$30 million. According to a news story I came across, that’s the amount one company is spending, just on an ad campaign, to attract online visitors to their poorly designed site. It’s pretty clear that the investment will be mostly wasted. The company’s customer experience is sorely lacking online, yet leadership has so far declined to make any significant investment to fix it. But $30 million for an ad campaign? No problem.

It reminds me of a conversation I had a few years ago. A potential client contacted Creative Good about improving her company’s online business. It seemed like a good fit: the company was an established, profitable company; and improving the customer experience would, without a doubt, create significant gains in metrics like revenue and customer acquisition. The site needed help, customers were frustrated, but with a bit of work the business could enjoy enormous returns.

The problem came when we talked about our consulting fee. Creative Good was too expensive, she said, because her boss (the CEO) only wanted to spend a few tens of thousands of dollars per year on anything dealing with the customer experience.

I told her that seemed a tad low for an annual budget to be spent improving the site for customers, especially given that the annual revenue of the company was around $50 million.

“Well,” she responded, “we already spend $25 million a year just on advertising, so there’s not much left over.”

Needless to say, the project never happened. The CEO decided to continue to “run a few surveys” with his $20,000-or-so budget; his $25 million campaign continued to bring users into an experience that frustrated them and turned them away.

Let’s review the numbers.

Amount……………For………..
$25,000,000……Driving people to the website
$20,000…………..Customer experience (what happens when they get there)

So a good chunk of every dollar the company earned went to sending potential customers to have a bad experience. A tiny percentage of those frustrated people might muddle through and become customers; the vast majority would click away, never to return.

Is this any way to run a business?

Believe it or not, it’s the normal, accepted way business is run today in many companies. I know because I’ve encountered it again and again throughout Creative Good’s 19-year history. $25 million for an ad campaign; $1 million to redesign the visual “branding” on the home page; a few thousand to “run a focus group” to assure the executives they’re doing the right thing. Business as usual.

The good news is that more and more companies are beginning to invest in improving what happens when customers actually arrive on the site. They’re not abandoning ads; they’re just investing in a more balanced fashion to include some attention to the customer experience.

Imagine what would happen if the potential client above had had these numbers:

Amount……………For………..
$12,000,000……Ad campaign
$12,000,000……Customer experience

Can you imagine a company investing in the customer experience as if it was this important? Imagine an experience changing from a slow, frustrating process into a quick, easy, informative, delightful experience that you wanted to return to – and might even tell your friends about. Imagine a team that is hired, trained, and organized around the core activity of including customers and designing for customer delight. Shouldn’t that be a way (THE way) to run a business?

The most effective companies today realize that they can’t succeed solely by trumpeting a tag line; the customer matters. Indeed, the customer experience requires a transformation of the company’s strategy, backed up by the organization, and fueled by a real budget. Executives that spend their entire budget on ads will eventually learn their lesson.

To build a better customer experience, drop Creative Good a line. We can help.

I’m honored to announce that our historical war game Brooklyn 1776 (iOS, Android) won Best Video Game of the Year in the Brooklyn Innovation Awards, hosted by Technical.ly Brooklyn. Congratulations to all the winners!

Below, Ben Poland (lead developer), yours truly, and Max Kolbowski-Frampton (lead designer):

IMG_9850

Below, the award itself:

IMG_9852

I hope you’ll play the game – it’s available for iPhone/iPad and for Android.

Today is Creative Good’s birthday. I founded the company 19 years ago today, which has me reflecting on what has kept us all in this for so long.

While a lot has changed in the world since 1997, my vision for the company is still the same. Treating people well is the best long-term strategy ever devised. Creating good experiences for customers, employees, partners, and the community at large, is the habit, the rock-solid commitment, of successful teams everywhere.

History has borne out the truth of this founding vision since I announced it in 1997. Think of the tremendous success of well-designed services, and customer-inclusive companies, that have become part of our cultural landscape. Think of what’s changed for the better in 19 years, and it’s likely due to a team that committed to a “creative good” approach: creating a good design, a delightful experience, a useful innovation.

Who, specifically, is doing it right? We’ve spotlighted over 100 people and projects at Gel conferences for over a decade. (They’re listed here, with their videos, on the Gel site.) And we’re hosting Gel again this May to spotlight more visionaries at our Gel 2016 conference. I hope you’ll join us.

I believe deeply that creating good for people, in the end, makes a better world – and better companies along the way. That is the thesis of my book Customers Included, which contains enough stories, I would think, to convince even the most skeptical executive.

And yet. There’s still a counter-narrative present, in many cases dominant, that can be demoralizing to brush up against. An example: a friend of mine last year related the experience of seeing “strategy consultants” arrive at his company, only to advise leadership to start treating customers less well. Cut your costs, lower your quality, and stop going the extra mile for customers, they said, and you’ll enjoy a boost in your key metrics.

I don’t need to tell you what will happen to that company after its short-term boost, once customers figure out that they’re no longer valued. But that mindset, treating customers like a commodity to be mined and discarded, is still attractive to many companies today.

