To Customers, Content, Service & Marketing Is Technology (Not Just the Code)


The big aha moment didn’t come for me until I strolled through the halls of SXSW this year. Having been at the front-end of a tech startup company, my focus has always been on what software can accomplish – on what the little 1s and 0s can automate for the customer. But at the national gathering of geeks, artists and marketers, it was obvious that the lines are completely blurred for the customer, just as the lines between programmers, artists and marketers are becoming more and more blurred. The customer sees technology as an entire package, a package that includes the image of the company (and how that image reflects on them), how they are treated by the people of the company, and what kind of information the company shares with them. A tech company could have the biggest, most intricate, innovative software product in the world, but if the content, service or marketing isn’t there, the software isn’t going to be adopted.

During a session on HTML5 for Film, the film makers on the panel talked about how the technology used to deliver their film affects how the audience experiences the product (film). In the audience’s mind, the code behind the delivery of the movie is an integral part of the quality of the movie. And vice versa – the information provided about and within your software, including the information the user is supposed to help provide, affects the customer’s experience of the product.

A recent comment on an article about the limited adoption of google plus mentioned that the mistake google made was not to import the user’s existing content from facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, etc, into google plus. Google, being the tech company that they are, focused on how the technology works. The customer’s experience using the software, however, was greatly hampered by the lack of content.

Letting the user share about their software experience has also become embedded into the technology identity.  Although normally a tech company would see sharing, tweeting and facebook-ing about their product as marketing, many customers consider the ability to share about their use of technology an integral part of it.

Technology companies that focus just on the functionality of the software will see less and less user adoption as the software marketplace becomes more mature.


Usable HR Technology Doesn’t Mean Less Clicks

In the late 90s when usability first came to software developers’ attention, a lot of focus was made on the number of clicks a user made and the tracking of the eye on a software interface to reduce user memory.  While these are still important considerations, the science of usability has advanced to include the persuasion of a user to accomplish a specific goal.

In recruiting, the goal is to find a good match for a job.  While efforts to reduce the number of clicks for an online application are admirable, they are not necessarily meeting the end goal of the application.  The focus should be on an easy to use interface that allows an applicant to show whether or not he fits the job.

“The future of design is about creating engagement and commitment to meet measurable business goals.” – Dr. Eric Schaffer / Founder and CEO Human Factors International, Inc. in his white paper “Beyond Usability”

When applicants are polled regarding what they do not like about online job applications, they don’t complain about the number of clicks, but rather the lack of information about the job, the irrelevancy of the information collected,  the limited data formats accepted and the lack of follow-up.  Most of these are soft areas that relate more to content than technology.  However, in both applicants and recruiters minds, all of it is technology.

candidate experience

From The Candidate Experience Monograph by Gerry Crispin and Mark Mehler, with others.

HR tech vendors can help assist their clients by providing suggested content, best practices information during implementation and staying on the cutting edge of consumer focused technology.  The end goal of a talent management application must be to find the best fit for the job, while leveraging technology to save as much time and effort as possible, and to enforce compliance.  The end goal often gets lost within the latest industry buzz words and trends, but it must stay in the forefront in order to create truly usable hr technology.

Job Applicants Want a Touchable Application Process – It’s Time to Give it To Them

touch table at SXSW

I heard a lot of frustration in their voices.  A very tech savvy crowd yes, but still unsure how to present themselves as a job applicant.  “I have a beautiful resume, but the online application is asking me to cut and paste my resume,” laments one job seeker.

“I fill my resume with keywords, but never hear a word from the company after filling out the online application.”

“How do I link up to my online portfolio when they just want me to type in my work experience?”

The questions during the SXSW 2012 session on “Online Personality Disorder: Resumes and Profiles” highlighted the gap between the expertise of the applicant, and the technology of the average applicant tracking system.  I had to raise my hand and admit I am with an applicant tracking system (although one of those that does allow portfolio uploads, online profiles, and formatted resumes), and suggest that when a cut and paste resume is required (by an ancient system, ahem), make sure to put a link to your online profile/ portfolio at the top of the resume text.

In this age of TVs that change the channel based on your hand motions, video enabled vending machines that measure your smile, and touch table computers, basic electronic resume applications fall flat.

The truth is that applicants want to reach out and touch the application process.  They want to put their unique mark on their application – they want to demonstrate their passion and their skills.  They don’t necessarily want to apply with just “two clicks,” they want to interact with the organization and provide relevant information.

