Ep. 413 – How to Leverage Multi-Methods to Understand Your Customer with Steve Fadden, Research Lead at Cloud Platform at Google

My guest today is Steve Fadden, Research Lead for Cloud Platform at Google. 

Google is an American multinational technology company that specializes in Internet-related services and products, which include online advertising technologies, a search engine, cloud computing, software, and hardware. It is considered one of the five Big Tech companies along with Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft.

Prior to joining Google, Steve has held senior research roles at Salesforce and Dell. 

These interviews are being done in conjunction with the Qual360 North America 2021. It will take place virtually on a dedicated conference platform! The unique Qual360 concept allows for a diverse range of participants and topics at each conference, offering local trends as well as a global perspective. 

Qual360 North America 2021:

Website: https://na.qual360.com/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/merlien-institute 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Merlien 

Find Steve Online:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/stevefadden/  

Website: https://careers.google.com/ 

Find Jamin Online:

Email: jamin@happymr.com 

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/jaminbrazil

Twitter: www.twitter.com/jaminbrazil 

Find Us Online: 

Twitter: www.twitter.com/happymrxp 

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/happymarketresearch 

Facebook: www.facebook.com/happymrxp 

Website: www.happymr.com 

Music: 

“Clap Along” by Auditionauti: https://audionautix.com 

Epidemic Sound: https://www.epidemicsound.com/ 

This Episode is Sponsored by:

This episode is brought to you by Momentive. You may have heard that SurveyMonkey’s parent company recently rebranded as Momentive, a leader in agile insights and experience management. The Momentive AI-powered insights platform is built for the pace of modern business so you can deeply understand your market, elevate your brand, and build winning products faster. 

Momentive offers 22 purpose-built market research solutions that incorporate an AI engine, built-in expertise, sophisticated methodologies, and an integrated global panel of over 144M people to deliver meaningful insights in hours, not months. Momentive also has a team of market research consultants that can take on anything from research design to custom reporting as needed, so you can spend more time shaping what’s next for your organization.
To learn more, visit momentive.ai


[00:00:00]

Jamin Brazil: Hi, everybody. I am Jamin, host of today’s episode on the Happy Market Research Podcast. I guess that’s kind of silly because I am the only host of the podcast. These interviews are being done in conjunction with the Qual 360 North American Conference this year, this summer, actually. This conference will be taking place entirely virtually on a dedicated conference platform. This is a unique environment that allows for a diverse range of both participants, speakers, and topics at a global level where they’ll be uncovering trends. It’s going to be very interesting. I’ve really enjoyed the podcast chats I’ve had an opportunity to do with the upcoming speakers. I will absolutely be attending and I hope you will too. If you would like to attend, please click the registration link inside of the show notes or simply google Qual 360, and you’ll be taken right there. So, without further ado, our guest today is Steve Fadden, research lead for cloud platform at Google. Google is an America multinational technology company that specializes in Internet related services and products, which include online advertising technologies, a search engine, cloud computing, software, and hardware. It is considered one of the big five technology companies, along with Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft. Prior to joining Google, Steve has held senior research roles at Salesforce and Dell. Steve, thanks for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.

[00:01:32]

Steve Fadden: Yeah. Thanks so much, Jamin. It’s great to be here.

[00:01:35]

Jamin Brazil: This episode is brought to you by Momentive. You may have heard that SurveyMonkey’s parent company recently rebranded as Momentive, a leader in agile insights and experience management. The Momentive AI-powered insights platform is built for the pace of modern business so you can deeply understand your market, elevate your brand, and build winning products faster. Momentive offers 22 purpose-built market research solutions that incorporate an AI engine, built-in expertise, sophisticated methodologies, and an integrated global panel of over 144M people to deliver meaningful insights in hours, not months. Momentive also has a team of market research consultants that can take on anything from research design to custom reporting as needed, so you can spend more time shaping what’s next for your organization. To learn more, visit momentive.ai. What is your topic? And give us a little bit of insider kind of knowledge about your chat at Qual 360.

