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Responsibility is the new customer experience

Picture by Brett Jordan

Customer Experience has been the focus of most of our digital and non-digital efforts in the last 10 years.

It started with new technologies that allowed companies to sell directly their products and services and developed into more and more complex customer relationships solutions. We have seen companies thriving and failing because of their ability to provide a convenient and easy experience to their customers.

But that is not enough anymore.

In 2020 what is making a difference for companies is Purpose, or better how the business can make good for the world. There is plenty of evidence and data that Purpose is good for customers, employees and shareholders.

I think working towards a Purpose offers the possibility to shift the focus from an individual perspective (making the customer happy) towards the collective dimension (having a positive impact on society). A dimension that transcends and even overcome the individual experience.

But what does it mean being a Purpose driven company?

Let’s start by saying what it is not.

It is not just about formulating a socially and/or environmentally engaged statement and circulating it. It is not about some shallow policy or greenwashing of our existing profit driven practices. It is not just about funding good causes, charities, facilitating voluntary work for our employees.

But it is about directing our businesses and people to deliver a positive impact, beyond profit, on the community, society and environment. Because most of our companies have been driven exclusively by profitability, it means most likely to disrupt, change, innovate the very foundations of our businesses.

Are we ready to have a hard look at our operations, at our hiring practices, at our revenue generating activities and more importantly at our culture and be honest on the actual impact that it is having on the community, society and the environment?

Purpose has to be authentic. It needs to be rooted in genuine intentions and permeating through the whole company in all decisions. It needs to be transparent and accountable.

And that is a problem. Because who exactly has the power to hold companies accountable?

As business people we cannot leave this hard job to our customers: critical consumption is great but it does not take into consideration issues of access, affordability and systemic exclusion. Research shows that critical consumption is usually “belonging to higher class positions and being generally older, highly educated, and more often women”.

We cannot even leave it to governmental entities, as we know all well that any regulatory action has consistently been too little and too late especially in the space of technology and sustainability — though I still call for Regulators to catch up with the Technology Industry.

We as business people that take decisions in our companies on a daily basis, have an important role to play in making our companies truly Responsible. And it is not just because we want to ‘do good’, but because there is really no other option.

Public opinion is shifting and I predict that a lot of the business practices we considered normal a few years ago, from hiring to sales and operations, will be simply not acceptable anymore.

For Generation Z […] the main spur to consumption is the search for truth, in both a personal and a communal form — McKinsey report

That is why public opinion, regulators and customers will not accept fake apologies or fake support to causes anymore or the greenwashing instead of real sustainable operations or the feel good positioning while your employees are suing the company for a discriminatory toxic environment, and your users are starting to pay attention and leave when you change your Privacy Policy.

The Fashion industry is already leading in this trend and it is just a matter of time before all other industries follow through.

Responsibility will generate success because employees and customers alike are not going to look away anymore. And it will kill our business when we don’t take that into consideration.

From Experience to Responsibility

I believe that Responsibility is going to determine the success of companies going forward, regardless of their customer experience.

In other words companies that are truly Responsible are going to be successful even with poor Customer Experience and, on the long run, no amount of convenience will be able to save companies that are harming the environment and the society.

So if we really want to make our companies future proof, we have to shift our focus from ‘delivering the best experience’ to ‘having a meaningful impact on society and the environment’ — from what we can deliver to the individual customer to what we can deliver to society as a whole. And we can expect that any service designed this way will deliver, almost as a side effect, the most meaningful experience. As everybody wants to be part of something bigger and positive, it is literally human nature.

But again, if we approach Purpose with a utilitarian perspective, without the right level of self-reflection or without looking at the bigger picture, we will eventually fail, caught up by public scrutiny, as much as many companies pledging their support to the Black Lives Matters movement without having done the work themselves.

So how are we going to design Responsible companies?

  1. Use system thinking It starts with looking holistically at all operations, practices and culture and be prepared to make all the necessary changes — however painful — to make sure that every business decision authentically supporting the positive impact that we want to have.

  2. Start from self-reflection Each of us needs to look at the tiny business decisions we make every day and realise the unintended consequences they generate. Change is only possible when each of us realises how we are contributing to the problem

  3. Use action and experimentation We have to quickly put our Purpose into action with big and small actions with humility and eagerness to learn. The startup culture has provided us with plenty of tools to quickly experiment and learn from practice — we should use them not to test only the desirability and viability of our solutions but also the Responsibility.

  4. Expand our skills Business has been benefitting from the knowledge and approach of behavioural scientists, psychologists and anthropologists to understand and predict human behaviours. Shouldn’t we have sociologists to understand and predict society’s evolutions? Environmental scientists to tell us about the impact on our Earth?

  5. Expand our tools We need new systemic tools to map the complexity of an ever changing world. Tools make a theory practice and allow more people to think differently, just as much as Customer Experience tools, like Customer Journey mapping, allowed more people in our companies to think from the customer’s perspective. There are a lot of very interesting tools and frameworks out there already available. How can we bring them into our daily business?

I am convinced that Designers are particularly well equipped to build Responsible Companies, but I will tackle this in my next article.

For now let me conclude on a hopeful note: all humans are born with an instinct to become better. It takes work and perseverance but it gives us meaning. Let’s look at our companies as if they were part of us that we can contribute in being better.

Not more profitable, not more efficient, just better.



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