Archive for 16 August 2011

In 2011, Good Changes Take Time

This is not an Omniture-versus-Google Analytics post. This is not a Google Analytics-bashing post.

This is a post in which I defend a decision that I helped (in some tiny way) to make when I was a Product Manager on the SiteCatalyst team at Adobe.

In 2011, businesses rely heavily on their web analytics data. Analytics may not be where we’d like to see it yet, but it certainly has come a long way over the past decade. And the more critical this data becomes, the more resistant customers will be to uncomfortable change.

SiteCatalyst 15 introduced major changes to the Omniture platform. This brought some great features with it: segmentation, breakdowns on all conversion variables, Processing Rules, etc. But it also introduced change. Specifically, it affected the way that SiteCatalyst determined the number of visits to customers’ sites/apps. In most implementations, it was a minor change, but in some cases it was noticeable in client data. (You can read all about these changes here.)

Because this platform change potentially affected things like year-over-year comparisons and conversion rate, some of our customers weren’t comfortable making the change to the new platform right away. They told us that they wanted some time to understand the new platform and its effects on their business.

As I explained on Eric Peterson’s epic (and awesome) Google+ thread last week:

The feedback that we got on this was that it was significantly painful for many users to have that change occur, but that they acknowledged the improvement. So, if you’re Adobe, do you make the change and alienate some users, or do you hold off and alienate other users?

Alyson Murphy echoed this thought:

Can you really expect Omniture to implement a major paradigm shift without alienating a ton of customers? People love their comparison data. Look at how difficult it is for some companies to shift to SiteCatalyst 15. If a relatively small change compared to what you are suggesting causes that much pain, a huge paradigm shift isn’t going to go over too well with many of their clients.

The day Alyson and I made these comments, Google announced in a blog post that it had also changed the way it calculates Visits. Now, any new traffic source encountered by a user (paid search, natural search, affiliate, social media, etc.) would instantiate a new visit/session. The reaction from customers in the blog comments has been. . . interesting:

I am see weird stuff bounce rate up 50% time on site down 75% this happened from 11th August. on most visits it count each page viewed as a new visit.

Good Grief, less then a 1% change!
“Based on our research” I would love to know how you conducted this research.

I am seeing 20% increase in visits, I thought I had finally broken free of Panda!

How I am supposed to evaluate these new metrics on steroids vs my previous metrics?

My average time on site has fallen from 7+ minutes to 12 seconds. Each visitor seems to visit the same page 6 times causing my bounce rate to be ridiculous.

I think that this update is an example of someone fixing something that wasn’t broken. Now analytics is useless.

The update makes my data virtually useless. It makes no sense.

Over the weekend, I feel that around. half of my visits are returning visitors, and the same guest may have seen the same item up to 10 times. In return, my bouncerate sky-high.

It is a vital part to have a website to have a reliable analysis program, but GA is certainly not very reliable right now, and in my case the data produced now are completely useless.

I think Google Analytics is a great tool. I use it. I use it from time to time on this blog and others, and I like it. This isn’t a complaint about Google Analytics. It is a statement about the way an upgrade which may actually be a very good thing (in terms of helping customers understand their customers and improve conversion) was handled in two different cases. I’m sure someone could explain why that last poster’s average time spent dropped precipitously, and why the new data is more accurate or more actionable.

But that’s not the point.

Conclusion? In 2011, you CANNOT just slap platform changes into your analytics platform, call it good, and expect businesses to adjust on the fly.

When I joined the Product Management team at Adobe in May 2010, we were in the midst of having this conversation with users. On one hand, it was disappointing to hear that so many felt that their users and their businesses needed time—in some cases, at companies with hundreds of users, a lot of time—to prepare for platform changes that everyone agreed were exciting. On the other, it was great to know that SiteCatalyst was that critical to various business processes even outside of the analytics team. But it’s really hard to explain to an executive why conversion rate suddenly dropped by 5% because your analytics tool changed. That’s what required time.

I’m proud that we listened to these customers and that we both a.) released a product with significant platform improvements and b.) created a system that allowed users to prepare before having these changes dropped on their plates. Is the SiteCatalyst 15 upgrade process perfect? Certainly not. But, as I mentioned above, there are considerations beyond simply the need to prepare for a change in visit calculations, and I know for a fact that Adobe continues to adapt and optimize the upgrade process.

(Also, in all fairness, Omniture has been fairly accused to making changes on the fly in the past. For example, in 2006, a SiteCatalyst point release corrected the way that search engines were identified, updating the platform to use both referring domain and referrer query string for improved accuracy. Like I said, this isn’t a tool-versus-tool argument. It’s an observation about the importance of data.)

