University of Arkansas

Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Ep. 9 | The Dichotomy Between IT and Digital Marketing with Nick Fine

Nick Fine
March 01, 2021

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Today on the “It’s a Customer’s World” podcast, host Andy Murray interviews Dr. Nick Fine, a user-experience researcher and designer with twenty years of experience in digital — in both agency and client-side roles. He holds a Ph.D. in human-computer interactions and a BS in psychology. Nick’s areas of expertise are behavioral personalization, personality psychology, conversion rate optimization, remote user testing, and transformation through user experience. Through a combined focus on academic research and human interaction, Nick has worked as UX lead to complete complex and significant projects for many reputable brands.


Episode Transcript:

Andy Murray: (00:05)

Hi, I'm Andy Murray. Welcome to It's a Customer's World podcast. Now more than ever, retailers and brands are accelerating their quest to be more customer-centric. But to be truly customer-centric, it requires both a shift in mindset and ways of working. Not just in marketing, but in all parts of the organization. In this podcast series, I'll be talking with practitioners, thought leaders and scholars to hear their thoughts of what it takes to be a leader in today's customer-centric world.

Andy Murray: (00:36)

In this episode, I have with me Dr. Nick Fine. Dr. Fine is a user experience researcher and designer with 20 years experience in digital in both the agency and the client side. He holds a PhD in Human-Computer Interaction and a BSc in Psychology. Nick's areas of expertise are behavioral personalization, personality psychology, conversion rate optimization, remote user testing, and transformation through user experience. By combining academic research skills with human interaction knowledge, Nick has successfully delivered a number of complex and mission critical projects, including air traffic control, financial systems, and pharmaceutical drug trial planning.

Andy Murray: (01:24)

He has been lead UX on projects for a number of brands, including Coca-Cola, Saab, Miller, Jaguar, Land Rover, and Bentley. During my interview with Nick, we will explore the dichotomy between IT and digital marketing, the pitfalls of agile and ways to fuse it with traditional waterfall methodologies. And we'll talk about the idea that empathy is not often data-driven. Now, here's my full interview with Dr. Nick Fine.

Andy Murray: (01:57)

Hi, Nick. Great to be with you today. Thank you for joining me on this podcast. I am really excited to talk to you about your experiences. You're one of the few guys that have been working in this space for some time and have amassed a number of different client experiences, if you will, that has given you a broad perspective. But before we get into that, just tell me a little bit about how you came to get into this particular journey.

Dr. Nick Fine: (02:23)

Sure. Thanks, Andy, it's lovely to be on your podcast. Thank you very much for having me. I got into this via psychology, originally. I'm a psychologist by trade and education, if you know what I mean, but I'm a computer scientist by life. So I've lived a computer science life from the early days of personal computing and pre-internet, and bulletin boards and all that good stuff in the old days. And then HCI came around, which is this kind of union of psychology and computer science, which I had both separately.

Dr. Nick Fine: (02:52)

So I went into the world of HCI, and did masters and PhDs and stuff in that, because HCI is very much an academic practice or academic area of study. UX is very much the operationalized or executed real world version of HCI. So that's what led me into UX is that's kind of my journey was computer science, psychology, HCI, UX. HCI is human-computer interaction. It's as it says on the box. It's all about how do humans interact with technology in the most optimal way.

Andy Murray: (03:25)

Okay, fascinating. You and I share a common background on starting in computer science. I didn't know that. And it took me on a similar journey, but not through the HCI space of I certainly appreciate how that's so important, and I can see the connection to computer science. So it's interesting. We will be talking about students and what their experiences might include in their journey to enter into this field for those that want to enter this field. And it's nice to hear that computer science majors are not off limits.

Dr. Nick Fine: (03:54)

No, no, definitely not. I mean, obviously, there's a real tendency for computer science majors to go into development, or systems architecture, or that side of things. There's a tremendous need for more technical knowledge, more of that IT thinking in the digital world, in my opinion. I think digital is way too much marketing thinking and not enough kind of technical thinking, as well as user thinking, user centricity.

Andy Murray: (04:21)

I've talked to one of the professors, a faculty at the UoA, veteran who really distinguishes between IT thinking and digital. And if you almost have to come from computer science to understand the difference between those two worlds, but they are different and a lot of things we get into around enterprise systems. And then you'd look at consumer digital technology or just basically an app module built world, those are two different disciplines if you think about it.

Dr. Nick Fine: (04:48)

Yeah. And the culture, the skills, the strategies, and the methodologies, everything about those two worlds are very different, but they appear to the layman to be very similar because digital and IT, they're techie things, they're gadgety. You know what I mean? It's got that sensibility about it. But in the applied world, they are possibly diametrically polar opposites.

Andy Murray: (05:11)

Yes. My experience has been, when you look at agile, and agile can work really well with an MVP and smaller units, a little bit harder at times to get purely into an agile word on big enterprise system development without some level of architecture to think about.

