Microsentiments and Mister Rockefeller

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On September 16, 1976, I learned a valuable lesson in communication. I was in high school and had my share of teen-aged angst. Like most people that age, I was constantly struggling to communicate my thoughts without getting in trouble at school or at home. I was raised in a home that didn’t tolerate profanity, and it wasn’t a safe space if you didn’t honor the authority of your parents and teachers.

On that September day, I saw a photo of Nelson Rockefeller, then US Vice President, giving a well-known one-fingered gesture to hecklers at a speech in Binghamton, NY. I think you know the gesture to which I’m referring.

Wow. What a shock to my system! Someone that old, serving in that position, and with decades of experience in dealing with people that disagreed with him. As far as I know, that was the first time a high-level politician was filmed doing that. I think the entire country was shocked.

I want to publicly state that I don’t approve of that gesture and haven’t used it for decades myself. But I do understand some of its appeal. In one second, the purveyor of this physical act can let the intended target know exactly how they feel about them. Obviously, the target of said gesture can do what they want with the information.

Knowing exactly how someone feels can be very valuable. So, how could we use the idea of quick, nearly effortless feedback in the digital world of today? In other words, how can we gather what I’ll call microsentiments and use them to make our businesses better?

I have an idea. Instead of lengthy surveys about a website or online service, why not put a binary indicator (happy face/sad face or green light/red light) on each page or part of the process? You could include a short, optional comment section that would accept perhaps 100 characters. If you had that in place, I can imagine the following:

  • When browsing an online retail site for a suitcase, I can punch the red button and type “Would love to see the inside of the bag, but because I can’t, no sale.”
  • When paying to renew my home alarm system registration with the local police, I can click the red button to show my distaste with the requirement.
  • When I schedule a dental appointment and like the online app, I can punch the green button to signify my appreciation of the ease of access.
  • When I try to book flights using rewards miles and can’t ever find a seat on the dates I need, I can click the red button and write a comment to the airline.
  • When I’m searching for a car part on an online catalog, I can reflect whether it was easy or difficult to use.

The idea is to gather these microsentiments for every product and every step of a digital process. Rather than reading hundreds of comments and trying to interpret them, allow a binary choice and an optional comment. The software required to analyze the resulting feedback would be simple to code and extremely revealing to product managers, engineers, marketing people and more. It’s literally the Facebook Like button being paired with a Dislike button and put on everything your customer is forced to interact with. It’s quick and easy for your customers to use, and you’ll get more feedback because it’s so effortless.

Not to mention more polite than Mr. Rockefeller was that day.

Post Date: 5/10/2016

Brad Rucker - NTT DATA Brad Rucker

About the author

In 1981, Mr. Rucker spent his entire monthly salary on a TRS-80 Color Computer, taught himself to code and never looked back. Since then he has been a programmer, DBA, system designer, project manager, CIO, CTO and COO. Currently he serves as SVP of the Digital Applications & Information Management Practices at NTT DATA Services.

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