Change coming? Say it loud

The best thing you can do to increase user satisfaction is to make absolutely sure everyone gets the message when changes are made

This afternoon I went to deposit a check at my ATM (bank to remain nameless, but it’s a big one). Instead of asking for the deposit envelope as usual, the screen said “insert check,” Confused, I looked around, wondering what to do (I had already sealed the envelope), and someone said “they don’t take the envelopes anymore.”

Apparently as of this week, my bank switched its ATMs to take cash and check deposits directly, a major victory for their cost model and the ergonomic health of the employees who used to open the envelopes. There are also some benefits to consumers, such as instant on-screen deposit confirmation and the check image printed on the receipt.

Only one problem: aside from a couple of small ads posted above the machine (which I never look at because they’re usually ads for sub-prime mortgages), I had no way of knowing that my bank had made the change.

This miscue reminded me of Maury Sline’s line in The Blues Brothers: “For a gig like that, you’ve got to arrange the proper exploitation.” Translation: don’t assume people will figure it out … hit them over the head with it! For a big process change, you need flashing signs, cars with megaphones on the roof driving back and forth, airplanes pulling banners. Message to my big bank with its cool stagecoach logo: how about a splash screen or something announcing the change? An e-mail with a picture of a check going directly in? Throw me a bone, here.

My plea is directed to IT professionals in general: Assume that your users are deaf, dumb, and blind – they aren’t, of course, but they do tend to live inside their own heads (sex, drugs, rock and roll, taxes), not yours. All the innovation in the world won’t rouse them without some strong stimulus to encourage adoption.

I don’t mean feel-good stuff like incentives and alignment and e-training. I’m talking about an electric shock to the cortex or using pheromones to lure people to your Web app. If you want your application adopted, you’ve gotta sell like crazy. What’s the main difference between and the dozens of also-rans out there? Enough said.

“But that’s not my job,” you say, “I just design and build the apps.” Yes, and you can be the greatest chef on earth, but if you don’t get out of the kitchen to schmooze and sell, you’ll never win any awards. In big companies, the most important tasks often fall through the cracks. Marketing may or may not come through. IT folks have an obligation to try to take technology the last mile and make sure users get the value out of it. Forget the marketing people … push it yourself.

Women in IT, part 2
At the beginning of this year I told CIOs they needed to hire more women. I was just guessing, but it turns out the facts were behind me. Women hold 51 percent of professional positions in the U.S. workforce, but only 26 percent in IT in 2006, down from 29 percent in 2004, according to the National Center for Women in Information Technology. Not only that, but the problem is even worse at the front end of the funnel, with women receiving only 21 percent of computer science degrees in 2006 compared to 37 percent in 1985 (and remember, they make up half of the population).

So what to do? How about an aggressive marketing campaign that portrays IT for what it is -- a challenging profession that is more about people skills, focus, and creativity than about geeking out in front of some honkin’ big machine. That would not only attract more women but probably more men, too. How about a campaign glorifying everyday IT heroes -- both men and women? Notwithstanding my comments above, let’s get marketing involved in this one and put some real dollars behind it.

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