Where and How Does Humanity Impact Customer Experience?

Michael Lowenstein on July 6, 2016

What makes this question so profound, and so pivotal, in customer experience optimization today is that every aspect of value delivery is at play. Further, it should be understood that all stakeholders are keenly aware of when humanity is being practiced by an organization and when there is an insufficiency or an absence of same.

More than a buzzword, “being human,” especially in brand-building and leveraging customer experiences and relationships, has become a buzz-phrase or buzz-concept. But, there is little that is new or trailblazing in this idea. To understand customers, the enterprise needs to think in human, emotional terms. To make the brand or company more attractive, and have greater impact on customer decision-making, there must be an emphasis on creating more perceived value and more personalization. Much of this is, culturally, operationally, and from a communications perspective, what we have been describing as “inside-out advocacy” for years. We can also identify it as customer experience accueil, which will be explained. There are a number of ways in which taking a humanistic approach to everything customer-related works for all stakeholders, and directly influences and impacts their behavior. Here are four of them, building from an architectural base.

1. Create a customer-centric human culture and set of processes

Evidence of a humanistic, customer-focused enterprise is where values, mission and vision can be seen, and endorsed, by everyone inside and outside the company. The French have a great word for this — accueil (pronounced ack-key) — which means openness, acceptance, welcoming, and receptivity. It sets up as a major distinction with most Theory X, micromanaged, repressive cultures and array of customer processes.

Accueil can be seen in transactions and relationships with companies like Southwest Airlines, Trader Joe’s, and USAA. As pointed out by books like Conscious Capitalism and Firms of Endearment, and as identified in multiple experience effectiveness studies, customer-centric company cultures, supported by customer-centric processes, also perform at consistently attractive financial levels over extended periods of time.

2. Create experiences that are proactively human-engineered

Within customer-related processes, experiences need to be designed, engineered, or re-engineered, so that authentic humanity is built in. With the dramatic increases in digital transactions, distanced relationships, and marketing automation, this has become an increasing challenge. However, this is also where the concepts of accueil can be observed.

More than Six Sigma-type rational and functional quality, it is the authentic warmth and openness that most customers desire from vendors, even when contact is minimal. Human-engineered experiences also require that measurement techniques be sensitive to the components that drive, or detract from, what customers get from their vendor relationships. Most companies collect small and big data to do more targeted marketing selling, and use metrics like customer satisfaction, indices, NPS and/or CES to reward or punish employees.

3. Create human emotions and memories in transactions and relationships

Today, delivery of functional and tangible elements of value, even at superior levels, are little more than experience table stakes. We often speak of the Daniel Kahneman “peak-end rule”, where subconscious positive and negative experience emotions yield the memories which drive downstream customer behavior. This psychologically-based approach is a critical differentiator for companies to successfully bringing the human touch to transactions and relationships.

A couple of years ago, Bridget Duffy, MD, who is the Chief Medical Officer of Vocera Communications, wrote an insightful CustomerThink blog post about how emotional connections, coming out of a culture of humanity, can drive customer loyalty behavior and company growth. From my perspective, the value of creating positive emotions can’t be stated much better than she did:

Customers choose service providers based on personal experiences, trusted relationships and valued recommendations. To understand customer needs and expectations, organizations must first map the gaps in efficiency plus empathy. Market leaders must provide services and use technologies that restore empathy to the customer experience.

4. Create human connections between employee ambassadors and customers

Advertising and promotion generate little trust. B2b and b2c consumers trust humans more than companies or institutions. Smart companies operate as “real people”, with employees working to provide value to customers.

In humanistic organizations, employees at all levels, and in all functions, understand how their work and actions impact customer perception of experiences. If employee ambassadorship is an extension of the company’s customer-related DNA, then it is employees who embody accueil.

It is not nearly enough for employees to be engaged. Humanistic experience is achieved when employees are armed and enabled to deliver on the brand promise. The technology and tools can’t replace real-time passion, or genuine commitment to the organization, brand and customers. It is employees who are the real, flexible experience engineers. As needed, they can treat each customer differently, and even the same customer differently, if the experience context is different (something I’ve labeled ‘divisibility’, which is also somewhat data-dependent).

As a concluding thought, it’s important to point out that executing in all these areas requires enterprise and functional leadership that understands what human-centricity means in customer relationships and overall perceived experience value. As Dr. Duffy stated in her blog, companies “… must focus on building connections and relationships into all aspects of the organization – from executive leadership to frontline staff – so that from the first impression to the last, people feel a connection. Going beyond customer service to creating a real emotional connection to a product, service or company will drive market differentiation, customer loyalty and growth.”

We’re in violent agreement here. Accueil, a sense of actual humanity in all aspects of customer experience delivery, matters a great deal.

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