• Interview with Margret Schmidt, VP of User Experience Design and Research at TiVo (Part 3)

    Part 1 of this interview.
    Part 2 of this interview.

    Margret Schmidt is among our speakers at MX 2009, taking place 2-3 March in San Francisco. You can register for MX 2009 using the promotional code BLOG and get 10% off. Prices increase January 31st.

    PM: We met at a conference last fall where you were speaking about the design and launch of the new TiVo.com website. I believe you mentioned that the site design had not significantly changed for 5 or so years before this most recent launch (and looking at the Internet Archive confirms this. What had been the organizational barriers to change? How were you able to overcome those barriers and launch a radically new design? What did it take to make the site more of an extension of the TiVo product experience?

    MS: Historically, tivo.com was treated as an online version of our marketing materials. It was about selling DVRs, and marketing was responsible for that function. Because there wasn’t an interaction design team within marketing, overhauls of the site involved external agencies and lots of money, and didn’t happen that often. As the company evolved the web site did too, and we added product features like online scheduling, and we enhanced customer support tools.

    Over the five years where the site didn’t change much, we actually undertook two different redesigns that never launched. They failed for many reasons, but mostly for lack of communication, teamwork, and a shared vision. Different teams had different agendas, and we sent conflicting messages to our agencies.

    This last redesign was successful because everyone came together with a common vision. The site as “owned” by marketing, and the redesign project was “lead” by user experience. We had very open communication and shared responsibility. We modeled the project after the way we ship DVRs and features – collaboration and iteration. We did use an agency for vision and high-level design, but also a strong internal team that kept the principles of TiVo’s ease and simplicity in focus during the detailed design and implementation. It was a lot of hard work, but everyone involved knew the end result would be worth it.

    Once the redesign was complete, we immediately jumped into the metrics to figure out what needed to be tweaked, and then launched further updates to the home page, “What is TiVo?”, and “Shop” based on what what was working, and what wasn’t. This ongoing work is done internally, with user experience as a service organization working for marketing, product management, or customer support (depending on the site section).

    PM: Now to something a little less pleasant. In TiVo’s SEC filings (PDF), it’s recorded that in the last two years, TiVo’s total subscription numbers have gone from 4.4 million to 3.5 million. Obviously, TiVo is in a wickedly competitive market, and, frankly, it’s a testament to the quality of your experience that you’re still around, when what you are competing with is essentially “free”. Still, it must be quite worrisome. As VP of User Experience Research and Design, for what are you and your group held accountable? Do you have any metrics for which you must deliver? What is the charter of the User Experience group in improving the bottom line?

    Also, in your seven years at TiVo, what have you had to learn about how businesses operate? How has that changed your view of the role of User Experience in business?

    MS: User Experience is responsible for supporting the business needs of various groups. We strive to deliver the best experience for our products, and the best research to inform decision making. We don’t have our own metrics — we share the metrics of our businesses, like selling DVRs or shipping features on a schedule. Over my (nearly eight!) years at TiVo I have had increasing exposure to the business. UE participates actively in product strategy, and shares insights from customers in all aspects of the business, including pricing, packaging, marketing, and support. We bring the customer viewpoint into the conversation, so that the decision maker can weigh it along with the business needs and the technical implications. I think it is critical that businesses have this perspective.

    PM: Obviously, I agree that businesses need to have that customer experience perspective, but, clearly, many don’t. As such, I like to use companies with strong UX practices as exemplars. Thinking about that, and the challenges that TiVo is facing, how do you see User Experience maintaining and even improving TiVo’s marketshare or bottom line? What new value opportunities has User Experience identified for TiVo?

    MS: It is pretty much the standard stuff. Anything we can do to reduce support costs or increase sales helps the bottom line. When we design features, we think about how to minimize the reasons people might call for support; and we add online self-service tools to tivo.com. To help increase sales, we analyze the reasons people don’t complete a purchase (like they couldn’t tell if the particular model of TiVo DVR would work with the setup they have in their home) and we identify ways to address them. We’re adding a tool to the web site that asks a few questions about your home A/V and networking setup, and then identifies the DVR models that will work for you. We want to give customers confidence in their purchase decision.

    PM: I want to wrap up our little conversation here with a look toward TiVo’s future. What new experiences can we look forward to? Thank you for your time!

    MS: You’ll see us continue to focus on getting great content to your TV. And we’ll give you new ways to discover the best TV for you – ways that help you get the most out of the channels you already pay for. In these times, when people are cutting back on their entertainment spending, we want TiVo to be a great value for finding and enjoying the TV and movies that are most interesting to you.

    Thank you Peter. I enjoyed the interview and look forward to MX 2009!



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