And the truth is, hiring managers want to let them.  But too often time constraints and technology get in the way.  The solution isn’t to go back to the paper resume or in-person hiring event.  The solution is to adapt applicant tracking technology to let applicants express themselves, while automating as much as possible.

Here’s some ideas on making the online application and the hiring process “touchable” for the applicant, and still protect the hiring manager’s time:

  • Allow the applicant to upload digital portfolios, images, and formatted resumes as part of their online application
  • Provide easy ways for the applicant to link to their online professional content
  • Give applicants status updates throughout the process – via email, text or a self-service portal.
  • Word status updates and email communication as personally and warmly as professionally possible, so applicants realize they are communicating with a real person
  • Consider using a company like Send Out Cards to send out recycled paper thank you notes with a status update after a phone interview.
  • Provide a kiosk in the employer’s lobby to allow applicants to apply online and/or check their status.  It’s relatively inexpensive to do with an ipad kiosk.
  • Use in-depth job descriptions and basic pre-screening questions to allow applicants who aren’t a fit to self-select out.  This allows more time for the hiring manager to review the information of qualified applicants.

Technology doesn’t have to be impersonal.  In fact, most innovation in tech sectors over the last few years has focused on making technology more and more personal.  Talent management systems and HR can provide a touchable application experience for applicants.  We all just have to try harder.

Hack Your Brain

Note: This blog was a test of using storify to export to wordpress. It posted as an active blog – wish it had posted in draft mode first. Storify has great potential, though, but would like to suggest a few usability tweaks to it. The below is meant as a timeline of what I thought was most important from a SXSW session I went to.

  1. Facilitator: Megan Miller
  2. First up: Michael Scanlon from Lumosity
  3. Share

    Thu, Mar 15 2012 11:12:27
  4. Share
    Peak mental performance around an average of 7 hrs sleep a night. Moderate exercise helps too. Good for heart, good for brain. #SXbrainhack

    Fri, Mar 09 2012 15:17:11
  5. Share
    Playing a musical instrument is positively correlated to increasing IQ over time. #sxbrainhack

    Fri, Mar 09 2012 15:20:58
  6. Next: Dan Wetmore from Sheepdog Sciences
  7. Share

    Thu, Mar 15 2012 11:28:18
  8. Share
    “Leverage what the brain does well to compensate for what the brain does poorly” #sxbrainhack #sxblonon #sxsw

    Fri, Mar 09 2012 15:35:11
  9. Last: Dave Asprey from Bulletproof – formerly diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome – brain hacked his way out of it
  10. Share

    Thu, Mar 15 2012 11:22:22
  11. Share
    Hack ur brain by hacking your heart first. Decrease heart rate variability to increase brain power #sxbrainhack #SXSW

    Fri, Mar 09 2012 15:37:25
  12. Share

    Thu, Mar 15 2012 11:22:22
  13. Yoga breathing can mimic the positive effects of LSD
  14. Share
    questions about (legal) drugs to help improve performance all lead to recommendation to meditate & do breathing exercises. #sxbrainhack

    Fri, Mar 09 2012 15:57:13
  15. Question from audience:  if hacking your brain works, why doesn’t science explore these types of treatements?  A: from Michael Scanlon:  traditional science starts with a hypothesis and then finds data, which limits the perspective to the hypothesis.  Future = Big Data will tell us the solution without a hypothesis.
  16. Share
    “Big data and the quantified self movement is going to kick science’s ass.” Biohacker Dave Asprey @ #SXbrainhack #SXSW

    Fri, Mar 09 2012 16:01:41
  17. Share
    #sxbrainhack blew my mind and I am excited about the implications for #ADHD treatmt

    Fri, Mar 09 2012 16:06:43

Takeaways for HR Tech from SXSW 2012

SXSW Interactive 2012 was my first time at SXSW, and I found inspiration for making HR Tech better from a number of channels including film, gaming, media agencies, and consumer focused start-ups.

