Ep. 224 – Michael Yaksich – How one of the Fastest Startups in the Silicon Valley is Using Market Research

My guest today is Michael Yaksich, Director of Customer Strategy at Cruise. Headquartered in San Francisco, Cruise is a self driving technology company that will offer a ride hailing service initially in San Francisco. Prior to joining Cruise, Michael has worked in insights at Hyundai, BrandIQ, Cadillac, and Honda.

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Website: https://getcruise.com

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This episode is brought to you by Clearworks. Clearworks is an insights, innovation, and customer-experience company. They help clients understand their customers better, identify opportunities for innovation, and create products, services, and experiences that matter. Their clients are diverse in size and industry but share one important thing: a passion to drive more business by driving more meaningful human connection. For more information, please visit them at www.clearworks.net.


[00:01]

On Episode 224, I’m interviewing Michael Yaksich, the Director of Customer Strategy at Cruise, but first a word from our sponsor.

[00:07]  

This episode is brought to you by Clearworks.  So, we have a couple of sponsors on our show. I just want to underscore how much I appreciate those of you who have sponsored the Happy Market Research Podcast.  It makes a ton of value to the ecosystem that is actually transcending market research right now. I say “transcending”; that’s probably the wrong framework, but exceeding, moving beyond into user experience research as well as data analytics and insights.

Clearworks, thank you so much for your sponsorship.  For those of you who don’t know, they are insights and innovation and customer experience company.  They help their clients understand their customers better, identify opportunities for innovation, and create products, services, and experience that actually matter.  Their clients are diverse, both in size and industry, probably like all of ours, but they do share one important thing, which is a passion to drive more business by driving more meaningful human connections.  You can find them online at www.clearworks.net.  Again, it’s www.clearworks.net.  And again, thank you so much for your time.     

[01:20]  

Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast.  My guest today is Michael Yaksich, Director of Customer Strategy at Cruise. Headquartered in San Francisco, Cruise is a self-driving technology company that will offer a ride-hailing service initially in San Francisco.  Prior to joining Cruise, Michael has worked in insights at Hyundai, BrandIQ, Cadillac, and Honda. Michael, thanks for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.

[01:51]  

Yeah, thanks for having me.

[01:53]

So, tell us a little bit about how you wound up in research.

[01:56]

At least from all the people I’ve ever spoken to, it’s pretty common to say it’s not something you set out to do from the get-go.  I mean how many people have said “Yes” that you might have asked this question to in the past? 

[02:09]   

One.  So, I’ve done over 140 interviews, and I’ve had, I believe, one.  I might be mistaken, but I really think it’s one person that said intentionally they set out in college to be in market research or consumer insights.  

[02:23]

Yeah, I feel like that it’s more of a recent phenomenon.  I mean, growing up, my career aspirations went from wanting to be a marine biologist at Sea World and all those things that come with that and all the way to wanting to go into finance and then eventually discovering sociology in school, which kind of led me down this path.  I guess that’s a normal discipline that might lead people down this pathway. But, to me, ultimately, in the end, I think people are really drawn to what they’re passionate about because of something they’ve gone through or something they’ve experienced or even where they come from.  And I think that where-you-come-from piece was really strong from me. I grew up outside of Youngstown, Ohio, if you might know where that’s at. It’s a pretty blue-collar part of the country where people… I guess the best way to describe it is that people really have been left behind economically there for quite a number of years.  And so, really what was important was family and community and even your neighborhood because that’s where your support and your encouragement and everything came from. And so, because of that, you really took on a type of responsibility even as a kid to look out for everybody. And so, I think, thinking about this question and thinking through this question a little bit more, that to me, at least, on a deeper level I think led me towards this career pathway to be more inclined to think about other people’s points of views or needs or, you know, what’s really motivating them or what’s going to help make their lives better.     

[03:58]  

Yeah, that’s interesting.  You have the majority of the population in the U.S. that lives on the coasts…  And it’s interesting I come from Fresno or central California, which is a similar demographic profile. Especially in context of being in California, you wouldn’t think of Fresno necessarily being some of the poorest… one of the poorest zip codes in America.  But it definitely creates a level of empathy that, if harnessed correctly, can help you want to understand consumers and just people in general, maybe even beyond just a consumption pattern and help identify where you can add value in a true way to that to people’s lives.      

