Make “human experience” your organizational compass

Companies must shift from narrow customer-centric approaches to improving the lives of everyone they interact with—including employees and business partners.

By | 5 minute read | September 16, 2020

Matt Candy is Global Managing Partner of IBM’s digital experience agency, IBM iX. He helps global enterprises reinvent their customer experience through human-based design. He has been with IBM since 2002.

Paul Papas is Global Managing Partner, IBM Global Business Services. He helps companies reinvent their business end-to-end by unlocking talent, processes and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence to make employee workflows more intelligent and customer relationships more human. He is a former PricewaterhouseCoopers partner and has been with IBM since 2002.

Q: Looking at businesses across many industries, has the disruption of 2020 changed their approach to serving customers?

Candy: Yes. The disruption is massively accelerating many businesses’ focus around offering superior customer experiences. The crisis is driving digital closeness. This means that the way people are communicating through digital channels becomes really important. Companies understand that people are more open to trying different products and services now, sometimes out of necessity, and that if they can’t meet their customers’ needs, they may lose them permanently to other companies that are able to serve them.

To stand out in this new landscape, a company needs to make every customer experience simple, frictionless and personalized. Tone and content are super-important. Even in the best of times, people are ready to abandon a brand after about three unsatisfactory interactions. I think the impetus to build trust and empathy, and earn loyalty, is even greater now. Companies are really focusing on how they can offer empathy to their customers—the type of support and expertise that makes them a trusted advisor or companion on the journey.

Q: In the competition to deliver the best customer experience, what trends are you seeing in the marketplace?

Papas: One trend is companies moving from customer experience to human experience. The pandemic is really accelerating this.

When you shift from customer experience to human experience, you’re thinking about how you could add value in the context of a person’s day-to-day life. You think about the value that you can deliver to someone in a moment in time, when they’re in a specific role in their life. You really have their best interest at heart, in the short and long term. You’re looking to contribute to their life in meaningful ways. Focusing on human experience is a dramatically different paradigm than being customer-centric. It’s a new way of thinking about how you engage with people who use your products or services.

Q: What’s an example of companies emphasizing human experience?

Papas: Because of the pandemic, we’re seeing it in action every day. In financial services, like banking and insurance, several companies quickly realized they needed to shift from selling their products to addressing the high stress, specific needs people have due to the Covid-19 crisis. They said, “We’re not going to run these marketing campaigns. We’re going to change how we engage with our customers. We’re going to set up new digital capabilities so people can get the answers to all the information that they’re looking for.” That’s understanding people’s humanity and being responsive to their changing needs.

In other words, human experience is focused on giving value to that person, rather than getting value from a consumer. The “value from” approach is customer-centric and outdated—it’s the value your company gets from interacting or transacting with someone. If you design your engagements and workflows with this point of view, you’re never going to build a long-lasting relationship with people. The pandemic has made leading organizations quickly understand that they need a “value to” approach. Successful business transformation applies that paradigm to employees, partners and customers, using human experience as the compass to guide every effort.

Q: IBM says organizations must offer a “smarter customer experience” to effectively compete now. What does that entail?

Papas: There are three different kinds of experience. Anything that happens on the glass, whether it’s your laptop or phone or tablet, is a user experience. Customer experience is broader, encompassing every touch point from physical to digital to virtual. But customer experience is still transactional and views a person as just a consumer, which is a flawed business strategy. Transactional experiences lead companies to bombard people with messages and offers from many different angles. As human beings, that’s the last thing we want. When you shift from customer experience to the third kind, human experience, you’re thinking about how you can meet them where they are and add meaningful value to their life.

Candy: At the heart of it, a smarter customer experience can be summed up in four words: Friction out, intelligence in. To really deliver on this at scale, you can’t just focus on customer-facing interactions. You need to embed superior experiences across the entire enterprise—in sales, marketing, finance, procurement, manufacturing and every other category. So a smarter customer experience begins with insights from artificial intelligence, and uses automation and other enabling technologies to arm employees with solutions to better service customers. At the same time, it also arms customers with choices of how to engage with you and buy from you. It’s using technology and design-centered approaches to strive for, again, “friction out, intelligence in.”

Q: What do you mean by design-centered approaches?

Candy: A design-centered approach is entirely focused on creating a better experience for a human being, whether it’s a customer, employee or business partner. It means putting a person’s experience at the center of every process or interaction—to help them solve problems—by using platforms, intelligent workflows and automation to take friction out of their lives and give them time back. When you apply those strategies at scale across your entire enterprise, it can fundamentally change how work gets done, and drive skills and transformation throughout your organization.

Q: We’ve all seen companies get this wrong, though, with the misstep going viral. How can companies reduce that risk?

Candy: Before rollout, innovation teams can explore and road-test ideas in collaborative physical and virtual workshops. In these spaces, teams can co-create solutions, big or small, and then iterate and scale them in models before launching broadly. It lets you develop minimum viable products with experts and designers and put them into the hands of users—testing, learning, iterating and then scaling them for rollout. Organizations of all sizes, from startups to global companies like American Airlines, BP and Pepsi, use this methodology (we call it the IBM Garage) to test and perfect design-centered ideas. 

Q: What’s the most important thing for business leaders to be doing right now?

Papas: Now is the time to get closer to your customers. People are under stress. They’re making new choices and trying new products just based on availability, usually because a company’s supply chain couldn’t adapt quickly. Brands are losing longtime customers because another company stepped up and was able to deliver that service or product when they needed it most. Leaders will use that opportunity to build relationships with these new people.