[00:02:42]

Steve Fadden: Sure. Yeah. So the title is Enhancing Our Customer Understanding by Bridging Qual and Quant Perspectives. And, now that I read that out loud, I realize that it is a lot more nerdy than I wanted it to sound. But it sounded good when I submitted it way back when. The main message that I’m hoping to communicate is that I’ve noticed a tendency in organizations for researchers and data owners to want to own their data. And they want to believe that they have an exclusive representation of the customer’s voice. And I’m really trying to make an appeal toward more collaborative approaches that use multiple methods, multiple channels, multiple measures, and multiple disciplines in terms of understanding the customer experience.

[00:03:29]

Jamin Brazil: So when you think about qual and quant, I immediately default to primary research. Are you incorporating transactional or behavioral into that as well?

[00:03:39]

Steve Fadden: Absolutely. Yeah. Part of the conversation I hope to be having is about using a big tent approach to experience data analysis, if you will. So not just people who are running and owning voice of customer efforts and surveys and feedback channels, but also the folks who have support data, they understand the trends of performance in the product, they have access to the usage logs and behaviors that end users or other types of users are engaging with the product. So, basically, trying to bring everybody in to create a common view and a common understanding of what is it like to actually be a customer experiencing a product or a service.

[00:04:23]

Jamin Brazil: How much does video play in that?

[00:04:26]

Steve Fadden: That’s interesting. I think my answer would be different if you asked me a little more than a year ago, pre-pandemic. I think it kind of comes down to what you’re trying to convey. One of the points that I’ll be making in the talk is that context really matters. And, so, for some organizations and individuals, having access to the visual channel is really, really beneficial. Of course, that brings with it accessibility challenges. For example, if you don’t have the ability to see or you don’t have access to technology that allows the rendering of video in a robust, fidelity way, it can be problematic. But I would say any channel, any mode of communication that helps ultimately build that empathy bridge between ourselves within the walls of the organization and to the people who experience what our companies and organizations are producing outside, anything to bridge that gap is beneficial.

[00:05:26]

Jamin Brazil: The accessibility point is really interesting. I just heard this statistic- And I haven’t validated it, but one in five of us have some sort of a disability, which really starts impacting how we do and conduct research.

[00:05:41]

Steve Fadden: Absolutely. Yeah. It, I mean, I guess, technically, I’m one of those one in five. I’m sure you’ll be able to see this when I’m doing the presentation for the conference, but I have to wear glasses for reading. And, since the pandemic started and most of my life shifted to working behind a screen, I’m pretty much finding myself reading- Wearing my reading glasses- Or what I thought was reading glasses. I’m pretty much now wearing them all day. And I used to be able to be in meetings and take notes without my glasses, but now that everything is on a screen that’s about, maybe, three or four feet from my head, I need these things to see words and to see faces. And, unfortunately, being an aging man with presbyopia, I know it’s only getting worse and worse over time.

[00:06:31]

Jamin Brazil: Yeah. Presbyopia comes for us all.

[00:06:34]

Steve Fadden: It’s awful. It’s terrible. I will say that the benefit of considering the needs of people with accessibility challenges ultimately comes down to the benefits of universal design, right? This idea from, I think it was Ron Mace at the North Carolina Center for Universal Design, if I’m remembering correctly. And, basically, the idea was to avoid designing for any one particular physical or sensory ability profile, and trying to hit the largest range and curb cuts, right? Are the most common example. Anybody who’s ever had a- If you’re in a wheelchair, absolutely, a curb cut is a wonderful way to access the sidewalk. But, if you have a roller board luggage or if you’re carrying a television or something, it’s also really beneficial to not have that big gap that you have to step up in order to get onto the sidewalk for.

[00:07:32]

Jamin Brazil: That’s super interesting. So trends. Nothing makes sense, right? When you look at historical data, and normally that has a- Is a predictive factor of the future. Last year kind of disrupted the whole normalized view of the world. What do you see as trends, specifically in consumer insights, that will carry us forward into 2020?