[04:47]

Mm-hmm, exactly.

[04:48] 

That other thing that’s interesting is this intellectual curiosity, I would say, is probably a theme I’ve seen among people that have entered into this space as it relates with human behavior.  I think, if you look now, you’ve got University of Massachusetts, they have a Master’s program focused on market research; Georgia does as well. Both of those colleges, incidentally, have a 100% job placement rate prior to graduation, which is unbelievable.  So, just goes to show you that while the C-level or the executive level inside of the insights space now… while marketing research and UX, they didn’t really have… That wasn’t a known career path 15, even 10 years ago, whereas now it seems like it’s becoming, it’s scaling up and becoming a much bigger part of the corporate ecosystem.  So, people are being a little bit more intentional as it relates with their area of focus and desire in a career.      

[05:55]

At least from my perspective…  My team is called customer strategy; we’re not market research.  And to me, that really represents the evolution of the traditional market research function.  It is the next step. And, when you think about it that way, you take a different perspective, right?  You’re touching many functions like you would in research, but you’re not only doing and executing research:  You have Big Data involved, analytics, some machine learning, even design research techniques. But it goes beyond just the insights, just beyond that piece of the execution to really try to drive customer centricity into the heart and soul of the business, all the way from the business activities to, I would say, the culture, the ethos that people have that work there, right?  And that’s a big, big pivot.      

[06:55]

A huge pivot, it’s a huge pivot.  At a corporate level… So, there are two things that are interesting for me on this front.  One is you’re talking about a shift in corporate behavior. This week I dropped the episode with Estrella Lopez-Brea of a cereal partnership between Nestlé and General Mills.  In that, she actually said this is the most exciting time to be in an insights function because for the first time, we’re getting the red carpet rolled out to us from the boardroom.  She also referenced this… I think I can share… Well, anyway I might be able to share a slide with you of it. The Watermark Report, it’s a longitudinal study on the Fortune 500, and it identifies changes in the laggards and the leaders inside of that ecosystem.  Unambiguously, the communality across the companies that are successful are customer-centric, whereas the companies that are not are the laggards, the underperformers, the anchors on the S&P. It’s just so factually based as to, if you don’t have the customer in the center of your decisions, then you are going to not succeed.  But then the other side of your point, which I think is really interesting, is this evolution of market research into strategy. I’ve never heard in these episodes so far somebody articulate it exactly like that, but I think it’s an important point because (and I have been talking a lot about this point) that it is about 5 to 1 in market researchers to UX researchers or professionals; user experience is what I mean by that.  So in the corporate ecosystem, you’re seeing a lot of focus centered around… and there’s a difference in the type of work that they do. Basically, market researchers are more broadly capable – I’d put it like that – whereas the UX seems to be very centric to product and so they go much deeper and then they also go up and down the value chain farther with respect to the insights and the decisions that are made. But, your point about this strategy is, I think, really on point, which is to say it is the evolution or the next phase for where research is moving inside of the decision tree.        

[09:30]    

Mm-hmm, it’s become less functional.  At least, that’s my opinion on it, my perspective.

[09:37]

That’s interesting.  All right, well, so tell me a little bit about Cruise if you don’t mind.  You guys are a startup. I’m sure everything is confidential, and that’s totally fine.  I know you’re headquartered in San Francisco. Of course, I reviewed the website. What drew you to this particular startup?