Dr. Nick Fine: (05:31)

Yep. The problem, I think, we need to address is that digital is ... Okay. From the UK perspective that I've had, in the past 10, 15 years, what has happened is, mid, late 90s, the internet comes around, and marketing directors across the country, maybe across the world, were suddenly handed this new channel called web or internet. And because it was like we've got this new thing, customers are wanting to access this new thing. We don't really understand it, let's give it to the marketing guy, the marketing director, because he's got above and below the line, you might as well have this new channel.

Dr. Nick Fine: (06:10)

And unfortunately, what's happened as a result of that, is there's a lot of marketing people leading digital areas these days. And it comes with that marketing thinking. We need to kind of uncoupled that, again, and get back into kind of more IT, more considered thinking. It isn't just another marketing channel. I think everyone's really aware of that these days. But there's an awful lot of that kind of legacy around. And that's a major problem, at least for me in my world.

Andy Murray: (06:40)

You're the first to really put it that way, and most of the industry momentum is going the other way toward putting everything under a marketing type organization. So I find that fascinating. This wasn't on the agenda to talk about, actually, but yet, it is a root cause area in some of the challenges in building great customer experiences. And so let's dive a little deeper into that, that core element of the difference in thinking in terms of it's sitting in a marketing mindset, than sitting in something that might have been born more from an IT mindset.

Dr. Nick Fine: (07:16)

Yeah. So the marketing mindset traditionally, as I'm sure you well know, tends to be, and this is a tendency, so marketing people, please don't jump on me, it tends to be more broadcast, more scattergun, as the word gets used. Attribution is such a hard thing to do in marketing. So you do lots of this volume activity in order to kind of get that funnel happening and get the numbers that you want. When you apply that in digital, it just doesn't work, obviously. And as a UX person, digital is powered by user needs. User needs are at the front and center, the epicenter of building good digital product.

Dr. Nick Fine: (07:55)

So if you're user needs based, you're user-centric, customer-centric, that's a wonderful thing to do, and that's what digital needs and is getting. But if you come at it from a marketing view with a more broadcast approach, it's more about what I think and, bro, pushing it out to you rather than listening to what you need. And that's where the disconnect happens. IT is much better at doing this and digital isn't so good at doing it.

Andy Murray: (08:19)

I totally get it. And my experience has been that same tension between how do you commercialize that opportunity to see those customers at the highest level versus giving them a great experience, which may not be as commercial? I see it play out in store environments, in the physical retail space, from being in retail, a grocery retail, whatever, where there is a merchandising mindset to put more POP, up more point of sale, more sales more, whatever, more endcaps and items, which will drive sales. I mean, there's no question it'll drive sales, but it will not necessarily enhance that customer experience. And the real goal is to get them to come back, not how much can you sell them on a single trip.

Dr. Nick Fine: (09:01)


Andy Murray: (09:02)

And that is the same tension I see on the e-commerce platforms, or whether it's the emails that get pushed, trying to get too much out of that relationship in that particular interaction, or monetizing everything about those spaces. And so yeah, 100% agree. It's probably the issue of a commercial mindset against a user experience mindset.

Dr. Nick Fine: (09:26)

Yeah. What's interesting with that is that most of the really mature leadership that I come across, understand deeply that get the UX, get the experience right, the customer experience right, and the money flows. It's easy to do it at that point, the hard bit is getting the experience right. So that's where we're at today, is trying to build out user-centric practices across the globe.

Andy Murray: (09:50)

Do you think it's a little bit harder today because the folks that pioneered in this space are probably doing more pure play e-commerce or pure play brands that were doing. I just think back to MailChimp and some of the brands that absolutely had a great customer experience. And yet, for them that's native. Like you said, they just know, they just know that that's not how you do it. But then you go and start getting this omnichannel merge, especially if you think about how it's accelerated through COVID. The other mindset is not used to that. They're not used to not taking those opportunities to sell, sell, sell in every one of those interactions. And so it's a conflict of cultures.

Dr. Nick Fine: (10:30)

Definitely. And that's again, where unfortunately, where inappropriate marketing in our areas, again, is trying to do that. It's trying to squeeze something out of your customer and there's no appetite or not a lot of appetite from the customer to do that. And so there's this tension of pushing in two different directions. There's the direction I want to go and the direction that they want to go. But actually, if you're both pushing the same direction, you can literally have anything you want. Revenue, reduced churn, increased profits, lowered costs, et cetera.

Andy Murray: (11:00)

The systemic elements, I think, that drive some of those tensions in my mind is around measurement. And if you don't have multi-touch attribution, you don't really know. I mean, it's tough when you don't put a mechanic on that experience in that moment to measure that. And especially if you look at his ROI of that particular experience, you're not going to get it measured the same way. And so for my experience, lifetime value as a real core measurement for success is not something that's as high up in the financial playbook as ROI for a lot of companies that haven't grown up digital.