One more thing: Anyone who tells you that only the analyst matters is fooling you. Anyone who tells you that your analytics tool only needs to serve the analyst is living in a dream world. That may have been true in 2005, but that is not how the real world works in 2011. People all over the business need data. Yeah, sometimes it’s just a perfunctory year-over-year visits comparison. Does it improve on-site conversion? Maybe not. But it matters somewhere else, to someone. Probably to someone who can influence the success of analytics in the business. Analysts had few problems with the platform changes that SiteCatalyst 15 brought, but they knew that, in order for them to succeed and to be trusted to help guide the business, their users needed to know what is going on in SiteCatalyst and not to have metrics changing unexpectedly.

So, when people say, “How come Omniture hasn’t delivered the kitchen sink yet?” remember that this isn’t a fantasy world where wholesale changes can slide right into the businesses painlessly. Google’s platform change proved that, as did the feedback we got from customers at Adobe.

UPDATE: AT&T Hits a Home Run

Earlier today I wrote up my perspective of what had become an unfortunate situation: AT&T was telling me that a.) I had to pony up $200 for a Microcell so I could get service in my house and b.) enjoy the two-year contract into which I had never entered.

I have to be honest: I was skeptical that blogging and complaining on Twitter would help. Sure, I did Twitter customer service myself for a couple of years. But I know how hard it is, even in a B2B environment, to care about every emotional complaint and to really do something for everyone who needs help. With the volume of social media mentions that AT&T must see, I didn’t expect much.

What I got was, in a word, impressive.

Within a few minutes of my initial tweet at @ATTCustomerCare, a user behind the @ATTTeamTatiana handle, Evelyn G., had responded to offer help. So far, so good. She asked me to send her an e-mail with the full details of my situation. That is the e-mail that became my lengthy post earlier today.

About an hour after I sent that e-mail, I got—yes, it’s true—a phone call from Evelyn. She was patient, understanding, and knowledgeable about the AT&T system. This was a welcome change from the agent with whom I had spoken on the phone earlier in the day, who had told me:

a.) “There is nothing we can do about the Microcell.”
b.) “There is nothing we can do about you being under contract.”

Within about 10 minutes, Evelyn had actually done both of these things. She couldn’t reimburse me per se for the Microcell (I had known this all along; “reimburse” was always the wrong word), but she could do exactly what I had hoped: she could credit my monthly bill $200. And that she did. Perfectly good enough. $200 is $200.

She also confirmed that I am not, and likely never have been over the past several weeks, under contract. Where the other agent was getting this from, we have no idea. But Evelyn authoritatively confirmed that my suspicions were correct, and that I am not entirely crazy.

Well done, AT&T. I’m always pleased when companies listen, especially when they are the size of AT&T. As a former colleague pointed out today on Twitter, barriers to entry allow telcos like AT&T to treat customers horribly, if they want to. After all, where are people going to go—to the next telco that will treat them just as poorly? So for Evelyn to be as empowered as she is to get the information she needed and to make things right showed me that there is hope for AT&T, and while I hope not to need Evelyn’s help again in the future (because I hope not to have frustrations like these again), it’s still comforting and reassuring to know that people like her are out there.

Yet Another Whiny Complaint Against AT&T

From: Benjamin Gaines
Date: Thu, Aug 11, 2011 at 3:19 PM
Subject: @benjamingaines from Twitter.

Buckle up and grab some popcorn. Apologies in advance for the length. Anyway, this is a continuation of a conversation which began on Twitter with Emilia G. Here is the situation.

My number is (801) XXX-XXXX. On July 15, I spoke with an agent at AT&T who helped me transition that number to a personal account, as I was leaving my company. It had previously been part of my company phone plan since December 2008. When I transferred it out, the agent on the phone was very clear that I would not be put into a two-year contract. I stuck with the iPhone 4 which I had bought about a year earlier.

My new job brought me to Farmington, Connecticut. Most of my area gets decent AT&T reception, but my neighbors and I get zero bars in our neighborhood. I am at [address] in Farmington. I literally could not make or receive calls or use data when I got to my condo for the first time. I went in to an AT&T store and asked what I should do. They gave me a new SIM card and also looked up the coverage map. My area is supposed to get 2-3 bars at least, but I talked to my neighbors and they all reported the same problem with AT&T (and, in AT&T’s defense, Sprint and T-Mobile as well, although Verizon gets 3-4 bars). It seems the dead zone extends about half a mile west as well. One of my neighbors told me about the AT&T Microcell product, so I looked into it, but I certainly wasn’t going to pay $200 of my own money just to get the level of service that I was already paying for via my monthly bill when AT&T’s own map says I should have decent coverage.

