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Intuit VP and Madison native to tout rapid experimentation to chamber members

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A gap exists between what customers say they would do in a perfect setting and what they actually do in the conditions of which they work.

That’s why Kaaren Hanson believes that studying people’s behavior in a rapid experiment — or a series of experiments — can provide more useful and faster intelligence for companies looking to better serve customers.

Hanson, a 1988 Madison Memorial High School graduate, who is Intuit’s vice president of design innovation, will speak to members of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce at 4:30 p.m. Monday at the Majestic Theatre, 115 E. King St.

“The best way that we have found as a business — or as a non-profit or as any entity — to figure out what a potential solution is to frankly just start trying it out and to look at people’s behaviors,” she said in a Wednesday phone interview.

One example, she said, was in interacting with those responsible for inputting employee and employer information into a payroll system.

It takes several hours to add such info into the system for each new employee. In a survey, nearly 100 percent said they wanted to add all the information to the payroll system prior to the employee getting paid instead of catching up with the other information at a more convenient time after the employee was paid.

However, when a popup screen was added to the process asking if those in charge of payroll wanted to input all the information or just put in enough to pay the employee, 60 percent wanted to just pay their employees.

“That built the case for engineering to actually make that feasible,” Hanson said.

People often have great intentions, she said, but reality interrupts that.

“When you think about your future self, your future self eats vegetables. Your future self is healthy. Your future self doesn’t drink wine, doesn’t eat chocolate, and your future self runs 10 miles a day. The problem is you wake up with your current day self who doesn’t do any of that stuff.”

Thus, the need to study actual behavior.

“Just start something and see if it works. Figure out ahead of time what the evidence is you’re going to need.” For instance, she said, if you’re going to put up a cupcake stand in a small farmer’s market, how many cupcakes do you need to sell to make it worthwhile?

“It used to be you’d observe,” Hanson said. “You’d come up with an idea. You’d analyze it. You’d analyze it again and analyze it again, and then you’d go do something to see how it works.”

Using rapid experimentation, you come up with an idea. “You test it out right away in a super-small lightweight manner and then once you get those results you decide if you’re going to do it in a big way.”

That information is extremely helpful. “Not only does it help you test the hypothesis, but it also gives you inspiration for other ideas.”

Chamber president Zach Brandon noted Intuit did fewer than a handful of experiments on products, services and customer engagement in 2008 and last year it did 1,300. So, he added, the company is constantly testing ways to improve and is willing to fail. From a Midwestern standpoint, something that is hard for us to accept is that failure is just a progression on the continuum to success, he said.

The event — sponsored by American Family Insurance — is “a great opportunity to learn about how an industry leader is re-inventing itself and beating the competition,” Brandon said.

Monday’s first meeting will also help introduce members of the chamber and Accelerate Madison, which was founded in 2001 as a group to focus on the digital technology industry, which, at the time, was small, according to Mark Clear, Accelerate Madison executive director. The chamber acquired Accelerate Madison in May, which now operates as a program of the organization.

“Now, I think, what we now call digital technology has really come into its own and is recognized as a very critical and now very large sector of Madison’s economy,” Clear said.

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