Dr. Nick Fine: (11:36)

Yeah. The problem, I think, I suspect is, again, we're still using marketing metrics and attribution and those models. And actually, I hate to say this, but that's the easy, lazy throw money at it way of doing things. And I fully appreciate in a commercial world that that's the way of the world. However, speaking to users in volumes and really observing their behaviors, understanding those needs in really great detail is what bridges that gap. It's how you get true measurement. You know what I mean? Valid measurements that are robust, that are more reliable than some of the marketing metrics, which I'm sorry, there are times where I can take the same measures on a different day and get completely different numbers, which I find alarming.

Andy Murray: (12:27)

Yeah. Well, I do too. I've always struggled with some of the metrics that where you've got econometrics giving you some midterm answers, some ROI that pushes you into short-termism. And how do you create harmony, harmonize all those metrics in a way that tells you something truthful. You want cut through, you start measuring cut through, then all of a sudden, your consistency starts to fall apart, because you get cut through sometimes by changing things up. But that doesn't really work when against other metrics. And so picking the metric, you could almost pick a metric to tell any story you want, quite honestly, as a marketer.

Andy Murray: (13:02)

But it does lead us a little bit to where I wanted us to talk a bit more about, and that is at the top of organizations. Because there's a lot about what it takes to be successful in doing CX work and creating great customer experiences. And the challenges that we often face that I see important to understand is how that plays out at the top, and what are some of the challenges that you get into when you're helping a company become more agile, or understanding product management mindset, and understanding that's not the same as product manager, a project manager mindset. So project management and product management are two different worlds, and yet, you get in that. And so Emergn and you guys, you particularly help a lot of companies, not just execute better here at that experience, but you have to do a lot of work educating up.

Dr. Nick Fine: (13:54)


Andy Murray: (13:54)

What are some of the things you have to get involved in to educate up that you wish more senior leaders Understood?

Dr. Nick Fine: (14:01)

Quite simply about user needs. Because I find in my transformative activity, getting that one simple message into the consciousness upstairs, that's the win. Anything more than that becomes too complicated, too challenging, and you're trying to change culture and attitudes. It's an unrealistic expectation. But what is realistic, in my humble opinion, is getting people to understand about the user centricity and the user needs part. And more importantly, the conversion of that into corporate goals, corporate direction, governance, whatever you want to call that. Whatever you're trying to achieve, customer experience is definitely one of those major factors. Half of my job is educating upwards.

Dr. Nick Fine: (14:47)

The other half is practitioner. And that education upwards is predominantly for anybody listening or watching, it's really about sharing of the assets that you create. I need to do that frequently, to share them in very high footfall areas, when you're in the office when we're physical like that. But to share them through your various knowledge management systems, your juniors, your conferences, your slacks, et cetera. Because that's where the transformation really happens, in my experience.

Dr. Nick Fine: (15:16)

If you can get that epiphany across your senior leadership team or your C-suite, the magic happens. The doors open, budgets open, you know what I mean, churn, all the good, all the good happens. And I've got many, many years of experience or have examples of doing this. So trying to get people away from the broadcast mentality. So going from top-down to bottom-up is the epiphany and that's the transformation point.

Andy Murray: (15:44)

I've seen you speak before on this topic of when people start pushing on measurement, and how do you sell through change or a program or an idea. And you talked about creating that story. It's hard to argue with seeing a real customer story and that epiphany change, and watching that customer experience, whether they just interact differently, it's just these aha moments that you're talking about socializing, that lets you just see it and you feel it. Because I always felt, it's hard to argue with someone's experience when you actually experience that and see it, that does kind of get past all the numbers.

Dr. Nick Fine: (16:19)

I'd go one step further, because I end up opinions are ... I'm all about the evidence. Experience is an amazing, good thing. But obviously, it needs to be evidenced and solid. Because of the world that we're in, there's a lot of fake news, there's a lot of miscommunications, and my UX world, as well as the product world are, let's say they have an identity crisis right now. Because there's lots of people wanting to do it who are doing different things. And that creates a major, major problem across the board for all of us. Experience and evidence.

Dr. Nick Fine: (16:52)

There are a lot of people out there who are almost false prophets. And there's a lot of people broadcasting without any kind of editorial control, medium, and others are key examples, in which case there are there's a lot of bad intel being put out there. And people are making big claims of experience, but aren't able to evidence it. And there are some very bad projects or products being created on subjective experience, shall we say.

Andy Murray: (17:16)

Yeah, I couldn't agree more. Part of what I'm struggling with working through is how the leadership roles change in this agile space. It's one thing to buy into customer experience is important, I get that. But then for that to really come to life, you do need to embrace agile as some of those key principles. And for a leader that's never grown up in an agile work environment, it really calls into question, what's your role? What is your role there? Because you're getting a lot of empowerment to test and learn in fairly small ecosystems that that can just go. And it's not a tell-do world anymore, when you're really trying to do this work at scale. When you see senior leaders doing it right, doing it well, and really supporting the teams, the agile teams, what are some of the behaviors that you see that says, okay, this man or woman really gets it?