Which brings me to gratitude. Executives and creative leaders – some of you reading this right now – contact Creative Good nearly every day, asking us to help the company treat people well. We’ve run customer experience workshops, charted product roadmaps, evaluated new platforms – all with customers included, and all for teams committed to doing right by their customers. This is where the world is headed, though slowly, and I’m so proud that we’re still helping lead the way forward.

So – thank you for being with us, and for reading this. After 19 years.

Here’s to another 19.

I’m excited to announce that you can sign up for Gel 2016 (May 11-13, 2016 in New York) on the new Gel website, which we’ve been putting together for months. The site now offers all past speaker lists and videos on the Past Events page. (Want to see the videos from this past April’s Gel? Check the Gel 2015 page.)

But that’s not all. To start looking forward to our upcoming Gel 2016 conference, today I’m unveiling…
• the new theme for Gel 2016,
• a sneak preview of speakers, and
• a special offer if you sign up for Gel 2016 by Tuesday.

Gel 2016 theme: JOURNEY

More than any other trend, I’ve heard about “journey” this year: teams are seeking to “understand the user journey,” or create a journey map, in various fields (referencing the patient journey, the student journey, the shopper journey, and so on).

Everyone seems to agree that the journey is important: but how do we create it? (Just drawing a journey map doesn’t seem sufficient.) And who are the teams that are doing this well – perhaps in a different field? Finally, is there more to the idea of a “journey” than we’ve attained yet? These are some of the questions we’ll explore at Gel 2016, with the theme of journey.

Sneak preview of Gel 2016 speakers: (more to come in the new year!)

• Dr. Dava Newman, Deputy Administrator of NASA: Helping lead the human journey to Mars.

• Eric Rodenbeck, Founder and CEO of Stamen: Creating an atlas to guide explorers through human emotion.

• Emily Fischer, Founder of Haptic Lab: Displaying haptic quilts with embedded maps that “encourage embodiment.”

• Mark Hurst, Founder and CEO of Creative Good: I’ll be curating and hosting this 14th Gel event and adding some thoughts about journeys.

Special one-time offer – sign up by Tuesday, Dec 22

• Teams: Sign up for Gel 2016 with 3 or more tickets, by this Tuesday Dec 22, we’ll offer a 20% discount. Bring the team for a unique experience of ideas, inspiration, and great networking!

• Individuals: Sign up for Gel 2016 before the early-bird discount ends in a couple of weeks!

…hope to see your signup by Tuesday. We’re gathering the whole Creative Good community in May, and I hope you’ll be with us.

Since 2003 I have offered holiday gift recommendations, and few random tips, in the form of Uncle Mark’s Gift Guide & Almanac. Past years have taken the form of a PDF file, suitable for printing, but that seems a bit out-of-date.

So this year, I’m saving some trees and bringing you this Uncle Mark made from 100% artisanally hand-crafted electrons. Fully bit-literate, digitally synergistic, and completely weightless (or perhaps “bits are heavy” – did I read that somewhere?). I hope you find this helpful.

And stay tuned, because next week I’ll have an announcement about our Gel 2016 conference – which I hope you’ll join us for, on May 11-13, 2016 in New York. –@markhurst

Uncle Mark 2016 Gift Guide…

Best physical gadget: Victorinox Jetsetter 3 Pocket Knife, which is a TSA-friendly keychain gadget. Contrary to the name, there’s no pocket knife included; it’s just scissors, a bottle opener, toothpick, and tweezers. I’ve made it through airport security several times with this, though I have to explain to the TSA agent every time that it is indeed allowable, since there is no cutting blade included. Solves the problem of having the Swiss Army knife confiscated when you forget to take it off the keychain before air travel!

Best new iOS game: Downwell, a unique shootemup in which you shoot down (shootemdown?) as you fall down a well. Also, the shots come out of your boots. And there are stores in the well, where you can shop for upgrades. Sure, none of this makes sense, but the game just works. Reminiscent of Spelunky, mentioned below.

Best new Web game: Agar.io, a free game you can play in any Web browser. It’s simple: you pilot a colored circle that will eat smaller circles or be eaten by larger ones. Play for a few minutes and you’ll see how rich an experience comes out of such simple rules. Though you might want to check the “No names” box in Settings if you don’t like seeing the often objectionable names players choose. Great game. (There are mobile apps for Agar.io, but I think it’s best experienced on a computer screen, preferably with a mouse instead of a touchpad.)

Best video game console: Nintendo Wii U for families, Sony PlayStation 4 for older kids.

• The Nintendo Wii U (shown at left) is best for families with young kids. Games like Mario Kart (included in this package) and Super Mario 3D World (which doesn’t require 3D) are consistently well-designed, clever, and fun for all ages. The only downside of this outstanding game system is its name: the Wii U is not similar to the Wii, that older Nintendo system with those motion-sensitive wands and the bowling and tennis games. The Wii U abandoned all that and went back to good old-fashioned joysticks and really well-designed games. Just note that you’ll only get Nintendo games here – the mainstream blockbuster games tend to be on the PS4 or Xbox One these days. On the other hand, only the Nintendo Wii has the new breakout hit Super Mario Maker, which allows you to build your own Mario level and play the creations of other players. Fantastic.