[00:07:54]

Steve Fadden: Yeah. That’s a really interesting question, especially now as we’re starting to go through the- I hesitate to say post-pandemic, but at least-

[00:08:03]

Jamin Brazil: Yeah.

[00:08:04]

Steve Fadden: The new normal, right?

[00:08:05]

Jamin Brazil: Yeah.

[00:08:05]

Steve Fadden: I think it’s, from my perspective, I think my answer probably would be slightly different if we hadn’t been going through the pandemic. But ultimately, I think there’s a couple trends that I’ve noticed and I’ve been excited about, and also skeptical about. One of them is, I think it’s really exciting to see organizations starting to embrace more naturalistic and observational methods to understand the experience that customers are having in context over time. So study methods like diary studies, field research methods, anthropologically informed, ethnographic methods. None of those are new, but I’m starting to hear them referenced a lot more in boardrooms and in corporate conversations. And I think advancements in technology, and I think advancements and the accessibility of different kinds of technology, as well as methods from places like journalism and media, where we’re starting to see the ubiquity of these technologies and these approaches. I don’t want to say reality television, but there’s this idea that recording and capturing a person’s experience over time is normalish. And it seems to be made more easy and more adaptable for companies to do it. The other thing I’d mention is- So I spent an early part of my life doing eye tracking research. So I actually spent my graduate study years doing work building cognitive models of how people learn to read and comprehend scenes and text. And then, when I was working on my more advanced graduate work, I was looking at the role of perception in high stress environments and how that influences decision making for pilots and air traffic controllers and that sort of operator. And, so, once the phrase neuromarketing started to show up, I was pretty skeptical when I heard it. And then, when I started diving into those techniques, I realized this is kind of a new term for a lot of old techniques. I’m still skeptical of it. I don’t see it being thrown around as much as a buzz word, but I believe that the types of techniques that folks are using in this so called field or discipline are just as effective as many other techniques that are available. I just don’t know that it’s the panacea that people were promising long ago. And then, the last thing- I know this is running long, so I’ll keep this one quick. But there is one trend I hope will become more common. And that is the importance of futures thinking as we understand people’s experiences and the products and services we build. I think things like the pandemic, right? These one in 100 years types of scenarios help emphasize how important it is to think about divergent futures in what we are building and what we are communicating to our customers and to our end users. And I think that type of skill set is something I would absolutely like to see more coming out of the academy, coming out of apprenticeship programs, and coming out of our companies.

[00:11:20]

Jamin Brazil: I know you can’t share specific examples, right? But- Which is unfortunate because that’d be super interesting. But we think about those one and 100 year scenarios, is the role of insights in that more measurement or what role does insights play in that?

[00:11:37]

Steve Fadden: Yeah. That’s a really neat connection. And to be fair, I have not thought about this deeply, so I’m just answering off the cuff.

[00:11:44]

Jamin Brazil: Yeah.

[00:11:45]

Steve Fadden: I think there are- There are some examples I can share just because I spent some of my life in management consulting working with the Federal Government, so these are things that aren’t- They’re not under NDA and confidentiality agreements. But when we’re thinking about, for example, like the future of air traffic control in 30 years, what might that look like, right? When we think about commercial space travel. Back when I was working on these problems in the early 2000s, it was almost laughable. But now, we actually have several companies that are actually exploring these things. So the importance of using futures thinking methods to envision scenarios that are possible, I think, not only help give rise to opportunities, they also give rise to darker futures, right? Things we don’t want to have happen. And I think all of that informs the types of measurement systems we should be building to ensure that the futures we want to happen are being made more likely than the futures we don’t want to happen. Because if- As has been said by many famous people, “If you don’t measure it, you can’t change it.” So, if we don’t have a sense of what kinds of realities we are moving toward, it’s really hard to anticipate what the data streams should be that we should be looking at now to make sure that we are going in the right direction. And I think climate change is probably a good example. I think staying outside of the political debate around climate change and what we can do about it, I think there are lots of data streams that we can be looking at over time to understand if the situation is improving or if it’s not, and if there are correlations and associations, we should be more mindful of in order to make better choices for our future.

