Credit: AI Trends
How are cable providers evolving to compete with cord-cutting, streaming services and new media? Chris Satchell, Executive Vice President and Chief Product Officer at Comcast Cable, speaks with CXOTalk and guest co-host Brian Solis about digital transformation in the cable TV industry.
Satchell leads Comcast’s product, design and innovation teams in Philadelphia, Denver and Silicon Valley to develop and design the company’s consumer products used by millions daily. He previously served as Consumer Technology Officer at Nike, and EVP of research and development at IGT (International Game Technology), the world leader in gaming entertainment and casino systems.
Michael Krigsman: Welcome to Episode 267 of CxOTalk! What an amazing show we have today! Did you know that Comcast, the cable provider, is one of the largest media companies in the world? Their revenues last year were like $80 billion. And so, today we are speaking with Chris Satchell, who is Comcast’s Executive Vice President and Chief Product Officer. But, not only that, we are also talking with one of the top digital transformation focused industry analysts in the world, Brian Solis.
I’m Michael Krigsman. I’m an industry analyst and the host of CxOTalk. I want to say a quick thank you to Livestream because Livestream provides our video infrastructure. Those guys supported CxOTalk from the start. If you go to Livestream.com/CxOTalk, they will give you a discount on their plans.
I always forget this. We have a tweet chat going on at this very minute. Go to Twitter with the hashtag #CxOTalk. If you’re on Facebook, go to Twitter also because that’s where the conversation [is]. You can ask Chris and Brian questions, and they’ll answer.
Without further ado, Chris Satchell, how are you? Welcome to CxOTalk, and thank you so much for being here.
Chris Satchell: Thank you for inviting me, Michael. It’s great to be here. It’s great to have Brian here as well. I’m looking forward to this conversation.
Michael Krigsman: Chris, very briefly tell us about Comcast and tell us what [is] your role. You’re a chief product officer. What does that actually mean? What do you do there?
Chris Satchell: Well … (indiscernible, 00:02:03) Comcast…. I mean it is a very large U.S. company, $80 billion in revenue in 2016, growing well this year. It’s quite a complex company because, on the cable side, we have the world’s biggest IP network. We are almost in 30 million households with products from high-speed data and smart intelligent wi-fi to branded home security and life preservation services to smart cameras. Then we have voice services and, of course, video. We do a huge amount of video services. We also have a very large and growing business-to-business side of what we do. Not as big as residential, but it’s a huge business in its own right. Then, of course, we have the other half of the company with NBC Universal, which is incredible in the realm of content production, whether it’s for network television, for cable, for films, or theme parks, and so a very broad media company.
My role is a little strange. It says chief product officer, but I come traditionally to companies as a chief technology officer. I’m just very sort of creative-focused in that, and so what my teams do is we design; we build; we operate all of the consumer-facing products and services for Comcast. That’s everything from hardware, from the sort of SoC design on up, industrial design, firmware, to services like X1, which is our contemporary video service. We do the back-end cloud services for that as well as the clients across any platform.
We’re a fully integrated design, product management, and engineering organization that spans about 2,000 people. That’s just my area that does consumer products. We’re a much larger engineering and technology organization. It’s something people don’t really realize about us. We are a hardcore technology product development company very forward leaning, and hopefully, we’ll get to talk about some of those things today.
Michael Krigsman: Fantastic. You’re a very rich, diverse company with a lot of different products. I am a very happy Comcast customer. When it comes to Internet, I do this; I stream this video show called CxOTalk. I have your gigabit service, and the technology is great. It works really well.
Chris Satchell: That’s good to hear.
Michael Krigsman: Yeah, well, hey. Hey, I’m a grateful customer. Our cohost, the other guest, and also my guest co-host, an old buddy who has been on CxOTalk before is Brian Solis. Brian, you’re one of the top people out there researching digital transformation. Welcome. What are you working on these days?
Brian Solis: Well, it is an absolute pleasure to be back. Also, Chris and I are old-time friends and also old friends, I guess, if you want to get technical about it.
Chris Satchell: [Laughter]
Brian Solis: We share a love for very many things outside of innovation and work, so it’s really fun to be here. What I’m working on, there are three things that I’m focused on. One is digital transformation. The other is innovation, corporate innovation because they go hand-in-hand. Actually, four things. The third is this idea of customer and employee experience because it gives the first two, innovation and digital transformation, purpose. Then lastly, if you put a Venn diagram right there at the center, is corporate culture. That is really either a catalyst or the greatest inhibitor of all of the above. I’m really trying to get not just to the technology side of all of these things, but the human side of it.
I just published a report this week, actually, called The Change Agent’s Manifesto, which was written for folks like Chris to help them basically change mindsets and perspectives of the C-suite and boards to help them understand that all of these things aren’t cost centers in that we have to look broader than quarter-to-quarter performance. We have to look for the long-term to compete for the future. That’s my focus. It’s basically nothing much.
Michael Krigsman: [Laughter]
Brian Solis: [Laughter]
Michael Krigsman: Okay, so change and transformation. Comcast has been in business, Chris, for almost 55 years, roughly?
Chris Satchell: Yeah.
Michael Krigsman: I have to imagine that, in the course of those 55 years, Comcast has gone through various types of changes. You’re a technology business, so how do you think about what Brian was just saying: transformation, the cultural dimensions, and change? How do you manage that? How do you think about that?
