Maybe your company should hire a Chief Sanity Officer

Written by
Simon Dumenco
Ad Age

Sep 13, 2018

Sep 13, 2018 • Author: Simon Dumenco

It's become painfully (stabbingly) clear that many tech companies and "disruptive" startups—and even established companies trying to compete with the newbies—could use a new sort of CCO: a chief consistency officer.

If that's too subtle and/or too suggestive of other CCOs who might already be on board, how about a CDJCAO (chief don't-jerk-customers-around officer). Or a CLNDUCNO (chief let's-not-drive-users-completely-nuts officer). Or maybe let's keep it super direct: CSO (chief sanity officer).

Consider the most annoying and exasperating stumbles of some high-profile new and newish companies over the past year and they all have to do with leaving consumers guessing—because of messed-up messaging, herky-jerky interface changes, ever-morphing strategies and excessive course corrections.

We've seen it with Snapchat. (This redesign makes everything better and easier! Please ignore the 1.2 million users who signed a petition begging for a reversal of the "update" ... although eventually we'll pay attention to it, but not before shedding 3 million active users in just one quarter.)

We've seen it with Tesla. (Order a car and maybe you'll get it six months from now, or maybe a year from now, or maybe 19 months from now—oh, and by the way, maybe we're going private, or maybe never mind.)

We've seen it with Facebook. (Protecting your data is of utmost importance to us, and that Cambridge Analytica stuff is just an overblown misunderstanding that's more their fault than ours—although, wait, maybe we did screw up, but we're getting things under control, and by the way, we just found a bunch of new evidence of maybe-Russians using our platform nefariously, and also some probable-Iranians...)

And we've seen it most absurdly with MoviePass. (As comedian Samantha Ruddy summed it up on Twitter: "MoviePass 6 months ago: See as many movies as you want! Go crazy! Watch 3 at once! MoviePass now: You can watch half a movie once every lunar year. You have to clean the theater afterward. If you don't get the ticket stub tattooed on your face we'll send the FBI to your house.")

All this is happening because, in a way, it's supposed to happen. It's become part of the accepted culture of tech and startups that you ship a minimum-viable product, then you iterate, iterate, iterate. Pivots are awesome! Mistakes are awesomer (because you can learn from them)!

Silicon Valley has a weird reverence for serial screwups: If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again. But it can also work out differently: If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try your customers' patience until finally you drive them round the bend—and off your platform.

That sort of phenomenon tends to get quietly labeled "churn rate" in spreadsheets. As in, "We need to work on reducing our churn rate." Which sounds clinical and doable—churn, the thinking goes, is just one more performance indicator needing attention to get the needle moving in the right direction—except that underlying a lot of churn these days is extreme user exasperation bordering on hatred.

Tech-business culture obviously values a certain level of nimbleness for good reason—markets are in turmoil and consumer needs and wants are changing rapidly. But from a UX perspective, an extreme by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach that never settles into any particular groove is a recipe for balance-sheet chaos.

New-media people in particular could learn a thing or two by looking back at an old-media truism: Consumers are creatures of habit. Traditional media has always been pretty good at speaking to that reality. Like, you would always be able to find the crossword puzzle right next to the Dilbert cartoon in the newspaper. Thursday night on a specific TV network automatically meant laughter. You could count on a touching first-person essay appearing on the last page of every issue of the magazine.

But as traditional media loses its market share, and traditional media experts fade away, we're losing sight of the most basic way to keep consumers engaged: through consistent, comforting products and logical, non-maddening "user experiences" and "customer journeys."

You might argue (correctly) that it should be the chief executive's job to be constantly thinking about all this. But given that investors seem unlikely to stop worshipping "fearless" (read: erratic) CEOs (hi, Elon) anytime soon, well, good luck.

Somebody has to argue for consistency.

Somebody has to advocate for what consumers actually want.

And somebody has to truly grasp .

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