• The Sony PlayStation 4 (shown at left) is best for older kids and adult gamers. Apart from all the blockbuster games that the PS4 has access to, it also has downloadable access to indie games, which I tend to favor over the blockbusters anyway. Four I’d strongly recommend: TowerFall (archers with Mario Brothers-type physics), Spelunky (classic must-play roguelike), and the game that’s probably my favorite of the year, Rocket League (cars playing soccer – way more fun than it sounds). For a smaller treat, suitable for all ages, I’d also recommend Grow Home (cute robot explores upward, very clever). The PS4’s joysticks also have the best physical feel of any videogame system I’ve used in years – they’re pretty much perfect. (Oh, and as for the Xbox One, Microsoft’s video game console: good access to blockbuster games, but I still prefer the PS4 for the reasons above.)

Best everyday scanner: Canon LiDE 120 Scanner. Although I often scan documents by taking an iPhone photo, sometimes I need more accuracy. This inexpensive Canon (about $50) does a good job with photos and documents. Better yet, it’s powered through the USB cable, so there’s no need for yet another adapter plugged into the power strip.

Creative Good picks

Here are a few things that we’ve launched at Creative Good this year, each made with the hope of creating a good experience for you and others. How many have you tried out?

Our iPhone game: Brooklyn 1776. Fight as the Americans against the British, and their Hessian mercenaries, in this crucial early battle of the Revolutionary War. We’ve designed the game so that the historically-accurate strategy is the one that wins the game. Explore and learn! (Download for iPhone… Android version coming soon … more info here.)

Our to-do list: Good Todo. Get organized and achieve inbox zero with our Good Todo platform – via website, iPhone/iPad app, and Android app. Not many people know that it’s the first and oldest online to-do list system in the world, having just turned 10 years old. And still improving. Seriously, try it.

Our annual conference: Gel 2016 conference: May 11-13, 2016 in New York City. This is our annual gathering of the Creative Good community, and you should be there with us. So sign up.

Our book, perfect for team and client gifts: Customers Included, the “must-read” book about customer experience. Full of stories about innovation and design, this is a brand-new 2nd edition, fully updated for 2015 with lots of new material. There’s also a Kindle version for all of five bucks. C’mon.

Our customer experience advisory work: If your team wants to include better customer insight in your innovation and strategy, bring Creative Good in to help. (Here’s a case study of a recent project.) Just drop us a line.

My personal visit to your team: I’m now giving “Customers Included” workshops and keynote talks, based on the new 2nd edition of the book. Your team will gain skills and inspiration to build better products by including customers: to find out more, see my speaking info or just get in touch.

…and Almanac

How to break up with Gmail: Switch to FastMail for email. I switched from Gmail to FastMail a few months ago and have not regretted it for a second: the Web interface is much easier to use – have you noticed that Gmail has gotten more and more confusing? – and my private emails are now being stored with a company that doesn’t sell customers’ info for profit. (You have to pay a small monthly fee for a FastMail account.) Keep your Google account for access to Google Docs or whatever else you need it for, but I recommend moving away from Gmail.

How to break up with Google Search: Use DuckDuckGo, a search engine that doesn’t track your path through the Web (and gives results about as good as Google does). DuckDuckGo’s founder spoke at my Gel conference a couple of years ago – watch the video – he gives some surprising reasons why you might not want to be using Google for search.

How to defog the mirror after a shower: Turn on the hair dryer and aim it at the mirror. Within a few seconds you’ll have cleared just enough area to see your face. (Or does everyone know this trick already?)

How to solve email overload: Move the action-item emails to a to-do list (forwarding them to Good Todo is an easy way to do it), then archive or delete everything, and I mean everything, in the inbox, so that it’s totally empty. You’ll then work from your to-do list rather than the inbox, and you can always get back to your old emails that you archived. Details in Bit Literacy – this really does work.

..and some past entries that are still valid..

Shaving tip: I discovered awhile back that you can use conditioner as a replacement to shaving cream. That’s one less bottle of stuff to purchase, store, travel with, replace, and recycle.

Buying cables: If you have to buy a replacement USB cable, or an HDMI cable for a TV, don’t buy it from a retail store. The prices tend to be much lower at monoprice.com. I’ve bought there several times and have saved a lot.

The umbrella trick: Here’s how to ensure you always have an umbrella on hand when it’s raining. Buy two umbrellas, and keep one at home and the other at work or school. (Perhaps store another in the car.) Then grab an umbrella whenever it’s raining, and – this is the only hard part – remember to put the umbrella back in its place afterward.

And with that, I wish you a happy holiday and a wonderful 2016 full of good experiences!

@markhurst

– – –

Subscribe here to get the Creative Good email newsletter.