Chris Satchell: Well, the first thing I’ll say is I think we did less continuous delivery 50 years ago than we do now. That seems likely a little bit before my time, but I fully agree with Brian. Brian and I, one of the reasons that we became friends is we see eye-to-eye on so many things about the consumer journey and how you have to enable that. I fully agree.
Culture and people are the keys of any technology transformation, I mean any transformation, but especially technology transformations. One of the things I always think about, and I talk to people about this, is in my whole career I’ve only actually ever seen two projects go off the rails because of sheer technology, and your technology is just too hard to overcome. I mean it’s just limitations at that point in history where you just couldn’t get past it.
Every other issue has been about people, and so, for me, technology is inherently a people issue. That’s how we approach it. You have to get the culture right. You have to get the context right. You have to get the team right. You have to get direction right. Then you can drive change and accelerate it.
You have to get the right platform. As we talk about enabling change, enabling innovation, it’s fine to have great intentions. But, all your platforms, systems, the connectivity between them, and the tools you have to get ideas into those platforms, if they aren’t in place and if they aren’t designed around velocity, you’re not going to be as fast as you need to be in this world. Although you have to have everything else, what I say about it is that a great team will overcome anything. If you can take a great team, give them the context including the tools to do great work, they will accelerate, and they will outstrip anything you thought they might be able to do.
Michael Krigsman: Brian, I know you have comments on this.
Brian Solis: [Laughter]
Michael Krigsman: [Laughter] We’re all so polite waiting for each other.
Michael Krigsman: Hey, this is not a family show, so don’t be so polite. Just jump in and interrupt me.
Chris Satchell: Remember, I’m English. I had years of conditioning with brainwashing, as my mom would call it. In England, you have to wait until somebody stops talking to start talking. I’ve had 18 years in America trying to unlearn that, Michael.
Brian Solis: [Laughter] Oh, alright. Well, I want to ask a question. Well, not ask a question, but there’s a part of Chris’s story that I would love to be shared with everyone. I wrote a book a couple of years ago called X: The Experience When Business Meets Design. It was really about how to think differently about innovation by taking a step back and thinking about design for a new generation of customers and employees that really are not in alignment with today’s corporate policies, processes, and even just how we think and how we think about productization. When I first met Chris, he was a recent transplant from Nike to Comcast. We shared an immediate passion for design, and I wanted Chris to sort of tell us a bit about his background from Nike to Comcast and what he brought to the company that was unique.
Chris Satchell: Well, as you said, we hit it off. Part of the reason is it’s about design, and it’s about designing the entire journey. I think that’s something that there’s a couple of things we really focused on at Nike.
One was this idea of consumer brand business. Do what’s right for the customer first; then worry about the brand and the brand promise you make to the customer; then worry about the business. If you get the first two right, the third will come.
The second one was about thinking about the entire journey. Every touch point on that journey is an interaction with the customer. That can be positive or negative, so you could be building promoters all the way along or detractors all the way along.
You have to think very broadly, and so you think way beyond when you’ve got a product installed or you’ve got it in your home. You have to think, how did I learn about it? How did I acquire it? How did I pay for it? How did it get to me? How did I install it?
At Nike, we would think all the way to, “What is my interaction with an in-store athlete that was serving me?” because that is a great connection point with the company. Every point along a journey is your brand. You have to be authentic, and you have to serve the customer correctly there. That’s some of the things we brought here.
Then from my time at Xbox, again it’s a lot about delivering the very best experience, not settling, and never being content with what you’re providing, no matter how good it is, because you kind of have to think in this consumer world about how good you think your experience is. There is somebody out there merrily raising the bar on you. It won’t have to be in your sector. It doesn’t have to be in your industry.
I think, as far as consumers are concerned, it’s wherever they see the best experience, they now expect you to match it. Whether that would make business sense for you or not, that’s just what consumers think now. And so, that relentless drive forward to just be the very best–not sector, not business, not industry, but just the best–is something that I brought here, but other people have brought it here as well.
My directs, they’re amazing people. They all think, and those leaders think the same thing. And so, we’re always trying to push each other to think about how we deliver a better product to a consumer.
Brian Solis: Michael, if I could just ask one more question on that front because that’s a tremendous train of thought in that your work today, and your past work, is really the future of what I think most organizations seem to think about because you hit on something that I think a lot of executives miss, and that is the consumer doesn’t care about all of the politics and BS that happen within the organization. They just want the experience to be personalized. They want it to be great. They want it to be intuitive, maybe transparent in many ways. But, the thing that I really hope the people can learn from you and other organizations that are breaking new ground is that innovation is as much about products as it is about policies, processes, and how we even work as well. I think the biggest thing is just shifting mindsets.
I look at today’s–I call them–Generation C. They’re not millennials. They’re not Centennials. They’re not Generation X. They’re just anybody who lives a digital lifestyle. What they all share is this heightened bar for expectations and these new behaviors. They’re impatient and all of these things that, for example, we talk about the uberization or the consumerization of technology. When someone uses Uber, that becomes their standard for engagement. When someone uses an Apple product, that’s their standard – or Google Search.
This new level of experience is blurring the line regardless of products or services that they want that same sort of intuition, that same sort of clarity and cleanliness throughout the entire journey. Yet, organizations are built on these 50-, 60-year-old structures that have all of those things apart. How, in your work, have you been able to go cross-functionally to bring these people together and see the light?