[09:54]

Well, it’s extremely exciting.  A lot of my background was in automotive, and so, I was pretty familiar with the space.  When I was at Cadillac, we had super-cruise technology there, which is semi-autonomous, hands-free driving, that the team I was part of did some work around after the vehicle was launched to understand how people were using it and their level of satisfaction and the like to help improve the feature for the car itself.  But, to me, Cruise really represents a little bit of what we were talking about in the beginning of podcast about, you know, why did I get into research? Why did I get into this pathway to begin with? Because, as I mentioned, it was just a general point of view to better people and better people’s lives and understand their perspective…  And so, there’s that curiosity element, as you said, the research component, searching for the answer or the insight, right? But then there is also what I like to call the softer component, which is really that the brand and the company really has people at the center of it, and everything that we’re doing, even as you read in the introduction, is around making people’s lives better.  And it’s a huge challenge, and it’s a huge opportunity as well. It’s something that will completely at scale or maybe even not at scale change how we live, the nature of how we live. Deaths could be completely eliminated, right, as for example. I see it as both a win-win and both sides of the coin for me as to why I joined it. Also, because I really wanted to take on another opportunity to build a team.  This is the second time I’ve gone about doing it. The first time at Cadillac was just with a smaller insights group within a larger, much larger, organization. This time around it’s just completely from the ground up in every way possible, I mean, every way possible.       

[12:04]  

How exciting.  That’s a perfect place to be able to sit.  I mean you’re solving… As a life-long commuter, I’m in the Bay Area or L.A. weekly.  Actually, after this recording, I’m jumping into the car and going to San Francisco, ironically.  But we’re always in the state of spending, it feels like, spending time traveling. Man, if that problem can get solved that would be…  Talk about an improvement to overall life! And then the other part, Gosh, being able to build something from the ground up in context of a team and a product, for that matter, that’s an exciting opportunity.  How do you go about uh…? I know there’s a war on talent. I think that’s how people are casting it now in the Bay Area. How do you go about attracting people?

[12:53]

Well, that’s actually a really good question.  Well, right now we have to hire a lot of people.  So I believe by the end of the year we’re going to be doubling our organization, going from, I think, around 1,400 right now.  (We were 1,200 when I joined in January.) So it’s going to be over, maybe over 2,000. The vast majority of the people will be in engineering and data science ‘cause that’s the bulk of the work.  But I can say we do have one assistant manager position open on my team. I’ll reach out there. If anybody listening is interested, they definitely can reach out to me.    

[13:34]

Yeah, for sure, totally.  And if you shoot me the job description, I’ll post it on LinkedIn.  

[13:40]

Yeah, definitely growing tremendously.  Word of mouth is big. In the Bay Area, it is a war for talent, especially on the engineering side.  But, to me, I’ve hired two people on my team recently; we’ve been together for about three months now – the three of us.  I think it really comes down to the challenge that’s presented and the opportunity to be building something that’s this big from the ground up.  Working at Cruise and in this space is, basically, a once-in-a-lifetime kind of opportunity because not many people get to literally lay, at least even from a customer strategy or research perspective…  Not many people get to say that they were at the birth of something and built the foundational knowledge before there was anything that could be built. And what I mean by that is not that research hasn’t been conducted in the self-driving space at all.  Of course, there’s been research there. But there’s a lot of kind of first-evers that we’re doing here, right, because the level of specificity and the commercial intent and drive behind everything we’re doing as a team is much more intense because it’s actually a business, right?  It’s not necessarily just exploration or learning or extremely broad-based in its applications. So I think that that adds a new level to everything.        

[15:15] 

So, I got a…  When Tesla released the Model 3, the low priced one, I went ahead and traded in my gas- or diesel-guzzling truck and then purchased one.  And it has completely changed my… And it’s not like fully autonomous, right, but it has completely changed my life with respect to how the cruise control operates.  It took me, I want to say, the better part of almost two months just to get acclimated to… It’s almost like a trust factor is how I put it, like a dating relationship in a lot of ways with the technology.  I mean that in all sincerity. It was a completely different. Like, “I don’t trust you, Tesla.” Yeah, right. So, anyway.          

[16:03]

I mean that right there is one of the biggest challenges and even things that I’m really intent on understanding overall.  Trust is one way of thinking about it, but understanding what will drive adoption for Cruise or even for the technology without it becoming something of a long-term novelty to people, right?  That’s a very, very essential question right now. And so, for context, right, for context purposes for this, today people are mostly exposed to the idea of self-driving technology from kind of sensationalized media, right:  so, crashes of Teslas and crashes of their cars. So there’s some awareness out there about mobility. But there’s not really common understanding; there’s definitely some skepticism. And even the ways that benefits of the technology or what a service like Cruise would provide or even the forms that the technology could take haven’t really been made tangible, I think, for people to understand or even relate to.  As I’ve kind of put it before some other colleagues, it’s like we’re not only building a brand here, we’re also at the forefront of building an entirely new category that just doesn’t exist, right? And it takes a lot of work to do that.        