I called an AT&T agent and told her that, regrettably, I was leaving for Verizon. I do a significant amount of work from home, and I need reliable service. I believe this was on 7/22. She told me that she wanted to open a support ticket to have the engineers look at some things, and that if they could not get me some service in my neighborhood, she would call me back on Friday, 8/5, and we could discuss the possibility of having AT&T reimburse me for a Microcell. I asked her whether it would be okay if I went out and bought the Microcell in advance and then we could figure out how to credit my bill later, and she said that would be fine. In all honesty, she never said that AT&T would definitely reimburse me, but it certainly sounded like a possibility if the engineers had no luck, and she did say that we would figure out some way to make this work for us. My company gets a sizable discount on both AT&T and Verizon plans for employees, so my options were (and are) very real, but I’d love to stick with AT&T since I like using voice and data simultaneously. That said, I need to be able to make calls and check e-mail from home.

The engineers did their thing, and someone called me the next day to check in. I still was getting zero bars in my condo connecting directly to AT&T, but I had bought a Microcell the night before and it worked okay. Sometimes it cut in and out, and it was still annoying that I couldn’t get service a quarter of a mile down the road on my way to and from work, but whatever. I think could live with that. I waited for my return call on 8/5.

In the mean time, I returned to Utah to pick up my family and bring them to Connecticut. My wife’s phone had been badly damaged the previous month, and I knew she was eligible for upgrade on 7/17, so when I got back to Utah (on 7/27) we went straight to the AT&T store. She picked out a Motorola Atrix and we entered into a two-year contract for her line, at the same time bringing her number under my overall account. We didn’t go with a family plan for a few reasons, but mostly because my corporate discount would be slightly higher if the two lines were treated separately (but under the same account). The lady in the store was very helpful, and I asked her twice whether this would affect my own number or place it under contract. She assured me that it would not. She even helped me sign up for my corporate discount which, again, she assured me would not place my number under contract. (My wife soon returned the Atrix and switched back to a feature phone. Her number is 801-YYY-YYYY, in case that helps.)

Fast forward to 8/5. The call never came, so I called in today. After explaining the situation, I was told that AT&T does not offer the Microcell for free (or reimbursements) anymore, apparently under any circumstances. I guess I had been mislead on that count (again, not that it had been explicitly promised to me, but it was abundantly clear that the original agent, a few weeks earlier, was going to do something for us; she said something like, “I’ll call you back on 8/5 and we’ll figure out how we can get you a Microcell”). Anyway, the Microcell works, but it’s slightly annoying, as I said. I told the agent that I don’t want to pay $200 to get the minimum level of service that I expect from AT&T, so if AT&T can’t help me out, I’ll have to leave.

This is when the real problem began. She informed me that I was now under contract, so it would be something like $325 per line to cancel. I told her that she was half right; my wife’s number should be under contract, but mine should not. She insisted that I had agreed to put (801) XXX-XXXX under contract as well. As I’m sure you can tell, I am very protective of my month-to-month status, and I had been very careful to ensure that nothing we were doing with my wife’s line would affect my own. In fact, paradoxically, not being in a contract is basically enough to keep me with AT&T! Even though Verizon gets service in our area, I would resist switching if I knew I were not under contract with AT&T. The agent told me, however, that I had been under contract since 7/27 (the day when we picked up my wife’s new phone), and that I was under contract through July 2013.

According to her, somewhere in “the 30-page document” that AT&T gives out, it had said that I was agreeing to put (801) XXX-XXXX under contract. Sure, maybe that’s legally true, but I’m sure you can see the bind this puts us in. We get no natural service in our neighborhood, so we have to shell out $200 for extra hardware that can be wonky at times (it loses reception fairly often), OR we can cancel and pay $650+ to get out of our contracts, one of which I never willingly entered.

The agent told me that I should have received an e-mail containing the full terms and conditions to which I had agreed, but I don’t delete e-mail and I have nothing in either my work inbox nor my personal e-mail account from AT&T that includes any sort of legal documentation. I’d be happy to forward over the e-mails. I do have one which details the changes made to our account when we pulled my wife’s number onto my account. It says, “The process to assume financial responsibility that you requested for 801-YYY-YYYY has been completed. In addition to monthly service charges, you will be billed for all applicable taxes and fees; including the monthly Regulatory Cost Recovery Fee of up to $1.25 and any local surcharges, such as the gross receipts surcharge in Missouri.” No mention of contracts. That’s all I got at the time.