Chris Satchell: Yeah, it’s such a good point, Brian, because one way to say it is if I’m a customer, I think my reaction is, “Your org structure is not my problem.” We used to even talk about this back at Xbox about trying to paper over the cracks in our org structure so that the consumer didn’t see. You’ll see so many companies when you track that product portfolio, it matches the org structure, and you’ve got to fight so hard to take that mentality out, and you’ve got to find leaders who will be selfless and say, “Okay. Yes, I have this release vehicle, but I’m going to take functionality from somewhere else. I’m going to give up something in my release vehicle because it doesn’t make sense to the customer.”
One thing we do is we come customer-in. Everybody says that, but we really think about what would the customer want to do, and that saw us remove a lot of apps from the app store. We really shrunk down our video apps. We’ve really consolidated.
It’s also having a great understanding. We have a very strong user research function here. You’ve just got to be open to it because one of the things I found is people say, “We need research.” Then you show them research and they’re like, “I don’t agree with the research, so we’re going to carry on what we were doing.” Why did I do all that research?
What we try to do is, as much as we can, be really sort of selfless about it and say, “Well, hey. What did the customer just tell us?” Even if it’s not what we wanted to hear, even if it’s a different direction than our brilliant strategic minds came up with, this is what they said, so let’s go follow that. When you come customer-in, you start making different decisions. Then what you have to do is fight, fight, fight internally to cross organizations to make sure that you deliver the way the customer wants.
One thing that I find really helpful is building that combined vision strategy and constantly updating it to say, “This is what our portfolio means for the consumer. Here’s what we’re doing for them,” and resist talking about release vehicles in that and say, “Here are consumer problems we’re going to solve. Here are opportunities to delight them,” and then fill in how your portfolio should do that and you start to get a different answer.
You say, “Well, we’ve always done this in this release vehicle here, this app, this product, this piece of hardware.” That doesn’t make any sense anymore. In this world we’re defining, it should be somewhere else. Then you just have to deal with the politics of that. It’s a constant pressure because people will regress into their SAP reporting structures.
It just takes a lot of political capital from all the leaders to keep doing the right thing for the customer. If you do it enough, it becomes learned behavior, which is great. Now you start talking. One of the things that can help, as I think about it, is getting that common language.
I’ll give you a very strong example. We have amazing high-speed data services, and we have great home security services. But really, what the consumer thinks about is their digital home. They don’t really care what the products are or the org structure.
I have a digital home. I want to have automation in it. I want to have great, ubiquitous wi-fi. I want it to be able to react to me. I want to have peace of mind around my home.
None of that says you have to have a particular product structure, and so we changed the name. We said, “Look. We’re now Digital Home. We’re going to integrate the teams. We’re going to think about it differently than just the vertical businesses we thought about before.” All this takes pressure.
The last thing I’ll add in is, because I think it speaks to the journey, we did a product we released in May this year called xFi, and it’s like a smart, intelligent, whole home wi-fi. One of the things I love, and I use this as an example internally about what the team did, they spent as much time developing all of the on-boarding from on-boarding the gateway, setting up your network. That took as much development effort, as much design effort, as much product effort as all the rest of the experience combined, all the different functions, all the different things it could do.
The idea is you don’t get to do that often. You may do it once every few years. You may do it a couple of times a year if you’re moving. The key is we wanted that moment of truth to be amazing, and I think that’s something that we’re trying to think about here is not every app is a minutes-of-usage engagement app or visits per day engagement app. It’s about were you there at the moment of truth and how good were you? Thinking about products that way is a great way to really serve the customer.
My example of doing that is we learned that from Nordstrom, right? If you take something back to Nordstrom it’s an incredible experience. I don’t spend my life taking garments back to Nordstrom, but I’m glad when I do. It’s fantastic, and I remember that.
Good to think in your products. Are you a moment of truth product or are you an engagement product? Do you transition from one to do the other, or do you stay in that domain?
Michael Krigsman: I have a question for both of you. By the way, I was remiss in not pointing out that today is Brian Solis’s birthday. Not only that, Brian just hopped off a plane from India, ran home, and jumped on this CxOTalk. Brian, happy birthday! [Laughter] How in the world did you survive India and then from here?
Chris Satchell: Yeah. Happy birthday, Brian. But also, now that he said that, you look so much better than I do; it’s disgusting.
Brian Solis: [Laughter]
Michael Krigsman: I was thinking he looks better than me too.
Brian Solis: [Laughter] The secret is that–
Chris Satchell: It’s makeup, isn’t it?
Brian Solis: Champagne. Actually champagne.
Michael Krigsman: The champagne. Right. Exactly. There you go. [Laughter]
Brian Solis: [Laughter] Thank you, Michael. Thank you, Chris.
Michael Krigsman: Anyway, here’s my question. Chris, you were just describing an approach to product development, placing the consumer first, and that requires empathy. You’re a large organization. Brian, you’ve been studying large organizations, looking at that experience.
For people listening, how do you institutionalize? How can an organization institutionalize that kind of empathy perspective when surrounding everybody that works inside a company is the press of spreadsheets and MBAs? Save two cents there and, if you do that, you can save five cents. But wait, but what about the customers? Save the five cents.