[17:35]

I actually think it’s a lot like the horse and buggy versus the original automobile.  When I say it’s disruptive from a driving perspective, it’s that different. It’s like a different sort of a thing.   

[17:47]

Mm-hmm.  Yeah, that’s exactly it.  So what I’m thinking about on a deeper consumer level is how can we unlock what we call tensions, right?  That example that you gave is kind of a tension in transportation: a tension between something that’s familiar like riding in a car or even on a horse or whatever and the technology or solution that comes along that disrupts it and makes you have to give up part of what makes that experience familiar to you in the first place, right?   

[18:20]   

Right.

[18:21]

That right there is sort of the challenge, and what we’re trying to do is really hone in on it and identify and begin working like today on how we can even think about accelerating adoption when the cars are on the road…  I mean the cars are on the road in San Francisco but when people, consumers, are in the cars ‘cause marketing, pricing, product experience – all that stuff – is going to have an impact. But I feel like, as you’re pointing out, with a change that’s of this magnitude overall, it still begs the question of, “Is there something else going on?”  “Is there something that we’re not taking into consideration?” because the horse to automobile… That’s a good example of a similar thing happening, but that was so long ago, right? There’s not much data on that. We can’t really go look back and come up with a KPI, you know.     

[19:17]      

That’s true.  It would be funny to do that though, I think.  Anyway, yeah. So, you’re building a team. How do you go about finding new vendors and research partners?

[19:29]

So, honestly, I’ve traditionally relied on word of mouth.  That’s been my biggest go-to for the most part or if something piques my interest.  It’s really the combination of those two. It’s like marketing: it’s like right time, right place, right person.  It’s all those things. But, most the time, I’ve been thinking about this a lot quite recently because I’m really focused on building the team’s capabilities out.  So, right now, tools, solutions, anything that goes beyond survey platforms ‘because we do have a survey platform. We have two now that we can leverage in-house because agility is key for us…are really the things I’m most interested in.  Anything that adds the value and can still push the envelope is also of interest too. But then, as I mentioned, customer strategy (It’s just not research)… We’re also leveraging analytics and doing a lot with third-party data. Something that I’ve been looking for a lot has been behavioral data related to how people just move about cities, San Francisco, all cities, major cities.  So, it’s modes of transportation. Who are the people themselves who do this? You name it ‘cause there’s so much of wealth of data out there to be tapped into and it’s an area that the opportunity that’s unlocked by the technology is so great that you do have to cast the net broad as well. So trying to get at that behavioral piece, I think, is really, really essential. And that’s, again, something that we would look at for a partner to help provide.              

[21:17]

OK, that’s actually a bunch of gold right there for our listeners.  I’d imagine that LinkedIn is a pretty good way for people to be able to contact you if they feel they have some value they could add?  

[21:26]  

Yeah, yeah, that’s absolutely fine.  Again, we’re really taking on a big challenge with a lot of unknowns.  The research is “in concept” because no consumer is experiencing the technology right now.  So, capabilities and solutions that we can leverage quickly as a team are…that would help speak to these challenges would be of very high interest to me.   

[21:57]  

So, in context of all the unknowns, what sort of tips, tricks, or methodologies, techniques, whatever are you leveraging to understand the heart of the consumer?   

[22:06]  

So, I’ll back it up a bit.  My team only has been together for about three months now.  I’m just giving you the context. But we’re small, but we’re mighty.  So, we’ve actually conducted about six projects.  

[22:22]

Nice.

