I run a specialist Conversion Rate Optimisation agency and CRO is a great industry to be in. It is perched beautifully on the boundaries of creative, technical and numerical disciplines and offers a multitude of opportunities for developing skills.
But it is also somewhat limited in its application. For the most part, it is associated with running AB tests on websites or apps and therefore is seen as a digital industry. And without pooh-poohing that, I’m proud to say that we’re on something more of a journey.
One of the core tenets of optimisation of any kind is that you refuse to acknowledge that a job is done. Optimisation isn’t a task to be achieved, it’s a continuous methodology to be followed. And it was our methodology that started us on our journey to expand the realms of CRO.
Firstly, it’s important to know a bit about our methodology. A long time ago we realised that if you wanted to optimise a website, you needed to know who you were optimising for; who are the people using your website, what drove them there in the first place and what needs do they have to serve when they’re there? We also knew that CRO was effectively about trying to solve “problems” on websites; if it wasn’t perceived as broken, we wouldn’t be trying to fix it.
So as a business, we were placing people at the heart of problem-solving on digital properties.
But then it struck us; if CRO is all about placing people at the heart of problem-solving, it surely has no inherent connection with digital whatsoever? Technology was merely the interaction method via which we were attempting to solve problems and therefore we needed to explore this concept further.
In the digital world at least, we knew that people were the key; the next natural step was to consider the centrality of people in any problem-solving environment. In essence, could we take a proven CRO methodology in the digital world and apply it elsewhere? But before we could do that, we needed a firmer definition of what we wanted to achieve. So we wrote out a list of questions that we then tried to answer – among them were:
What is a problem?
How are problems created?
What role do people play in the creation of problems?
And lastly, (and probably most importantly), how does any of this help us in solving problems?
So what did we find?
Firstly, problems are barriers to goals; if you have no goals, you can have no problems. If you want to go nowhere, you’ve already achieved that. If you want to do nothing, you’ve already achieved that too. But because everyone from individuals, to businesses to governments has goals, we all have problems too. And goals can only be defined as being something that we want to achieve in the SMART fashion; if it were missing any of those elements, it cannot truly be defined as a goal (it would be more like a “dream” or a “desire”).
Secondly, problems are created by negative decisions. This was a tricky one because it caused us to consider the nature of decisions at the same time. Traditional wisdom would dictate that there are three types of decision; positive, negative and neutral. We disagreed. A decision either takes you closer to achieving a goal or it doesn’t, the former being a positive decision and the latter a negative one. Granted, we can’t always be certain at the time which type of decision has been made, but eventually it will always fall into one of those two categories. An example of a neutral decision could be the lack of any decision at all; not a yes and not a no. But given that all goals must be time-bound, a lack of decision at that given time represents a barrier (or problem) to achieving the goal and therefore should be viewed as a negative. Similarly, a decision not to buy something yet (rather than not at all), is still a negative. If the business’ goal was to sell to you and you deferred the decision as opposed to totally rejecting the idea, they still received £0. So it’s the same outcome as a negative.
But how does this relate to problems being created by negative decisions? Let’s consider a few scenarios:
Scenario 1 – The Workplace
Luke has been in his current role for over 2 years and feels like he is a shoe-in for his boss’ job when he retires at the end of the year. He currently has no problem with reaching the goal. Then he hears that the director, his boss’ boss, has made the decision that another member of staff will get the boss’ job instead. Luke now has a problem which is a barrier to his goal because of a decision.
Scenario 2 – The Ecommerce Store
Tony visits an ecommerce store on his mobile. The business currently has no problem with Tony’s visit because as long as he remains on the site, he has the potential to complete the business’ goal of an ecommerce sale. And Tony has no problem because he can still achieve his goal of buying some shoes. But during his browsing, Tony notices that the store doesn’t tell him what their returns policy is and because of this, Tony has a problem created by the decision of the website manager not to include their returns policy. And that decision has also created a problem for the ecommerce store as it blocks their ability to reach their goal too.
One decision, multiple problems.
And this led us to the final part of the puzzle; decisions are made by people. Whether directly or indirectly (such as the case above), it is human beings that make the decisions that create (or solve) problems. The website manager didn’t directly mean to cause Tony a problem – after all, he doesn’t even know Tony – but his decision created the problem nonetheless.
Then we put all of these answers together to form our way of looking at problem-solving:
“Problems are barriers to goals, created by decisions made by people.”
Therefore, to achieve goals, we must solve problems by driving positive decisions from people.
And thus we were able to confirm what we felt we had known all along; people are at the heart of our route to goals that we want to achieve.
Now we’re only just starting our journey towards applying People-Centric Problem-Solving on a wider scale, but I will continue to share what we have learned and will learn along the way.