Dr. Nick Fine: (18:10)

Yeah. I think it usually comes down to the agile mentality, not necessarily all of the ceremonies and the visible stuff. When I've got a leader who is encouraging the agile mentality, that philosophy of what can you do in a short period of time, that MVP thinking, experimentation, entrepreneurial, failing fast, all of those classic things, but executed in a mindset. So when you've got that attitude of you've got a two week sprint, what were you able to achieve? Rather than just a kind of a broken up waterfall, which we see an awful lot of.

Dr. Nick Fine: (18:50)

That, for me, is tremendously empowering to teams. It demonstrates a deep, deep understanding of the agile way. But more importantly, it's executed and allow your people to have that fail fast, try it out way of working. And say, look, we didn't achieve anything this sprint, but we learned an awful lot by failing these three ways. That's tremendously reassuring. And I'm always a big fan when I'm getting those messages from the senior leadership team.

Andy Murray: (19:21)

Well, if they haven't grown up with the methodology, then sometimes it's hard to learn the mindset. But for me, I think the senior leaders that get the mindset, even if they don't understand the methodology, is far more important to adopt the mindset element, even if you don't understand how does all those elements work in a methodology. And most won't understand that if they've not come from a digital pure play and type environment where it's brick and mortar. This is not a methodology that's grown up in case of retail, brick and mortar retail or traditional CPG type brands.

Dr. Nick Fine: (19:54)

Yeah. Where I see it going badly is the inverse of that, obviously, is when it's all about ceremonies and stand ups and demos and all of those things, and it's absolutely not about the mentality. And so that's when alarm bells or red flags go up because you're thinking, this is just a kind of a masqueraded agile. In practice, it's kind of just a modular waterfall or variant thereof.

Andy Murray: (20:18)

Interesting. Well, I could see modular waterfall being kind of the substitute for agile in some people's minds, right? That's a great way to put it.

Dr. Nick Fine: (20:27)

Yeah. Well, it does bring a level of certainty. It's funny, I was chatting with somebody about this yesterday, that maybe there is a space in the moving forwards world for a hybrid agile, which is wagile or fragile, but formalized and take away the bad bits and make it good. Because there are a number of senior leaders who aren't comfortable with agile, for whom their products, their projects need a level of certainty, ad agile doesn't bring them that certainty. And they want tollgates, they want a Gantt chart. You know what I mean? They want predictability, assurance.

Dr. Nick Fine: (21:00)

But we know the waterfall is a terrible thing and business requirement documents and all that horribleness we don't do anymore has gone away. So the question is, is can we create a version of wagile or fragile that is a modular, kind of an agile waterfall? You see what I mean? It gives certainty but also brings user centricity within each sprint, and makes sure that we don't do this huge front loading that was waterfalls biggest con or biggest failing.

Andy Murray: (21:27)

So you're not alone in that kind of thinking. I just read a book from Neil Perkin on Agile Transformation. There's another one's coming out in the US on Doing Agile Right. That's a fairly recent book. And both of those authors are talking a bit more around harmonizing the agile part of your business with perhaps the more hierarchical approach for the day to day routine type worlds. It seems to me and stemming from a learning that when you try to take the complete organization, maybe a big corporation agile, there are parts where agile really works well; customer development, product development. And there's other parts that really strains to be effective, where they need that more certainty on the day to day operating side. And so is that what you're kind of talking about in terms of maybe there are two modes of running a company?

Dr. Nick Fine: (22:16)

Yeah. That's not initially what I was talking about. But that's something that I've spoken about, again, a lot in the past, is that dual track thing, where actually you have ... It is a form of hybrid, where part is waterfall apart is agile. So it might be that the agility comes from the discovery from the product teams. And again, don't kill me, developers, it might be that sometimes waterfall is needed in the development side of things. Or vice versa. I can't actually see it in vice versa but maybe. The point being is that you're trying to take, to cherry pick the best bits of both and leave the bad bits behind and try to create a new methodology which meets the needs of all users, including leadership teams. I think that's the real trick here because agile works in some respects.

Dr. Nick Fine: (23:04)

Here's a question back to you, Andy. Agile, obviously came around from kind of SanFran, Silicon Valley startup mentality, yet we're seeing it applied at multinationals, enterprise businesses. I guess the basic question is, is agile appropriate in its startup form for the wider enterprise?

Andy Murray: (23:23)

Well, there's a lot of people trying to adopt different models for that. Spotify model for agile, which is well documented. And you're absolutely right where its origins were. And the thing that I'm seeing with agile as a challenge, especially in some of the bigger companies in my neck of the woods, is the product management mindset and product management role is being driven to the organization at breakneck speed. And a lot of those roles are getting filled with people that have been project managers, because the demand for-

Dr. Nick Fine: (24:01)


Andy Murray: (24:02)

And that's where I see a potential train wreck if you don't understand the difference, because a project manager is the antithesis of a product manager. And then you also have like, let's take a big retailer, if you've got a transformation trying to occur to get more product management mindset into different organizations, whether it's merchandising or operations, you've got a whole ecosystem of suppliers that interact, sales and so. A product manager in that mindset will change everything in the ecosystem that was traditionally there.