[22:22]  

Yeah, so, it’s quite a bit.  We’re averaging about two a month, which is actually, I think, pretty impressive.  So, most of the work has been really focused around unpacking what drives the decisions people are making as it relates to ordering a ride, the space we’re going to go into and offer service to customers; and also unpacking benefits and barriers as it relates to building our brand and understanding how people think about the technology overall.  On the research front, I guess there’s a lot of opportunities as you can imagine, but there aren’t really, I’d say, tips or tricks around technique and method. I think anything we can do to get people as close as we can to the experience in what we’re developing, it’s really going to help us. And that’s something that we’re working on and trying to do ‘cause it’s a lot of confidentiality involved, but we definitely want to do that.  But I’d say just being only here for a few months and less than a year now, I’m just building up the capabilities in the team quickly. I probably could say that there’s a couple of tips or perspectives that have kind of emerged for me or kind of come up for me ‘cause, again, this is my first foray into tech. And it’s not just traditional tech; it’s super-emerging tech.   

[23:42]  

Deep.

[23:44]  

It’s forefront, leading edge.  So, I think for anyone who’s going into this space or applying for the job to join the team, a couple things have stood out for me.  One was I’ve learned that when you go into a new category, you have to really be humble about what you do because you’re just not going to know the answer or be able to find the data or you’re going to fail quite frankly because it’s unknown territory.  And you have to be open and willing to doing that and so I think it takes a level of humility, especially as a researcher. A lot of people really want to, “Can I get the right answer?” “Can I really deliver the insight?” “Can I get there to really help move the needle?”  And, in this space, you want to be prepared to not know. And sometimes you want to be prepared to go beyond the data because you won’t be able to find the exact data that you need. It’s not just the insight but also the inference; it’s that extra piece; it’s the consultative moment. I think focus is important, so being focused especially when you have to execute.  And what I mean by that is really like I think what’s successful for people in this space is that you have to be really purposeful on how you spend your time and your resources. The way that I’ve described it to people is you have to Marie Kondo everything and anything when possible because you can’t take on every request there is. And I think this is a common thing for people in research and insights.  You can’t necessarily take on every request. You have to know when not to because taking on everything that’s coming from everywhere will get you absolutely nowhere.  

[25:42]

Right.

[25:43]

And the environment is extremely fast paced.  So, you have to Marie Kondo: You have to remove the things or be willing to remove the things that are not going to help get you to the goal.

[25:55]   

Yeah, and that’s part of one of the biggest impediments that I’ve seen over the last 20 years, is we continue to see what I call research bloat because all these disparate stakeholders continue to weigh in and research just tries to accommodate these disparate objectives and then, ultimately, you wind up watering down the research to the point where it’s really not particularly useful, at least in the specificity of the original reason it was spawned.  I think that’s a really important point of exercising the discipline around the research that it maintains the focus and so that you’re able to (one) get it to field quick and get the answer quick and then iterate it as you need to.  

[26:40]

Mm-hmm.  We’ve been very rigorous on my team with this in that we line-by-line align company objective, departmental objective, research objective, only one line.  It’s all got to be seamless all the way through before it gets greenlighted because it’s pretty much a race to the market. It’s a big technology, and a lot of people are racing to get there.  And you have to be focused with it; you have to be focused. I think being open is important and that goes with this. And what I mean by being open is don’t get wedded to a project; don’t fall in love with the research.  And you definitely have to have the capability to either execute it quickly or change things on the fly. And, if either one cannot be done, you just have to be open; you have to be ready for things to change on a dime ‘cause it’s just part of the nature of the pace and of the development of the technology and the work that we’re doing.  

And then the other thing that I think is important and this to me kind of comes from, I think it kind of comes from experience of being in this territory and in tech and in San Francisco is that I encourage my team to also be hungry, so always be thinking ahead to help move everybody you work with forward.  And so, what I mean by that is (and this is sort of part of the customer strategy piece that we were talking about earlier) is how do YOU help maintain the momentum; how do YOU think ahead and anticipate what the team might need. So it’s like anything you can do as a researcher that you can ensure that the customer’s voice is brought into the decision-making process sooner than people ever would have expected it to be, I think, is just a surprise and a delight across the board and everybody benefits from it.  And that’s not just planning a calendar, but I think it comes from this idea of having the passion and being hungry in what you want to do and what you want to achieve.    