[00:13:34]

Jamin Brazil: By the way, I just love- I’ve never, 400 and, I don’t know, 20 interviews, I’ve never heard anybody talk about futures thinking. And that is so interesting because it really- It’s almost like, I mean, exactly what you do in every research project, which is kind of a microcosm of that, right? Is you build the end report before you actually field, right? You come up with your analytics plan, etc., etc. And that basically informs the whole thing that you wind up executing against.

[00:14:00]

Steve Fadden: Totally.

[00:14:01]

Jamin Brazil: And it’s a Mad Lib after that. And, so, thinking of it in that framework, that’s really helpful because then you know what things you need to pay attention to, to your point, which you already said. And then, guide- Help guide us- Create those guideposts for us to know if we heading into, God forbid, that- Something like what we’ve gone through.

[00:14:20]

Steve Fadden: Totally.

[00:14:21]

Jamin Brazil: Anyway, it was really interesting. I just had to-

[00:14:22]

Steve Fadden: Thanks.

[00:14:22]

Jamin Brazil: Had to underscore that. Yeah. So last question. What is your personal motto?

[00:14:28]

Steve Fadden: So I’m glad you warned me about this one in advance because this is something I wouldn’t even acknowledge that I have. But I think I have two, and one is something that my coworkers and my direct reports and my students, even, probably are sick of hearing me say. But it’s basically have a bias for action. I love the field of research and I really admire researchers, especially in the academy, because researchers are often relied on as being the truth tellers. We have scientific methods to use to arm ourselves with data and processes to ensure that the findings and insights we are defining are as valid and defensible as possible. Having said that, I also feel that researchers have a reputation for being overly conservative, especially in industry settings. I remember when I was in graduate school, one of my colleagues basically said that one of our advisors was so conservative, they’re not even wrong. Imagine having an idea about a potential connection or phenomenon that exists, but you want to run a million studies and prove it to yourself before you let the outside world know. You’re basically depriving other people of the benefits of that knowledge. And, so, I encourage everybody in the field of research and outside to ask yourself, “What data am I collecting right now?” Maybe you’re doing an interview. Maybe you’re looking at, I don’t know, a survey response. And ask yourself, if that’s all the data you have, what decision and what recommendation would you make? You might have only 50 percent confidence of it, but if you can convince yourself that you could move toward 51 percent, what I like to consider as a casino level confidence, if you know you’re going to win in the long run and the cost and the consequences of a bad decision aren’t going to destroy your organization, then I think it’s worth entertaining, “Well, what would I do right now as a result of the data that I’m seeing? As opposed to waiting three, six, nine more months to make it perfect.” And then, my other motto, which goes- Dovetails with this really well, is the idea that in order to see real change in an organization, you need to avoid inflaming the corporate immune system. And so- And this comes from my time in consulting. I’ve heard many consultants say this. Change is hard and scary, especially for the incumbents who have something that they don’t want to lose. So just say, “This doesn’t really make a difference, we’re just going to run a pilot. We’re going to collect a little data.” And, by collecting a little data, it makes things sound a lot less scary and less intimidating, but it also gives you the evidence you need to get a sense of whether or not the direction you want to go in is a promising one.

[00:17:15]

Jamin Brazil: My guest today has been Steve Fadden, research lead for cloud platform at Google. Steve, thank you very much for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast.

[00:17:24]

Steve Fadden: Thanks so much, Jamin. This was super exciting. I really look forward to the conference.

[00:17:28]

Jamin Brazil: Everyone else, I hope you found some value. Please take a moment, screen capture, share on social media. If you tag me, I will send you a t-shirt, COVID free t-shirt. Have a great rest of your day.