Brian, maybe start with you. How do you institutionalize that?
Chris Satchell: Well, I have this joke that I tried to be innovative once, but I got stuck in meetings all day.
Michael Krigsman: [Laughter]
Brian Solis: [Laughter] The reality is that, as Chris said, much of this is–I hate to use the word, but it’s so true–political. I found that the five most common hurdles in trying to institutionalize any of this are all human challenges, things like fear, ego, sabotage, self-preservation. Actually, there’s more than five, but I had to try to categorize it for a matter of simplicity. It’s a matter of juggling.
What Chris said were the nuances of it. You have to speak a common language. You have to bring people to the table in a safe way. You have to show that there’s greater return than just the inherent benefits of trying to be innovative or trying to be digitally transformed. More so, you have to step out of your role and realize that if you’re waiting for someone to tell you what to do, you’re on the wrong side of innovation. These people, I call them change agents, but they go by many other names.
Change comes from the middle most of the time, and it’s really helping people see that all of this change that’s happening on the outside is actually for the betterment of everybody. It’s just that we’re dealing with folks that we’re just coming down to change management issues, really. I think if you can give change management a purpose where people can see that their work actually has an impact on this front, then you have a start. But, there is no easy answer to this. Chris, you live it every day, so maybe you have some more tangible things to share.
Chris Satchell: It’s interesting you talk about we’re a big company, but often you look at my organization. We’re still a pretty large organization. It really isn’t like that. It’s not one big organization. It’s 40, 50, 60 squads with product management, with design, with development. Those product managers are encouraged to understand their customer, to look at the stats coming in on the products, to look at the research studies, to go out into the field and ride with our techs and see what happens with the customer, to listen to calls through our call centers. There are lots of ways to do those touch points that can keep those teams really focused on their area.
I think the other thing you have to do is leadership. You need to give those people cover. When I talk about a context that allows people to be successful, it’s about that. What we try to encourage the product managers and the dev teams is don’t worry about the business yet. Maybe there are key, key business requirements we have to take onboard as we think about a product, but don’t worry about how it monetizes. Don’t worry about the cost. Let’s build the right thing and come up with the right designs.
I think another one is to tell people not to censor themselves too early. I’ve been in sessions before where you’re brainstorming something new, and everybody is self-editing. They’re like, “Well, I don’t think the business would go for that. Our legal is going to tell us no.” I think one of the things that help is you say, “Look. After we get out of this meeting, there is an entire world of people whose job are designed to tell you no, to cut down the idea, to make it tenable for all these different systems in your company, so don’t edit yourself. You’ve got a whole organization to do that for you. Let’s start thinking great ideas and keep driving for them.”
Then I think what you need is leadership that knows when to really push and says, “I understand what those business requirements are. They’re wrong. We should spend more.” Let me interrupt myself because what I’ve found with a lot of disagreements between product and the business, it’s not that if you talk about the very end goal and no timelines you disagree. Businesspeople want to serve the customer as well. It’s not like they’re these evil people. They really want to give a great service as well.
What happens is you talk about two different timelines, often. You will say, “Hey, I want to do these great products,” and you’re thinking how I’m going to live it next year, and then two years after that. I’ve got this five-year roadmap for the product. Yeah, I know I’m going to have to change it because consumers change every year, but I’ve got these big ideas.
The business might be thinking, “I’ve got constraints this quarter. I’ve got constraints this half of this year.” Often you can agree on an endpoint, and then it’s really about how you prioritize in between. I think it’s very good to make sure you’re talking about time horizon, but then sometimes you’ve just got to go back and say, “I’m going to fight for the right thing for the customer even if it looks like the wrong business right now because, if I look at the long-term value of the customer, this will pay dividends. Very infrequently does anybody get chastised in the long-term by consumers for doing the right thing for consumers, and so you’ve just got to be ready to fight for that.
Michael Krigsman: We have a couple of comments from Twitter, a couple of questions. They’re really the same question. Shelly Lucas and Arsalan Khan are both asking in different ways, how do you empower managers to make these kinds of decisions that you’re describing, to withstand the corporate pressures to do the right thing? How do you do that?
Chris Satchell: What we do is we set up processes that help them. I’ll scrub that in a moment. Also, it really is about the layers of leadership. You have to show those people that you have confidence in them. We let them define their features. We let them go and research it. You can test it with consumers. And, we let them build it.
One of the biggest sorts of intellectual sets of hubris you can see from leadership is believing you always know the right answer because you’re not as close to the problem, often, as the people that are building it. And so, you have to be willing to say, “You know what? That’s not what I would have done.” But what I would suggest you do, “It’s not better. It’s just different, so let’s go with your idea because you spent more time and research on it.”
One is just giving people that protection. It’s also that elevation. When you say, “Hey, we’ve got an exec review,” you can bring the people in that actually have the idea. Or, it might be a time when you don’t bring them in because you’re just going to defend their ideas, you’re going to push back hard, and you don’t want an audience doing that.
One of the things that we’ve done that’s really helped empower the teams–and it’s going to sound really boring, but it’s so important–is we have this quarterly planning process. It’s how we take our annual goals for our portfolio and break it into quarters. Every quarter what we do is, the products managers, they get with all their stakeholders, wherever they are, including user research and what they want to do, and they write. They say, “For my area, here is a one-page spec of what I want to do,” and it’s something that can be achieved in a quarter for their end of the product or their product.