Treat applicants like a consumer and let them be social

  • Let applicants be social about the jobs they are applying to, potentially letting them share the  fact that they are applying with friends, ask for recommendations
  • Help applicants sell themselves – they have a difficult time demonstrating their passion to an  applicant tracking system
  • Let applicants link to their rich online content, if applicable to the job application

APIs are a growing trend

  • Companies are making millions off just API transactions
  • APIs are now primarily written in REST, not SOAP
  • Well-document your API and make the documentation public
  • Create tools for programmers to build transactions with your API

Mobile is huge and is not being replaced by tablets

  • It is now an appendage to people, and everyone was a “cyborg” during SXSW12, per Amber Case
  • Mobile has become notebook, internet, phone, map, entertainer, camera, video cam and more, in one
  • Video and photos are the new “text”

From the gaming world we learn the importance of incentivizing users = goals & metrics

  • With gaming, people are incentivized to complete tasks
  • People like to see visually that they are making goals
  • Users by nature have a hard time figuring out metrics and are embarrassed by it
  • Requirements for a user to get into a good flow with software:
    • Goals, then challenges,  then skills, then feedback, then control

Relevance more important that simplicity

  • In user’s mind, relevance = usability
  • No matter how simple you make something, it isn’t usable to the user unless it does what they wanted to do
  • In the case of job applications, less clicks does not = user satisfaction.  Rather, the right questions and truthful feedback = user satisfaction.

#SXSW Interactive – Saturday & Sunday in Photos

Samsung’s smart TV – no need for a remote, just use hand gestures to change the channel, the volume, or any setting.  Development kit available.

Keynote speaker Baratunde Thurston inspired us to use comedy to change society. “Comedians are good at smashing idols” – per @occupyjudaism.

Touch table at the Nokia tent. I want this for our coffee house.

Cell phone charging lock boxes

Boxing robots powered by Kinect – using hand gestures. Motion technology is a big theme.

Third Eye Blind. Gotta love alternative music launched in the 90s. I do, so I had to throw that in here.

“make mistakes. Make big ones” #Tambor #SXSW

#SXSW Interactive – Friday Reflections of a Newbie

It’s rainy and cold in Austin, but the locals are cheering on the rain. That’s ok, because it can’t put a damper on the enthusiasm of #SXSWi.

This is my first time at the convention, so I have a couple newbie observations. First of all, I’ve never seen so many gadgets in one place – and that’s not on the trade show floor – but rather in attendees hands. High powered cameras, video cameras, mobile devices galore and of course ipads and laptops, so much so, that attendees camp around power outlets. (Someone please come up with a phone that lasts all day – when actually used all day.) Each session is given a twitter hash tag, and often the speakers encourage tweets throughout the session, and use twitterfeed to pull questions from the audience. I like that use of technology.

After this, I am convinced of the mobile device as a staple of society moving forward. (No, I wasn’t already). I’m excited to see what form it will take. We need innovators to break out of the rectangular box design.

Speaking of mobile innovation, one demonstrator that stood out to me, Isis, offers a mobile wallet solution. It requires a user to have a NFC-enabled phone, which will be release by major carriers this summer. Merchants just need to have a contactless reader that accepts Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express. To make it even simpler, the merchants should also have Isis software, although it can work without. Customers just select their payment option on their phone by clicking on the credit card icon they want to use, then tap their phone against the reader, and payment is transferred. Great concept, although it still gives a percentage to the big four credit card companies, which takes money out of local economies, but maybe this will allow for a surge of local credit cards? Might be possible with this setup. I was told I could integrate a local rewards program into the software.

Went to an intriguing session about training positive neuroplasticity. Too much information to share here, but I’m definitely going to share it with our development team. As you might have guessed, the condition of our bodies is directly related to the performance of our brains. However, moderation is the key – simple things can exercise your body and brain without hitting the gym five times a week. And easy nutritional guidelines help as well. It has implications for ADHD, Asperger’s and Autism, and I can’t wait to research that more.

Knowing there are a lot of smart people in attendance, I was surprised at the amount of lame questions asked at the end of the session (people not using their brains), until one attendee asked a GREAT question – if it is shown that these types of non-pharmaceutical solutions are available for our health, why isn’t science delving into these areas of research? WHY INDEED? Basically, the neuro-scientist said that a hypothesis is currently necessary to prove/ disprove something in the medical world. Thankfully with all the data floating around in cyberspace, we can start to figure things out by just chugging through all that data – without first having a hypothesis.

Was proud of the representation of my home state at a session by a group of Ohio design companies who highlighted some of the very innovative machines they’ve built – a vending machine that records your photo and dispenses ice cream based on the strength of your smile – various carnival games that exist in real-life, but that are controlled remotely by users over the internet – a mobile 1973 RV named MERV that interacts with students at college visitations – really creative stuff.

Creativity is the name of the game, and I’m ready to get some more inspiration.