how you were able to develop it or refine it over time?

 

Wow. Quick story about intuition. One of the things we’re working on, growing our database and DB2 is our database that’s been around for, gosh, I want to say close to 30 years. And my intuition was that a lot of the newer, younger generation of application developers really weren’t giving it the time of day. And if they could see it, if they could use it, if they get their hands on it, they would change their mind. And so, I actually went in search, spent hours and hours watching youtube videos of different developers talking about database and found this young developer who is making hundreds of videos on database about pretty much everybody. But DB2 was Mongo and Microsoft and Oracle have a pretty much everybody but us reached out to him, watch a couple of his videos, reached out to him after watching endless videos of developers talking about database and said, hey, you know, why aren’t you doing anything with DB2? And his response, I think, captured what our challenge was, which was, it never really occurred to me. It was like, I thought that was my dad’s database kind of a thing. When I gave him access to the product, his response was, hey, this is really cool technology. And so I really felt like we needed the right spokesperson to pull in the audience, and we actually had them do a number of videos and we put him on the front of our marketplace page. We saw about an 85 percent increase in engagement. And consistently since we’ve introduced this new community edition that he actually introduced for us and did a ton of videos for us, we’ve seen 60 percent plus of people that are new to DB2. So making it more accessible and then finding somebody that they could relate to that said, hey, I’ve never tried this before, and it’s really cool. It was like a huge change for us. So it was really just my intuition that made me feel like we just needed to get the right spokesperson to reach out to this cohort community. So it wasn’t just us talking about it was really more of a third party and that totally worked.

 

Nancy, thank you so much for that. I completely realize me asking you to rapid fire that question is just… that’s such a great story. I want to dive in so much more, but we’ll have to leave that for now. Where do you do your best thinking?

 

I would say either in the shower, I always come up with great ideas in the shower. A lot of people say that. But also on my bike because my head’s clear and thoughts just flow creatively with the wind on my face and the trail below my wheels.

 

 Shower and exercise have definitely been very common answers. So I think we have a lot to learn there. How do you make decisions? What’s your decision making process? Do you have one?

 

My husband and I were just talking about this yesterday. I’m a pretty decisive person. If I’ve got data, a small sampling of data, I want to try something. So I’m pretty decisive when it comes to, I think there’s a pattern here, let’s try it. I don’t like to make any final decisions until we try something, so I’m pretty decisive about that as well. So I’d like to do a lot more experimenting. I guess that makes me a perfect growth hacker. But overall I’m pretty decisive. I’ll take the data and let’s go for it.

 

No, I love that. Speaking of someone who swings a little in the indecisive realm, do you have one tactical tip to get people to make those decisions faster? Or something that helps you? Or is that just, is that just innate to who you are? And that’s fair too.

 

I think it’s probably innate to who I am. I mean, there’s definitely people who want to spend a lot more time analyzing things. I don’t. If I have enough data to test that theory, I want to go for it. But that is a personality trait I think because there’s some people who you could not get them to move any faster they wanted to do.

 

Absolutely. So what habit do you attribute most to your success, then?

 

I think tenacity. Maybe that’s a characteristic, but maybe more of a habit. The willingness to evolve and change I think has been really key to my success. I mean, when I first started looking at growth hacking couple of years ago, it was really out of desperation because I was scared out of my mind about launching this SaaS product and what I could do to actually make it grow. And I started looking around and finding these stories and at some point decided this is what I want to do. This is my tribe, this is where I want to take things and this is what I evolved myself too. And I think for the company I work for, IBM, you know, to be around and stay relevant, you’ve got to evolve. We’ve got to transform and you’ve got to constantly pick where your next target is. And I think that that’s contributed a lot to where I am today is that willingness to take that target and evolve and figure out what’s next.

 

Absolutely. And that’s what Dani, I referenced an episode I did earlier with Dani, our mutual friend from GrowthHackers and we talk really about that growth mindset a little bit more there. That willingness to learn and change. And I think that’s a habit. I think it’s innate, but I think it’s also something that you can learn as well. So I think that’s great. What’s one habit, a new habit that you’re trying to incorporate into your life right now?

 

Wow. I keep saying I want to, I want to keep reading more. Thank God for Audible because I’m one of those people who can’t sit down for long periods of time. And so that has been a godsend for me because now I can actually load up my book and get on my bike and do two things at once. I feel like I’m constantly multitasking, so sitting down and just reading and doing nothing, that’s a huge challenge for me.

 

I think that’s a common trait among very driven, successful, ambitious people. I am also addicted to Audible, best invention ever. Although sometimes I have to really pay attention to the narrator voice. That’s very important to me. And so that brings us to the final question, and it’s right on topic. If you had to choose, what is the single best piece of content you’ve ever consumed? Whether that’s a book or a blog post or a podcast or a video, in the business or personal growth sphere,.

 

That’s so hard to answer. I mean, there’s the great love stories like a Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which is a great book. It’s one of my favorite books. It’s a terrible movie, but the book was beautifully written. The book that I’m about halfway through right now, which is on The Medicis. , I’m falling in love with that whole Florentine renaissance period. And the people that made that happen. And podcast, you know, I have gotten totally sucked into a series called Someone Knows Something. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard that one, but it’s more of a murder mystery. And I have to go back and forth to Michigan a lot to see my daughter who’s out there. And that has just been, there’s some times when I get there and I’m like, I probably could have used another half an hour driving. So I don’t know that I could answer one thing. I think, uh, I like such a variety of things that it’s tough, but right now I’m completely obsessed with the whole Italian renaissance period. So anything in that time period I’m totally loving.

 

No, I know I’m putting everyone in a very difficult hotspot question there. It’s a tough one to answer and I love how you had a diverse range of stories there. I haven’t listened to Someone Knows Something, but my background is law, so all of my friends in law are huge fans. It’s definitely going to get downloaded. Well, Nancy, thank you so, so much for being here. There’s just so many actionable nuggets and wisdom that you’ve shared with everyone today from, you know, high strategy to get down dirty and this is how you do it. So thank you so much for coming on here and it’s always so much fun to talk with you.

 

You’re very welcome. Glad to be here and thank you for having me.

 

And if people want to connect with you online, is there any particular place that people can go that you prefer?

 

Twitter’s always a great place to catch me. LinkedIn is a great place to catch me and my email if you want to get in touch is nancyhensley@us.ibm.com.