It says, “Here’s all the teams’ help I need.” What we do is we have this process where we stack rank them. Then we plan, and we just plan from top to bottom, making sure that any higher priority thing, you know, it fills resources in first so we don’t get sort of that hanging chad syndrome common in development. There are 2,000 people in my organization, and there are another 8,000 people we work with. What you don’t want to have happen is you start off on something and then you find out one of the constituent teams can’t deal with the capacity constraints for that quarter, and you can’t deliver anything.
We solved that problem, but importantly, it gives all your partners somewhere to go. When they say mid-quarter, “We’d like to go in this direction,” or, “We want to change what’s happening,” you say, “Great. Talk to your product manager. If they like the idea, they can bring it to the next planning.”
It’s a way that we have managed to kind of bring quarterly agility to annual planning. What we do is we only schedule 50% of our capacity that way. We call it “directed.” We do 50% of what we call “trusted capacity” where we just say to the scrum teams, “Hey, work your backlog. Put on your backlog what you know that you need, what the customer needs. That’s your capacity to manage. Go manage it.” We work very hard to carve off part of their capacity that they could just use to do the right thing. It’s taken us almost a year and a half of constant effort to get that to work, but it really has helped us take the 36 teams that we’re feeding into video and actually make them more agile and coordinate across them. It’s agile writ large at a very big scale.
Michael Krigsman: Brian, Chris was just talking about two different things, in a sense. One is kind of the qualitative aspects of institutionalizing that empathy and focus on the customer. Then he was just alluding to more quantitative approaches in terms of process and structure. The question that I have is, as you’ve been researching this, Brian, are there metrics, KPIs that can help people think about, again, embedding this and institutionalizing this kind of way of thinking, customer-centric thinking in agile product development and so forth?
Brian Solis: I think I’m going to turn this into a two-part answer where the first part I’ll answer and then I’ll defer to Chris to share what he can about some of the metrics that he’s using because what I have noticed is, in my research, this is directly tied to corporate culture. How the company works, the leadership infrastructure, the management infrastructure, it has to see and talk about things differently. It’s just the nature of how the company works. Metrics, you still have your hard metrics that have to show ROI and KPIs that lead to that ROI; but to get there, that’s the real story.
I’ll tell you that, in many cases, I found that change agents have found that not only does ROI stand for return on investment; it also stands for return on ignorance. What happens if we don’t do this?
Chris Satchell: [Laughter]
Brian Solis: What is that cost? What can we prove out that shows that these investments will yield this now and over time? It’s really trying to change people’s perspectives and mindsets of what return actually looks like. It opens their mind because, in many cases, executives don’t know what they don’t know.
I want to believe that Chris is right that people want to do the right thing, that they’re not evil in many ways. The reality is that many executives actually just don’t live the life the way or live the company the way that their customers and employees do. I used to call this the Undercover Boss moment, if you ever watch that show, which [laughter] I love because it’s always inspiring, but it has the same ending every episode. That is, when you put an executive in the shoes of an employee or a customer, they can’t help but feel the empathy of what someone else has to go through on a day-to-day basis. It opens their eyes to see what’s possible.
We have right now such a distinct difference between how customers are evolving and employees are evolving and how executives are going day-to-day in terms of what they’re reporting and what they’re driving. Someone has to bridge that gap. Part of what Chris was referring to in terms of speaking the language or the common language, or what I call speaking the language of the C-suite, is that you have to put those numbers together. You have to be many things.
I say in this research report on The Change Agent’s Manifesto is that you have to be not just a politician, but also a lawyer and also a data storyteller in that you have to bring all of these different things together that show what someone needs to hear and how they need to hear it tied together with numbers, tied together with evidence, tied together with possible outcomes and potential outcomes so that everybody involved can believe in your work. Chris, I’ll let you finish that and what you’re measuring.
Chris Satchell: Yeah, it’s interesting. I don’t know, for all of us in new development, but here’s a controversial statement. I think it is absolutely pointless measuring ROI below the portfolio level for a given line of business. I sometimes have some very spirited discussions with our finance team around this. The reason is, we’ve got all these projects. They’re feeding into the overall experience the consumer gets. Then the consumer, especially in our business, has got a subscription they’re holding because of that.
When somebody comes to me and says, “Well, we need to know exactly what it costs,” I go, “Why do you need to know what it costs? You know what the portfolio costs.”
They’re like, “Well, so we can plan ROI.” I’m like, “How on earth do you know what the return is? There is no way to un-entangle these variables. That is impossible. It’s mathematically impossible. We don’t have that precision.”
And so, I think one of the problems is when people start measuring ROI. Measure it at an appropriate level. The level I think is appropriate is: Here’s what we invest in a business, and here’s what that business returns. If you start looking at features, and you start looking at product extensions and all these other things, and saying, “Well, we need an ROI,” I think you’re kind of missing the point in the modern world. I think you need to look at total investment, total return. That clears up kind of actually a lot of the mess if you can convince people of that because I find that a lot of organizations love, would actually much prefer, to be precisely incorrect and generally right because it gives them this sense of, “Well, they must be on it because they’ve got all these detailed numbers.”
Well, the detailed numbers are a fiction. We don’t really know how the customer will receive it. How many of us really see ROI projections that really pan out?