Andy Murray: (24:34)

And so I think you probably know this more than anybody, I think the centerpiece of trying to get agile is starting with the product manager and getting that right. And you get that right, I think the rest of it will fall into place. Versus trying to go in organization and teaching agile into a big company and not getting that core role right.

Dr. Nick Fine: (24:56)

Okay. I'm going to take this on. As you well know, I'm a science-driven practitioner and I preach very much from the science pulpit, shall we say. We call it agile today, and agile as a development methodology, as whatever you call it. It's got its provenance. It's got its history. However, moving forwards, agile is possibly not the best description of that thing when you apply it to product teams. The reason why I say that, and the science bit, because agile is actually science, in my humble opinion. It's test and learn.

Andy Murray: (25:29)

Test and Learn. That's a science mentality.

Dr. Nick Fine: (25:31)

Exactly. It's science philosophy. A lot of what's coming out now are science principles. And I think we need to acknowledge that actually agile as its kind of development methodology, whatever you call it, it's probably a bit of a misnomer these days. And maybe that same agile way of working, when applied into a product team is more of that scientific experimentation form of agile, should we say. That needs a better word, a better naming convention. Because agile is too broad these days. It's a bit too broad brush. And I think we need to specialize it a bit more, especially when you're applying into product teams.

Andy Murray: (26:07)

I couldn't agree more. What I sense is that agile is understood more by senior leadership as a term for velocity. And it's about speed and getting there fast. When actually it's a term about science. It's a term about a scientific methodology to test and learn and really experiment from that, and all the things that comes with science. And there's a lot of things that you're going to do that's not going to work, but so is all experiments.

Dr. Nick Fine: (26:35)

So, yes. So science, it needs to come forward in digital. Science is prevalent in it as we were speaking earlier, but it's pretty barren in digital. That's what I'm spending a lot of my time doing, is bringing that scientific thinking into the digital world.

Andy Murray: (26:50)

Yeah. One of the things I see in the digital space is, we're not getting enough learning back from customer interactions. And so if you're doing a marketing campaign and you're putting out an email blast, what did you learn from that customer outside of just open rates, or some kind of basic measurement? And so to really improve effectiveness and the experience and the value of that, I think you've got to have much more intentionality designed into what it is we're actually doing and who do you want to reach? And what are the intended actions? And did that work? And experiment with that, than just looking at very simplistic ways of big push outs.

Dr. Nick Fine: (27:29)

Yeah. And that's why I strongly believe in UX being the agent of transformational change, because we're the people who are bringing that user insight, that customer insight back into the organization. And that's where the transformation points happens. If you build on better user needs, you're going to build better products, you're going to have better ROI, you're going to make more money. Simple.

Andy Murray: (27:50)

100%. You talk about creating transformational change. There was a survey done by [Pointless 00:27:55] that asked the question, what are the biggest things, the biggest barriers to success in this space? Getting the business plan funded, the financial business case creation was maybe at the top, near the top. Getting talent, talent development, and being able to understand that was one of the barriers. One of the barriers was in not really working on the future state of what customer experience you really want. But it was all faded into these spaces of removing dissatisfiers, which is nothing wrong with that, that's really a low hanging fruit, you should see dissatisfier.

Andy Murray: (28:31)

But one of the challenges I see is a lot of companies really struggle with, what kind of customer experience do you want to have in the future that takes you out in front of the pack? And how do you imagine that? And where does that come from? Especially since that's a dynamic target that keeps moving as expectations keep changing. So I'd love to hear your thoughts about going for that bigger piece, because I think a lot of us know how important do dissatisfier, but that's only going to take you so far.

Dr. Nick Fine: (28:57)

It's a good question, because I'm actually doing that right now for my current client. I asked them, "What are we trying to achieve?" As most consultants do, is your very first question, what are you trying to achieve here? That trying of uncoupling the solution. I know I'm going to sound like a broken record here. But when I talk to users in numbers, the picture becomes much clearer. I understand their needs. And as a result of that, it gives me all the building blocks I have to start creating that vision for what we might do for that for the next level, the next generation of experience. So how do I leapfrog my competitors? How do I provide that truly next level experience? And that in my humble opinion, can only come from a deep understanding of user's needs and their behavior. By doing that, you get ideas.

Andy Murray: (29:46)

See, what you're saying goes totally against what a lot of the thinking around research has been. Henry Ford said, "If you were to ask customers, they'd say they want faster horses." And so your methodology and way of thinking says the answers are in the ... The customer has the answers. You can find those answers in your approach to understanding customer needs. They're there. They won't tell you they just want faster horses.

Dr. Nick Fine: (30:14)


Andy Murray: (30:14)

It's about going a bit below that in terms of where you look to. Because if you don't look there, I can tell you what happens. And you know this. Companies will look at a competitor and see what they're doing. It's a copy and paste world. They'll look at maybe another industry at best, and say, well, they're doing something completely over here. It's a different industry but let's copy that. And I find very, very few actually go into the customer space, deep into their needs, probably for fear they're just going to tell them they want faster horses.