She then told me that I had been put under contract because I upgraded my phone. This is entirely untrue, as I explained, and I think she got it. I am using the same iPhone 4 that I bought from a friend last summer; the last phone I received from AT&T was an iPhone 3G back in December 2008. I love my phone and I love experimenting with new phones, so I certainly would never have allowed myself to be put under contract without getting a sweet discount on the latest Android phone! My wife had gotten an Atrix when we renewed her contract, but she eventually returned it and got a new feature phone, still under contract. I never disputed that my wife is under contract.

Finally, she suggested that I got put under contract when I applied my corporate discount. If that’s true, it was never explained anywhere. The salesperson in the store certainly told me it would not affect my contract status. The e-mails I received, all of which I still have, say nothing whatsoever about contract implications. Ultimately, she told me that the only way I could get out of the contract would be to call the store where I entered into the contract (which I never actually entered into).

That’s fine, and if you tell me to call the store, I’ll call the store. But I don’t see how it is possible that AT&T can be this powerless to help someone who is trying to remain a loyal customer. Just because I did business with an AT&T store in Lehi, Utah, I now have to do all of my business through them? Nobody there can fix the situation by letting me out of the contract which I did not sign — or, at least, did not knowingly sign — OR at least giving me the upgrade that a new contract should provide me and reimbursing my Microcell? I find it hard to believe. I would like to see one of those two things — or something equivalent, if there is a third, mutually agreeable option of which I am not aware — happen so that I can stay a loyal and happy AT&T customer.

I also did not appreciate that the agent did not seem to believe my claims that a.) I never got an upgraded phone in July, b.) I never received any of the supposed legal documentation by e-mail, and she claimed I did, and c.) the salesperson in the store was crystal clear that I would NOT be placed under contract.

Look, I really don’t want to bolt for Verizon, but it’s hard to argue with three bars and no Microcell required, especially when I am made to feel like I’ve been offered a bait-and-switch by AT&T. I really hope that somehow this can all be ironed out. You know my phone number if you think it would help to discuss it.

In Support of Homers

Wisdom from @usujason:

I have more respect for people who say “I’m a homer for X but I’ll try to be [impartial]” rather than a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

If you have a preference for a certain brand, product, or service and you tweet/blog/speak negatively about its competition, it’s insulting and deceptive for you to then pretend that you have no preference. I see too many supposed “independent seekers of truth” within a given topic who secretly (or not-so-secretly) harbor strong preferences that guide the way they perceive that area of their lives.

Look, it’s not a bad thing to be a homer. We all have things that we love and prefer over alternatives. Among other things, I’m a homer for Apple, ESPN, Omniture/Adobe, Boston Red Sox, BYU sports, and Diet Coke. I’m very clear about this. These preferences guide the way I view certain things. . . as well they should! We need schemata to help us navigate our lives.

At the same time, I can certainly try to see other perspectives and I’m willing to discuss, learn, and even change my opinions given the right circumstances.

You probably don’t have an opinion on every topic. That is also good, as long as it is genuine. My point—my request—is that you please not claim to have no opinion when you quite clearly do. Integrity demands this level of honesty.

You don’t have to come right out and say that you’re a homer, but don’t insult all of us by telling us that you’re independent if your words and conduct say otherwise. The people around you are smarter than that, and we deserve more respect.

Google+ and Community: Not Quite Yet

I went on a rant against Google+ (via Twitter and Facebook, of course) last week, and I won’t do that here. For the record, I don’t actually have anything against Google+ itself. My only issue with Google+ personally is that people are abandoning other social media in favor of the new kid on the block for reasons that don’t make much sense to me. (To learn about those reasons, you’ll need to see my Twitter rant.)

Tonight, Jeremiah Owyang, internationally recognized social media guru with Altimeter Group, tweeted that it might be time for a change:

All: The Google+ is richer, easier embedding of media, longer comments, less fragmented and easier to find. Google+ is threat to Twitter

I’m sure he’s right. Google+ is a threat to Twitter. He’s not the only one who has said that, and he’s not the only one who is voting with his digital feet, so to speak. But Owyang’s comment brought to mind one very real complaint about Google+ as a social media platform from my perspective as a former Community Manager at Omniture/Adobe. Here it is:

I don’t understand how Google+ at present allows the creation and growth of community.