Now, large-cap scale investment and capital investment, that’s a different matter. You can actually plan that. But, when it comes to consumer-based products, I just don’t think, other than the line of business, you can really plan it. The first one is, if you can, don’t get caught in the game of ROI for small things. Talk about portfolio ROI.
Then what we measure really depends. You’ve got your vanity stats because you kind of want to know your population and what your monthly actives are and your unique users. But beyond that, you have to measure, one, what you think is really important. If you’re in a moment of truth, you need to measure success across a moment of truth. Maybe you need to measure net promoter score one side then the other.
That means you have to run experiments, take people through a new experience and measure what their net promoter score was at the end versus the net promoter score of people on the old path.
We have this idea of relationship net promoter score, so RNPS, which is the long-term [of] how you feel. Then TNPS, which is, through a transaction, how did you feel? Then other than that it’s, you’ve got to come back to the product teams. It’s like any good data science. KPI is no different. What question do you need to answer? You have to think about the questions you need to answer and then plan for the data to answer those questions.
From a development perspective, it’s great to put the infrastructure in to be able to say, “I want real-time stats. I want batch stats. I’ve got these different things that I want to get back from my application to make it very easy for developers to instrument.” Whereas, product comes in and says, “Could you find these things out for me?” They’re like, “Yeah, that’s easy. I can just go and add that.”
Beyond that, it really depends [on] what you’re trying to answer for that question. If you’ve got a funnel problem with, “Hey, how do I track from when somebody downloads an application, how many people go through, set up an account, and they watch that first video and go to the second video?” That’s very different than saying, “I want to understand the heat map of how somebody moves through our user experience.” We’d say in England, “Horses for courses,” but it really is about understanding the question; design your data feeds and your data analysis for the answer.
Michael Krigsman: Let’s actually talk tech for a moment since you brought up data, which is such an interesting topic. Brian, jump in as well. How can organizations use data in the service of customer experience, in the service of digital transformation? Where do you get that data, and how does Comcast, how do you think about data? I know you’ve just been talking about that a little bit.
Chris Satchell: We have huge amounts of data across everything, whether it’s our products. You can only vaguely imagine how much data our network produces. We’re using it in many ways. We use it operationally to keep the service running, to give customers a great service. We also use it, as I said, to answer product questions, to understand where we should go next in our products.
More and more, we have a very strong machine learning, artificial intelligence, and deep learning set of core teams here, and so we’re using that data to not only sort of find out new insights to be able to recognize in our products; we’re using that data to actually create new product experiences that you can only create with those intelligent methods. Then the same with operations, feeding data in and looking for that sort of pattern matching recognition and next action recommendation that you can only do by using very deep networks to be able to recognize all this data coming in.
We’re starting to use data as a way to actually change how we operate and as a core of how we build and the functionality our products deliver. I think that’s going to become common to many companies. You will start. Data will become part of the product. I think what we’re finding is the algorithms that are available are becoming a commodity. You can get great data algorithms everywhere.
The actual technology frameworks–whether it’s MXNet, whether it’s TensorFlow–analysis and modeling frameworks are becoming a commodity. The real thing you have as a company is your data. The models you build with that data, that is your secret sauce. That is your gold. We’re very focused on, how do we use our data effectively? It’s more of a question of capacity. We have infinite amounts of great questions and things we can do. It’s just sequencing them through product development, through product insights, through network operations and customer experience to be able to get the most valuable things done first.
I think we always talk about big data. Now we’re talking about A.I. and machine learning, but all of that–let’s just remember–they’re just tools. Without great people thinking great ideas, without being able to actually develop it, without actually being able to take the insights or the data and have the actuation loop to really affect things, there’s no point collecting it.
I mean I used to joke that what would happen is, in the big data world, you’d have a board of director that says, “We need data.” Dutifully, the company would go off and gather, like, huge amounts of data. Then they would say, “Well, nothing is happening,” and so they go, “Ah, we need more data!” So you get even bigger data.
Then you realize a little bit later, you’ve got no insights from it, so you start building the insight engine. You have this, like, huge first bit, and then it narrows to insights. Then still nothing happens. Everybody is scratching their heads, and then you realize actuation. There was no pathway to take the results we had and actually change the world based on that. You kind of want it to look more like a pipe where your insights match your analysis match your ability to actuate.
The last point I’ll say on that is the trouble is lots of people are very opinionated. They used to, in the old world, say, “Well, this is my opinion, and so let’s go do it.”
Brian Solis: [Laughter]
Chris Satchell: Then you say, “Well, we’re going to become a data-driven organization,” and what they really mean is, “I’m going to be a data-driven organization unless I disagree with the data. Then suddenly I’m going to challenge the data, not my thinking.”
There is a cultural element where you really need to start being able to check your ego and say, “Wow. I’m surprised. I had an insight. My insight was wrong, but I’ve got a new insight. Let’s go drive that.” If you can get those to line up, you can actually start making a change in the org.
Michael Krigsman: Brian Solis, as you look across many organizations, this role of data, what are you seeing? What do you suggest? I love this notion of data being the key because algorithms are a commodity.
Brian Solis: [Laughter] Yeah, I mean it’s one of the reasons why I’m vice president of the Chris Satchell fan club.