Dr. Nick Fine: (30:43)

That's how I win. And that's how I differentiate. That effect of copying your neighbor, your nearest competitor, that race to the bottom happens, in my experience, the higher up you go, the larger the size of the entity, the more prevalent that kind of behavior is. Because when you just go down to the lower, this me end of things, it tends not to happen. It's really a big company kind of an activity. All the businesses that I've worked with who are wanting to transform understand that carrying on that trajectory doesn't work. And they're willing to try this other way of doing things, which is the customer-centric way.

Dr. Nick Fine: (31:19)

The thing is, is about the Henry Ford quote. Firstly, some projects are innovation, some of them are more BAU, sort of business as usual. For innovation projects, I agree with you and Henry Ford, 100%. We wouldn't have the iPod, there's a whole bunch of technology we wouldn't have, because you can't ask the audience for something they have no concept of. However, understanding their needs and their wants, their desires, absolutely informs the product solution.

Dr. Nick Fine: (31:47)

So Steve Jobs or Jony Ive will have understood that people want to replace their Walkmans or their tape players or their CD players on the road, and not have to carry a big, thick case logic thing full of CDs. It was really inconvenient. So being able to listen to anything I wanted to listen to, my record collection in my pocket, seems reasonable. But understanding the needs to listen to music and to have that contextual music on the fly is a good understanding. It gives you the opportunity to create the product which meets those needs.

Andy Murray: (32:20)

Yeah. Fascinating approach. Understanding what someone needs is different than asking them a question, what do you want? And so I think that's where the Henry Ford thing falls apart. But that's different than saying, really getting into understanding needs, which I think leads to my next question around empathy. And if you look at the core skills taught in university, and what they're coming out of university into, the business world, I don't see many curriculums that cover empathy as a core skill set to develop. I don't want to be too harsh, because I'm sure that that is the case in a lot of cases, but how important is this ability to have empathy and create empathy as the starter for 10 in what you do?

Dr. Nick Fine: (33:05)

Anybody who knows me will know that I'm actually very anti-empathy.

Andy Murray: (33:10)

Did I ask the wrong question?

Dr. Nick Fine: (33:11)

No, you asked exactly the right question. I'm glad I got a platform to get this out there. But very briefly, I don't consider empathy as a core tool in the user-centric toolkit. Being empathic, yes, I understand having empathy for people's needs, wants, pain points, is a valuable thing. It is not a research method. It is not how I understand user needs through empathy. And that has very much come in from the design side of things, from UX, UI, who have come to the UX party quite late. And they're using empathy as a proxy for user research. And that's not acceptable. It's way too biased, it's way too skewed. There's too much subjectivity going on. So yes, being empathic at some level is obviously necessary because I need to feel something, and it needs to motivate me to make it better. But more than that, observing user's behavior, listening to their needs, those are more appropriate research methods.

Andy Murray: (34:11)

Well, I've got so much to say on this, because you're absolutely rocking the boat here. Yeah, you want empathy just be a nice human being at some level, right? And so we get that part of it. But I think what you're saying is it injects too much bias into a scientific method.

Dr. Nick Fine: (34:25)


Andy Murray: (34:25)

When you start with your personal skills of empathy. Is that correct?

Dr. Nick Fine: (34:29)

100%. Because we know through several layers of cognitive bias, that what we experience about the world is through some filters, and those filters are not necessarily appropriate. And so that's a bit of a problem for research. Because I'm obviously I'm going to be biasing the interaction. And we don't want that. And everything that I and other researchers or other scientists do, is we work super hard to try to reduce those biases, those human factors that get in the way of, when I say the truth, I mean, what's actually going on.

Andy Murray: (35:01)

Yeah. Well, one could say our data lakes and the customer data warehouse out of that, and then the data science and algorithms bit on top of that probably have a bit of bias in there too. So it's not pure out of ... There's still bias in those worlds as well. Right? So that's really important. One of the things that I was able to do was talk to Paco Underhill at some length, probably the king of observational research and looking at understanding how we buy. He told me a story about he took a shopper, followed them into the store, they didn't know where he's following them.

Andy Murray: (35:34)

And then when he got out, he asked him a series of questions like, did you see this in the store? Did you go down this aisle? And it was like, yes, yes, yes. Well, those things didn't even exist in the store. So your methodology ... He didn't need empathy to engage to get that insight that people tell you one thing and do something else and observational research isn't really at all about empathy. But sometimes observation will give you much more deeper insight than actually even survey type research.

Dr. Nick Fine: (36:01)

Every time. Every time. So when I'm in the laboratory in a UX lab, in consumer behavior suite, I ask somebody, "Can you buy the red shoes?" Or could you buy the lettuce or whatever that thing was. And I'll watch them struggle. They can't find it in their size or they can't find the specific model that we've asked them to look for to buy. And then at the end of the sweep up questions, I've usually got a couple of like a magic wand type question, how did you find that? If I give you a magic wand, how would you improve that? And they're always effusive. That was great, I loved it, it was brilliant.