[28:49]

Totally.  So, with respect to you sitting on the bleeding edge of innovation, what’s your perspective over the next two to three years on AR, VR, voice, etc.?  How’s that going to be mixed into the insights function?

[29:07] 

Oh, there’s probably a ton of ways.  I mean like if it lives up to the promise with the speed and the bandwidth, it could be completely game-changing for everything that’s done on an executional level.  You know the accuracy of the data, the volume of data you could collect is much, much more. There could be totally new solutions out there, I think. And even from the perspective of this is there’s also tighter integration with the experience the customer actually has.  And that’s where this gets very exciting for people who are or brands that are actually going to leverage AR, VR, voice, and anything that’s enabled through their technology or their offering with 5G because you’ll have much more of a seamless connection to the customer and you can create a new value proposition with them that will help you improve their lives and improve their experience while also providing you with the information and the insight that you need.  So, I think that’s one area as well: that’s there’s going to be that tighter integration, something like I don’t think we’ve seen yet. We’re getting there, but we haven’t seen it. I feel like it’s much been more like a technology as a tool applied versus more of a seamless integration between the technology and the experience and the data and the insights portion as well. Some other areas: I think we’re going to get next generation creative and concept testing.  If you think we’re going to be able to interact with questions, place people in situations… Even right now you put people with a big headset on and all of that, I think there’s just going to be much more capability as a result of the technology, especially when you’re trying to understand or simulate different messages or different interfaces or things that you want to provide during an in-car experience or even like testing in CPG space like shelf testing, package testing.  Right now, it’s all just straight choice tasks or interviewing people. That’s kind of what we’re doing. We haven’t really found (at least, I haven’t seen it) a very optimal kind of AR, VR experience that has been created.   

I’d say another spot was…  I think qualitative’s going to be…  Qualitative research just keeps getting better and better or at least they’ve done it through technology, keeps landing on that side in terms of how I see things.  Live streaming: you’ll have the bandwidth; you’ll have the capability to do that. Interview people at tasks. And I think even the AI and the machine learning aspect’s going to be even more exciting because right now we have chat bots but they’re pretty…  I think they’re going to be basic compared to what we’re going to see and even voice and leveraging the data that’s collected qualitatively through voice, even conversations, will be much more insightful so that kind of lends and blends the idea of qualitative being part of the Big Data solution as well.    

[32:18]

That’s really interesting.  Sorry, really quick, but you’re piggybacking on a theme that I’ve been seeing, which is technology (AI, etc.) NLP, facial recognition is making qualitative accessible and now being able to do it at scale.  Because before the analytics, the data collection was tough but the analytics was impossible once you got past 10 or 20 people. And now, all of a sudden, you can actually have the tools by which you can analyze and get to what all this disparate data actually is trying to bubble up as truth.  Yeah, it’s an interesting time for qualitative; I’m very bullish on it and its market share over the next 5 to 10 years.     

[32:58]    

Yeah, and I think even imagery is a space that’s interesting, you know, not just the voice.  But you can think of it derived what people put out on social. How do we think about that more and the opportunity that’s provided just through maybe more derived forms of insights versus researched forms?  Also, I think that our understanding of the customer journey’s also going to get a real boost from this technology. So, there should be much more of a wealth of location-based data. Behavioral data, in particular, I think is the most exciting.  I feel like every time we talk about the customer journey, it’s changing or it’s being reframed or sometimes even overly complex or overwhelming sometimes. And I think the promise of the technology will help us be able to parse out, simplify, and derive new meaning and insight from it and from what’s actually going on.  I think that that’s another piece that can really be unlocked.    

[34:07]

So, when you kind of pull back and look over your career across automotive and innovation, what is the project that you’re the most proud of?

