The world has changed. You know that already, but you might not quite know how.
The traditional life-cycle of education, work, marriage, and retirement has been replaced by a complex series of events involving multiple careers, several relationships, extended families, changing locations, and a far longer time to do it all in. The amount of Choice has exploded, providing something for everyone whilst making decisions more psychologically taxing. People are more apathetic than ever, particular about big businesses such as Government or Banking, with people increasingly relying on advice from the trusted sources of ‘Friends, Family, and Followers’. Research into people’s behaviours has started to demonstrate more about the real drivers of customers’ perceptions, and the irrationality in the decisions that they make. Across many industries, products are homogenising, with there being little difference between Bank Accounts, Broadband providers and TV suppliers. And that means that now more then ever, the experience is the product – the differentiating factor, the USP, the reason for recommendation.
In a world where experience is king, the companies that have the greatest understanding of human behaviour, both customer and employee, will be the most successful. In an increasingly digital world, it’s easy to overlook the importance of the human aspect, and to remember to focus on some of the things that haven’t changed.
If you’re a believer in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, then you’ll know that despite everything else that goes on the the world, our basic needs and wants don’t change – except for the recent addition of Wifi. People remain central to the success of any business, with even the most digitally-focussed products being designed and built by humans, and usually used by humans too. In fact, a recent study showed that 9 of the top 10 most used apps globally are about connecting people with each other (although that study also showed Google+ at #4, so may not be entirely accurate…) In addition, that feeling of belonging to a community is as strong as ever – although these communities are no longer defined by geography as they once were, but by other shared interests and goals. Mumsnet, Money Saving Expert, and GiffGaff are all testament to inexorable power of community spirit. And there’s a monetary impact here too, with recent studies showing that people base their opinion of value on the effort that they believe has been put in to provide the service. The less human the service, the less effort is believed to have been put in, and therefore the less the customer values the experience.
So who is getting this right?
Reebok have recently launched their new ‘FitHub’, a concept store with normal products, but fully staffed by qualified personal trainers. They give advice, short lessons, host special events, and even run daily competitions. This gives people a reason for going into the Reebok store, and also provides invaluable advice from the experts.
Zopa, the online Peer-to-Peer lending community, is fast becoming the place to go for people wanting to borrow or save at competitive rates. The community feel gives people the ‘human’ element, which drives higher savings rates, lower lending costs, and interestingly, a very low default rate too. Many people put this down to knowing more about who is being lent to or from, making it a more personal connection.
Trailfinders are one of my favourite companies, providing a seamless omni-channel approach. Although mostly over the phone or the web, it feels more human due to knowing the name and seeing a picture of your advisor – as well as their genuine infectious enthusiasm for your trip. You can read more about ‘The World According to Trailfinders’ here.
Kickstarter are another company dealing in lending money, providing a crowd-funding platform for aspiring entrepreneurs and innovators. As with Zopa, the human connection between the person sharing their dreams & ambitions and the people who choose to provide funding to help them on their way, is the keystone to the success of the site.
And finally Starbucks, who even I am surprised to see in here. However, in addition to writing your name in a cup, Starbucks have made other changes to improve the human element of their customer experience. One of these was to lower the coffee machines, which under a previous drive to improve efficiency had increased in size, resulting in the barista being unable to see or interact with the customer.
So the world has changed, life has changed, we’ve all gone digital and we don’t know why we make most of the decisions we do. But the experience is increasingly what people pay for, with the best experiences retaining a human element, whether they’re face-to-face, on the phone, or on your mobile. The companies that understand people the best will be the most successful – and never has idle people-watching on a busy commuter train felt like more of a profession…
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