Dr. Nick Fine: (36:33)

This is a known bias in user research. We as human beings want to be good guinea pigs. We want to perform well. And so that means we acquiesce to the needs of the experimenter, to the investigator. And so I have a major issue with a lot of surveys that get done, because it's all self-reported. And observational is a very important counterbalance to that self-reporting.

Andy Murray: (36:59)

In creating user experiences that are more technical in nature or digital, the tools now are available for you to do that research quite well. Right? The observational end of it.

Dr. Nick Fine: (37:09)

Yes. To an extent. So for example, like and other similar remote platforms, but it's a limited form of observation. So we say yes, it's great. I get to see what they're doing on page. But an awful lot of what I do is way beyond the app or the digital asset. It's the context, it's the service design, it's the user journey. That might mean diary studies on a rare occasion, because they don't perform well. But understanding the context of the need is as important as the need itself. And you can't get that from self-reporting most times.

Andy Murray: (37:47)

Yeah. That's fascinating. And then how are you seeing the demand for your type of capability and skill into physical retail spaces? Because that that space hasn't had the same luxury of the craft of user design. That comes more from architecture spaces but not your kind of thinking. Are you seeing a demand to be a bit more omnichannel, I hate that word, but omnichannel in the way you're designing?

Dr. Nick Fine: (38:15)

Not particularly? Although, it's definitely there are early signs that it's starting to happen. That there is definitely starting to become appetite through the line work, should we say, through marrying your story experience to your online experience. I know as you're a man with a lot of experience in retail, particularly in supermarkets and other type stuff, I had this idea probably five or six years ago, of color coding between physical store aisles, the dairy section and the bakery section being certain colors, and actually mirroring that on the website. And then actually giving people physical assets like a color-coded pad to go on the fridge for your shopping list. You know what I mean?

Andy Murray: (39:02)


Dr. Nick Fine: (39:03)

That's the UX of supermarket.

Andy Murray: (39:04)

Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

Dr. Nick Fine: (39:06)

No one's doing that. And I had this five or six years ago. When you start pitching these ideas to leaders and people like that, unfortunately, it's too premature. And my personal or professional feeling is that I live somewhere like 10, 15 years in the future. And I'm doing everything I can to try to bring it into the modern world, but modern ways of working and modern thinking and modern challenges don't necessarily support it. But there are green shoots there.

Andy Murray: (39:32)

Yeah. Well, it's was so funny. I was trying to push QR codes on signage in stores some time ago. And I was like, no one's going to use QR codes, but now look at it. Every restaurant here you go and there was a QR code for a menu, and that's become a pretty easy adoption of behaviors. So I see that. What about in packaging? Are you seeing anything in package design that starts to recognize this space is quite different? And by the way, I think it's needed because we look at nutrition, and what's happening with food nutrition, and all those kind of guidelines, it is sometimes extremely difficult as a user to experience that information.

Dr. Nick Fine: (40:12)

Yeah. So we've tried to, here in the UK, and I believe it might be a European thing, I'm not sure, we've tried to create a better visualization of nutrition on the size of packets. We're calling it a ... I was just looking around to see if I have one to show you. It's basically like a color-coded traffic light system for high, medium and low, whether it's salt, fat, sugar, or whatever the thing it is. I think there's been an awful lot of controversy around that. Because, again, whether you're accurately representing or misrepresenting what's going on, some people were finding it hard to interpret.

Dr. Nick Fine: (40:46)

I think there's a lot more to go with that. I mean, right now, why isn't anybody using augmented reality. If we're using QR, and it took what? 15 years or 10 years for that to actually ... For there to be scanners on everybody's phone by default, not having to install one was a major barrier to QR. But once you've got an AR going on by default with the same Google lens or whatever you're using, why is it I can't hold it up to the box and get a library of nutritional details according to my personal needs if I'm diabetic or sugar sensitive, or whatever that is?

Andy Murray: (41:19)

100%. Yeah, I agree. I do think that's coming. I mean, it has to be coming, where you don't really need a QR code, you can get to that next level and just interact with your camera lens and the product and get a world of information that maybe is the information you want to get because we know more about you now, right?

Dr. Nick Fine: (41:36)

Yeah, no, definitely. One of my special specialties is personalization. I know it's not very sexy or talked about anymore, but personalization is the future, and we're just doing pretty basic personalization right now. The idea of having some kind of augmented reality customization or personalization in the aisle through the lens of my phone, that's amazing, in my humble opinion. Because I can personalize a physical box, which I printed for the masses, which has then got personal relevance to me. Imagine, again, if I've got that set to diabetic mode, or whatever my personal medical restriction is, or I just want to lose some weight, I could probably highlight boxes around and blank out ones that are too fatty. You know what I mean? I get that level of personal filtering. It makes it personally relevant and in my actual context, and that's the Holy Grail.