Chris Satchell: [Laughter]
Brian Solis: I think I report to his wife, who is the president of the fan club.
Chris Satchell: [Laughter]
Brian Solis: But, you know, he nailed it right. I mean he’s been nailing everything. But, right there at the end, it’s the biggest challenge I’ve seen data meet. This is across the board in any conversation is that, remember, the challenges for any of this are human. Really, what you have is that you’re working against a career long of experiences that are behind every executive, or behind every decision-maker that you’re working with, in that they got to that role of where they are because they’ve made great decisions along the way. Those decisions have fortified their experiences and have validated their beliefs and their perspectives.
What you’re really trying to do is challenge convention. This is where it gets very difficult because data only reinforces what you want to see or what you expect to see, and so you have to. This is one of the reasons why I say being a data storyteller and having common language is that you have to be able to get data to tell the story of what is actually happening based on an assumption that is going to challenge the convention. This is the art of it, and this is where it gets very difficult because what you’re essentially doing is trying to apply a Jedi mind trick to someone who doesn’t want to be wrong in a way that you get them to feel that they’re part of the solution and that, in some way, shape, or form that they’re validated in this direction.
I mean just apply this to any conversation about politics on Facebook today. It’s very different to say, “This is what I think, and this is what someone else is thinking.” They’ll come back and say, “Wow, you’ve completely changed my mind. Thank you for that.”
Michael Krigsman: [Laughter]
Brian Solis: I mean that just never happens.
The other thing, too, is that the story is bigger than, I think, anyone is really able to comprehend. What Chris mentioned earlier and what I’d love to kind of go back to at some point is that NPS is one of those things that validate part of the story and can validate the old story or can validate the new story. Chris has used moments of truth, which is something I’m a big believer in.
If you look at the proper definition of customer experience, or employee experience for that matter, it is the sum of all engagements someone has with your organization throughout the entire journey and throughout the lifecycle. It’s not just about any one moment. It’s about how all those moments come together.
What I try to use data for, and also metrics–coming back to that point–is something that I’ve learned from a good friend of mine named Thomas Marzano at Philips where you’ve created essentially an experience flow where you’ve taken all of those key moments of truth. You’ve designed what those experiences should be, how they parlay into every bit of it, and it doesn’t just play out into a flow. It also plays out into what’s the messaging, what’s the packaging, what’s the support infrastructure look like, what do the policies look like?
You’re building out this whole thing where NPS, or whatever metrics you want to use–as Chris mentioned, you look transactionally and also overall–you’re now starting to measure for what I call experience architecture. What is the experience that someone is supposed to have? That is the design. We’re not talking about a brand style guide. We’re not talking about corporate vision or mission. We are talking about the human emotion, and we’ll measure those emotions by the reactions that they have and what happens next.
Essentially, what I feel is ironic, but also beautiful at the same time, is that A.I. and machine learning and deep learning are allowing us to humanize all of these aspects, leaning on technology to actually humanize these experiences that someone has to say, “This is the standard of which we want to deliver, and now let’s design for that.”
I have two questions that I want to kind of flop back over to Chris. One is, how did you get to what is essentially becoming an experience flow, and how did you get people to see that? Then the second part is, how did you get to this agile-like organization?
I document digital transformation in six stages. Comcast is up there at the top of the stages, but you had to get there from a point that was before your time that was nowhere close to the fourth, fifth, or sixth stage. I think people would want to hear two things about experience flow, which I think is part of the story of how you got people to the table. Then secondly, how you got executives to support an agile infrastructure.
Chris Satchell: The experience flow side, some of it, I think, we got to and I got to personally from kind of just hard lessons. I can go back a couple of companies, and I can think about this. Here’s what sort of threw me into experience flow. You build the next generation of your app, the next release, and it’s great. It’s better than the current one.
You put it in the app store, and the ratings go way down. That’s hard. We really tested it. We thought it was great. Then you go read the comments, and you realize the comments are really rating your upgrade cycle or your upgrade path, not the actual app once you’re in there.
There are comments, “Oh, it made me log in again.” “Oh, it nuked my preferences.” “Oh, I have to reattach something or re-log into another service.”
What they’re really saying is, “You thought too narrowly about what the application was. You thought the experience was just, ‘Well, everything is good. Now, I iterate through and I get to do something.’” It’s like, “No. You have to think about what is it like when you upgrade? What is it like when you acquire that application? How do you get into it? How do you learn about the application, first of all? How do you even pick the application?
As you got those hard lessons, you start spanning out from the core experience in each direction, and you’re saying, “Well, hang on. The world is bigger than I thought.” If every touch point is giving an impression of our brand and of our services, oh dear because I have not been managing two-thirds of it.
One of the messages that we give to product managers is, you have to think all the way from the beginning. Think about even when the person doesn’t even know they have a need for it. How are you going to tell them about that? How do they actually discontinue the relationship with that application, and how would they go and be a promoter? Can the app help them do that?
It means you’ve got to measure in the field. Your job as a product manager does not finish when the thing is released. Then you start actively measuring what’s happening in the field, and you’ve got to react to that both on the ideas you had for the next version plus this. In a way, you have to start mapping out all the points in an experience journey.
Sure, if you imagine this on a piece of paper, probably the engagement bit, once you’ve gone through acquisition and you’ve set up and you’re ready to go, it’s probably got the most flows within it, but you kind of have to think about how they work together. How would they recommend this to somebody else? How do you get them re-engaged?
