These days, business performance is measured not in terms of what organizations do, but how their customers feel.
This was a key message to emerge from the Thoughtworks ParadigmShift 2019 event in New Orleans, which brought together a global contingent of technology and industry leaders to examine the impacts of technology-driven change.
As Gary O’Brien, Thoughtworks Digital Fluency Principal, pointed out, one of the biggest shifts is that “customer expectations have heightened in a way we’ve never seen before. They want real-time anytime, they want a consistent experience, they want to be in total control.”
What’s more, those expectations are constantly evolving. The only way for enterprises to keep up, O’Brien said, is to “optimize everything to maximize the delivery of value to customers.”
Cultivating awareness of customer behavior or preferences is no longer enough; as Lauren Woods, Managing Director, Technology at Southwest Airlines, put it, businesses need an “empathy level for what (customers) see as important in their lives.”
This deeper customer understanding can impact the way that businesses are organized; allowing them to align their structures and processes with helping customers to achieve their goals. It shapes the organizational skills and capabilities required to deliver on that value, the way success is defined and measured, and even how employees think and behave towards customers.
This may seem like a high, even impossible, bar to meet. But emerging technologies and approaches are helping companies attain unprecedented levels of customer insight. Ajey Gore, CTO at Southeast Asian platform powerhouse Gojek, was frank about the firm’s early struggle to deal with scale while still pleasing the customer. But that began to change when the firm increased its focus on data as a foundation for development.
“A lot of times (companies) actually look at data as a second-class citizen, like it’s an afterthought,” he explained. Instead of creating hypotheses about what customers want and examining the data that results, Gojek has learned “to look at the data and then make the hypothesis. That change, that shift was huge for us. It actually made us what we are today.”
More diverse data
It’s also important that firms expand their definitions of what customer data entails. Frank Mollerop of survey and feedback software provider, Questback, emphasized the opportunity to employ technologies like AI and image recognition to gather and analyze in-depth “experience” data from a number of non-conventional sources, such as voice analysis or facial expressions.
These technologies provide opportunities to measure customer emotions and reactions, real-time, during customer interactions, rather than asking them to retrospectively recall how they felt at a particular moment in time. This data provides valuable insights into where the customer experience delights, and where it causes frustration or confusion.
Similarly, at Germany’s Jungheinrich, a maker of logistics equipment, using emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), has enabled the organization to draw on insights that would not have been visible through customer feedback alone. Creating connected vehicles has allowed data from machines in the field to be fed back to the company, helping customer-facing teams to understand the real issues customers face, said Dr. Dominik Off, technology lead at Jungheinrich Digital Solutions. “Connecting machines has the power to improve their world.”
Chilean airline LATAM, meanwhile, has built an “inventory of insights” on customer experience by boosting interactions with users across a range of channels, from heat maps to surveys, product tests and face-to-face interviews, according to chief digital officer Dimitris Bountolos.
Eyes on the prize
The potential rewards for attaining higher levels of customer empathy are massive - particularly for businesses that are willing to follow where their customers lead, even if it’s outside their core business comfort zone.
Gojek, for example, has blossomed from a ride-sharing platform to a provider of a massive suite of on-demand services, spanning finance, lifestyle and entertainment, in essence going “wherever we can remove friction from anybody’s life,” Gore said.
Similarly, Canadian telecommunications provider Telus ventured into healthcare after realizing its experience and infrastructure could serve as “the key building blocks to solve a healthcare system that lacks connectivity and ultimately lacks collaboration,” Sanjay Cherian, VP of product strategy at Telus Health, explained.
The platform that’s emerged as a result, the Telus Health Exchange, links thousands of patients, healthcare professionals and insurers to facilitate the sharing of health information and smooth processes like scheduling and the filing of claims.
“From the customer point of view the driving force behind the platform is the personalization of the experience,” Cherian said. “It’s less oriented around the products.”
It’s an evolving example of how - while no one business can hope to do it all - enterprises willing to put themselves in the shoes of their customers and stretch themselves to solve their biggest challenges, can stake out new frontiers of customer-centric innovation.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.