Andy Murray: (42:24)

Well, to hear you talk and listen to what happens in 10 to 15 years in the world you live in, I feel like we're still at the tip of the iceberg in this discipline about what we can do. Because there's so much catch up yet, even in big organizations. And you look at what you see coming, it's going to be an exciting time to be in this space. And so any advice to students as we kind of wrap up that might be wanting to understand, is this a place that can build a career? This versus IT, versus marketing, versus the choices in front of them, what would be your pitch to say, guys, you really need to consider this as the sense of the future?

Dr. Nick Fine: (43:03)

Yeah. I would definitely encourage anyone, either with a psychology undergraduate degree, or any students wanting to get into this area, get a psychology degree. Psychology has powered everything that I've done from day one. And it continues to guide everything I do today. Without my psychology, I would be nothing or I would be a shadow of what I am. Psychology is my support, is my base. The reason why psychology is so powerful is we're talking about human behavior. So it's not a visual design thing. It's not an IT thing. It's about people and their needs, and that's human behavior. And psychology is the scientific study of human behavior.

Dr. Nick Fine: (43:42)

So if you can get in, or if you want to go back to school, back to technical college or whatever, get some kind of qualification in psychology. It's absolutely going to be a major factor in product in the digital world moving forward. We are the scientists of digital and digital needs more science. So therefore, science needs more psychologists or user-centric practitioners. That's the best advice I can give you.

Andy Murray: (44:08)

Would you put behavioral economics in that subset of psychology?

Dr. Nick Fine: (44:12)

Not really, I don't think. Only because it gets too over complicated at that point. All of this is really simple. It really is get your research methods down to understand how do you understand behavior in a reliable way or a confident way. And then there's decades or centuries of library knowledge that we've learned. So being able to try that stuff out to say, does that work with my brand or my audience? That's ultra powerful, ultra powerful. That's going to be the difference between success and failure in the future. It's those brands that truly understand the behavior and the needs of their users.

Andy Murray: (44:50)

And not to be too controversial, but one of the best taught most liked school courses at Harvard Business School is the one that teaches from the book Remains of the Day, the film. And it's from a book of fiction between fiction tells stories of the human condition. And so I couldn't agree more with you on the importance of psychology and understand how people work. I'd also say the things that sit under the data lakes that you're not going to capture through just data points are the things that really drive a lot of behavior too, and that sits in the space of psychology.

Andy Murray: (45:22)

Our emotions and our feelings in the world and context around us. And so, it you've got to understand that deeper spot, I think, to be a good marketer or a good person and customer experience. And so, well said. Yeah, I think that's a pretty strong pitch for the students that might be watching this. So thank you for that.

Dr. Nick Fine: (45:39)

One of the people who I'm a major fan of is professor or Dr. Susan Weinschenk. If you look her up, she's got books out there, you should all be reading them. Neuro Web Design is the one that I love. But she's also got one on 100 Things That Designers Should Know, all this. Susan is absolutely incredible. She's led the way. When I was on her podcast, she told me that psychology undergraduates have some of the lowest paid starting salaries out there. And that's a crying shame. So I'm giving you the opportunity to change all of this.


Andy Murray: (46:09)

Yeah. Well, I'll tell you what, I'll put those links in the show notes so you can find those. And that's a great tip. Great advice. And any other great books that you're reading that might be interesting to not just students but fellow practitioners?

Dr. Nick Fine: (46:21)

Great. Anything by Susan Weinschenk. She's my hero.

Andy Murray: (46:24)

Excellent, excellent. You've got me curious. So thank you for that. All right. You've been listening to Dr. Nick Fine give us quite a lecture, if you will, on a number of things. Quite controversial but I think quite honest and accurate. And so I really appreciate you, Nick, for being on this podcast. And it'll make a difference to several of the students and the faculty and the people that are trying to do a better job and learn from some of the best minds in the business. And so I think they heard that today. So thank you for that.

Dr. Nick Fine: (46:51)

I'm very appreciative. Thank you very much and thank you for listening. If anybody wants to get hold of me or have specific questions, you can find me on LinkedIn. I tend to live there quite a lot. Just ask the questions then I'll come back to you.

Andy Murray: (47:03)

Excellent. Again, I'll put his link in the show notes. So thank you for that.

Dr. Nick Fine: (47:06)

Thank you guys for having me, Andy.

Andy Murray: (47:12)

Thank you for listening to this interview with Dr. Nick Fine. Through Dr. Find's extensive experience with both computer science and psychology through human computer interaction, he opens the door to new ways of thinking about the customer experience. To recap, Nick shared insights regarding the need for more IT thinking in relation to user experience in the digital world. The effectiveness of agile if implemented correctly, and how a psychology degree can help someone better understand customer-centric leadership.

Andy Murray: (47:46)

That's it for this episode of It's a Customer's World. If you found this helpful and entertaining, I would be so grateful if you could share our show with your friends. And I'd be super happy if you subscribe so you can be updated as we publish new episodes. And if you really want to help, leave us a five star rating and a positive review on Apple podcast or wherever you listen. It's a Customer's World podcast is a product of the University of Arkansas Customer Centric Leadership Initiative and a Walton College original production.

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