[34:17]

Yeah, that’s a good question.  I’d have to say it’s actually quite recent.  I finished it up before I left Cadillac several months ago to join Cruise.  So, during my time there, I led a pretty long project where we dove into the current state of loyalty for the brand and even built a pretty robust model of loyalty drivers in the luxury automotive space, just trying to identify what specific levers from a product perspective, a communication perspective, an incentive perspective – all these different levers we could rely on to move the needle for us, right?  And what made the project so rewarding for me was (of course, that piece of it was very rewarding) was that I had the opportunity in my role there because I wasn’t just a senior manager of insights but also led strategic initiatives. And so, within that project itself, I was able to spearhead the development, execution of an all new marketing program basically to drive loyalty. And so, the result of the program actually led to incremental sales of the brand and generated some pretty good profit for the company overall.  And so, I think that to me was that tangible result and being part of it is not the norm for everybody who’s in research or customer-strategy-related field at all. You don’t often get to travel the whole pathway. And I tend to think we, as professionals, usually led through influence and not execution, for the most part. So, that I think was a point of pride because it was all the way from insights generation and understanding and learning and working throughout the organization with various partners to actually get something that really struck a chord with consumers so much and really helped the bottom line of the company overall.              

[36:22]  

Yeah, that’s funny in that the biggest complaint that I hear among researchers is they feel a little bit coggish relative to the product life cycle as opposed to conception all the way through to execution into the marketplace.  A lot of times you don’t have the satisfaction – the success or failure – of the assertions that you made in the research phases. In some ways, you feel like an outsider relative to the larger engine that’s driving the business forward.  That’s probably a little bit biased towards the agency side in our world as opposed to the internal researchers, but I still hear that from the internal researchers as well. It’s not surprising to me that would be the satisfaction that we’d get, you’d get specifically, would be connected to a project that had that sort of full market implication and execution point of view.    

[37:26]

Yeah, exactly.  But also, I think that’s where…  I’m going back to like the question is “What is customer strategy?”  I think that’s where the promise of the idea of customer strategy is the evolution of market research.  Within organizations, it’s kind of key. It’s about you going beyond; it’s alleviating or even going beyond the idea of plugging into a type of process and being actually integrated and having the seat at the table in that partnership way.  It should not be standardized to really be there.  

[38:06]

So, the not be standardized, you mean by that like cookie-cutter? 

[38:10]

I think, well, it’s different for every category; it’s different for every vertical.  But to not have that feeling: as professionals you don’t ever want to feel like you’re expendable or replaceable or anybody can come in and just be the cog that helps turn.  You don’t want that; you want that value. And so, even thinking about a functionality, the dangers of AI and machine learning and data processing is that you could see a future where some of the things that we do today are completely replaced.  And so, what is the value-add? Well, that strategic portion of it, that integration into everything that shapes completely with the organization is around the customer. You’re dressing the organization as such I think plays into that.  

[39:04] 

OK, cool.  I like that a lot.  Do you have a personal motto?

[39:09]

Actually, it was given to me by my partner:  going places. I don’t know why he gave me that.

[39:18]

I think I know.  

[39:22]

It sounds like…  Actually, it sounds like…  I have to look it up. Is it Toyota?  It’s not Toyota’s, Toyota’s motto.  

[05:29]   

I don’t know.  I’ve heard it.

[39:32]

Oh, “Let’s go places”.  That’s Toyota. I had to look that up there for a second.  It’s kind of funny and ironic, right, being in automotive transportation.

[39:44]      

Automotive. Yeah, for sure, I like that a lot.  That’s actually really good. That is very much a nice life motto, and it seems fitting for you.  My guest today has been Michael Yaksich, Director of Consumer Strategy at Cruise. Thank you, Michael, for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.

[40:04]

Thanks so much.  Take care.

[40:05]

Everyone else, if you would please take the time to “Like” this show, share it with friends, colleagues, family members.  As always, my mom’s really proud when you leave a 5-star review; so, if you’d take time to do that, it’d make my Christmas time a little better too.  Thanks so much. Have a wonderful rest of your day.

[40:26]  

This episode is brought to you by Clearworks.  They are an insights, innovation and customer experience company.  They help their clients understand their customers better, identify opportunities for innovation, and create products, services, and experience that actually matter.  Their clients are diverse, both in size and industry. They do share one important thing, which is a passion to drive more business by driving more meaningful human connections.  You can find them online at www.clearworks.net.  Again, it’s www.clearworks.net.  And again, thank you so much for your time.