If they do want to leave, how do you have a nice, clean exit relationship? I think that should be great as well. There’s no point making it difficult for somebody. That just kind of annoys them. It’s like, “Hey, you’ve decided to leave because you maybe don’t like something or maybe it’s not useful. On the way out, we’re going to kick you a bit because we think that will make you a promoter after this.” It’s, “Hey, if we just keep kicking you, you’ll stay.” It’s a silly way to think about how people engage.
One is, you just have to start in the middle and think broad. You just have to tell your product managers, tell your developers, keep thinking broadly and keep asking the question, “Well, what would happen then? What happens if I don’t have this?”
I wish I could remember who to attribute this to. Brian, you might remember. It’s that show me how much you care about your edge cases, and I’ll show you how much you care about your customer. That is one of the kinds of little insidious things about MVP. People took MVP to mean, “Oh, I’m just going to do my core experience, and I won’t worry about all the edge cases.”
I think that term should have died about seven years ago because now consumers do not have the time or patience. If you’re not thinking about that journey, if you’re not thinking about edge cases, you’ve got kind of a minute now, maybe two, to convince people to keep using your application. If you haven’t thought about your onboard journey, and you’ll see app developers really do this well now, but if you’ve not thought about it, if you’re not thinking about how you get in or how you have an effective first couple of minutes that are orchestrated to make it great and how you go on to your next experience, you’re going to lose people. You can’t just have an MVP anymore. We like to talk about having MLP, like minimum lovable product.
On the agile side, let’s give my boss, Tony Werner, a lot of credit. He really took Comcast from being an aggregator, and integrator, to a full technology shop. Our ex-CTO, Shree Kotay, he did a great job of championing agile. Then I think the more people you bring in, and as we brought people in from all other industries, as we keep hiring from great universities, people just expect that agile is the way you’re going to work.
For us, we have to have continuous delivery. We have to have a very rapid release. There’s no other way. Our products are too big to try to have, like, monolithic releases or waterfall. You have to allow sprint teams to release independently. Maybe into the same vehicle, but they have to be able to release their code individually.
That just becomes really important for velocity, and I think we think a lot about velocity. I’ll give you an example. We’ve got a program called RDK, and it is the firmware for all of our devices. We open source it. There are about 700 companies that are onboard using it.
One of the reasons we do it, the main reason is, we can change our firmware, and we do change our firmware and our hardware every two weeks. Now, we do multiple releases in between, and we take them to 5%. We check if they’re solving the problems we thought or adding the functionality correctly. But, every two weeks we’re rolling a full firmware release across our hardware footprint. We can’t do that unless we have agile teams and we control that code. Everything we do is set up for these teams to be able to deliver quickly.
I think one of the nice things about Comcast is we had an executive team–Brian, Neil Smit when he was the COO, now Dave as the COO, and Tony–that believed in us and said, “Well, as long as you keep producing great results, we don’t really mind how you organize development,” so we’re constantly tweaking it to make it great for our staff and make it productive.
We just say, “Focus on the results. Look how fast we can get things out. Look how much we’re producing. Look at the quality. Don’t focus on our development methods. Just let us worry about that in development.”
Michael Krigsman: Fantastic! We are past time. We are out of time. We are done. This has gone by so quickly. But, as we go to the end, Brian, you’re going to have the last word, but quick, quick, quick. Then, Chris, another alternative is we could just maybe do this for another hour or two.
Michael Krigsman:[Laughter] Brian, you’ve got the last word, very quickly, though – very quick.
Brian Solis: All right, Chris. I’m just going to turn this to you for a quick, quick, quick answer. That is, I talk often about the difference between iteration and innovation. Many companies think they’re being innovative, but they’re actually being iterative, which I describe as doing the same thing, but better, whereas innovation is doing new things that create new value.
I look at the Comcast or the Xfinity remote as sort of this metaphor for the two. Buttons are iterative: backlit keys, dedicated buttons. Then the voice, the whole infrastructure for voice was innovative. How did you get the company to see the difference between the two?
Michael Krigsman: Chris, really quick because we are out of time. We’re past time.
Chris Satchell: It’s a continuum, so I think small iteration is just micro innovation. You need innovation that’s small. You need innovation that’s medium where you’re expanding products. You need innovations doing completely new things, and you have people dedicated across that time continuum.
Michael Krigsman: All right, that was quick. Really, this has been a fast conversation. I sure wish we had more time. Chris Satchell, you’re executive vice president and chief product officer at Comcast. I hope you’ll come back and do this again another time.
Chris Satchell: Would love to.
Michael Krigsman: Brian Solis, you are one of the top researchers on change and digital transformation in the world. We’re honored that you are back again, and I hope you will come back and do this another time as well.
Brian Solis: Yeah, absolutely.
Michael Krigsman: Dear, audience members, we hope you will definitely come back. [Laughter]
Next week on CxOTalk, next Friday, we are speaking with Michael Chui, who runs McKinsey Global Institute. That’s the research arm of McKinsey. When he does research on the future and he does research on artificial intelligence, man, he’s the guy to listen to.
Everybody, thanks so much for watching CxOTalk. Come back soon. Be sure to like us on Facebook. Don’t forget that. See you later, everybody. Bye-bye.