Round one. . . fight!Jeremiah is right that Google+ is less fragmented. But at the same time, it has no concept of free-flowing conversation organized around a topic. You can say something about, say, web analytics. Anyone who has added you to his/her circles can see your thoughts and comment on them. But unless your post is “reshared” by others, it ends there.

One of the great benefits of Twitter is that any of the service’s millions of users can see the world’s stream of consciousness on a topic. I don’t necessarily need to be following @usujason or @vabeachkevin there to see and respond to something interesting that they say. At least a handful of real-world friendships have developed out of the #omniture and #measure communities on Twitter among people who may never have found one another via a “less fragmented” service such as Facebook or Google+.

When I wake up in the morning, I check out #measure to see which new blog posts are causing a stir, and to read the conversation among a huge variety of practitioners, vendors, agencies, etc. I can’t do that on Google+. I can see what Eric Peterson is saying, and I can see what Keith Burtis is saying, but their reach only extends to those who have explicitly added them.

That’s a key element to community building, in my experience; you need a platform that crosses all lines and allows people to interact around a topic of shared interest—not simply because they happen to already be in one another’s circles.

Similarly, as a community manager I needed a way to follow the conversation about my brand. My angle was one of technical support. How could I have reached out and engaged with frustrated users unless I could see their complaints? For example, Rudi Shumpert (@rudishumpert) is a web analytics superstar. Three years ago, he was brand new and was struggling to understand some Omniture documentation. He complained. I was there. I didn’t see him because I knew who @RRS_ATL (his former handle) was. I saw him because he mentioned my brand and I had a Twitter search running all day long. Brand detractor became brand advocate within a matter of minutes.

Also, why I hate Hootsuite

This is actually a tangent. I hate Hootsuite. I tried it a few times, but the idea of keeping a browser window open all day so I could monitor the conversation has always been abhorrent. It’s too easy to close a browser window to work on some other task and then realize four hours later that you’ve been sitting out of the conversation. In my particular role, I could never do this.

But that really isn’t my point. Google+ apparently has a rudimentary API, but nothing that developers have used to build their own apps for organizing Google+ content in a way that is conducive to community-building. This is, of course, related to the previous points. (In fact, maybe I only have one point, but, by Jove, I’m going to stretch this thing out.) With a solid API and some additional ways to organize conversations, developers can churn out enterprise-ready social media management tools and integrate Google+ into existing social media management tools. Until that happens, Twitter’s API still rules. It remains, by far, the easiest source of raw social media to work with.

Longer comments = more windbags

Look, this is a blog. It’s the ultimate celebration of windbaggery. But at least you know what you’re getting with blogs. Jeremiah seems to think that the ability to pontificate at length in the comments on Google+ is a good thing. I think it has its place. (Blogs? Facebook? Google+? Probably all of the above.) But I really feel that—at least in the communities where I participate on Twitter—the 140-character limit is a good thing.

It’s not that I don’t want to hear more from my friends in the community, but the exercise of whittling down a thought into 140 (or 280, or 420, etc.) characters forces you to be succinct and straightforward. This often makes it easier for community members to process conversations with minimal distraction. I can read a tweet in about three seconds. I can read a four-paragraph response to an Avinash posting in, what, two minutes? Too often, the three second investment provides equal or greater returns than the two minute investment because the author has been forced to say in 40 words what he could have drawn out into 500.

(Of course there are crappy tweets, too, but at least they’re short.)

He’s 100% right about the ease of sharing on Google+

Yep. No argument from me there.

Conclusion: In defense of Google+

Later (still on Twitter, somewhat amusingly), Jeremiah pointed out (correctly, I’m sure—after all, this is what he does) that Google+ will undoubtedly add the missing community elements in the near future:

I’m sure those features, APIs and hash tags will come.

I’m not opposed to this at all. I will embrace Google+ for community when it is ready, but it certainly isn’t there yet. So what am I saying?

I’m saying that, right now, in my opinion, Twitter still has tons of value for business.

I’m saying that, right now, in my opinion, the best place to connect with brands and get help or provide feedback is still Twitter.

I’m saying that, right now, in my opinion, the best place to build communities around topics that matter to you is likely still Twitter.

As for what the future holds, I’ll defer to Jeremiah and other thought leaders. And I’m certainly playing around with Google+ so I’m ready if/when the shift happens.

So am I “doing it wrong?” Am I missing some feature that makes Google+ a boon to communities? What else do you think Google+ needs to do before communities are possible there?