Why the time has come for experience reimagination
August 9, 2021
It’s time to offer experiences that demand little and (quietly) deliver a lot.
As science and human ingenuity combine to help us come out the other side of this pandemic, we’re hungry for meaningful experiences that are worth our time – that break away from the frenzied yet monotonous digital hamster wheel we’ve been on. There’s been a massive increase in digital’s role in our lives, and our patience for the nuisance and the obsolete has grown thin. 50% of today’s consumers say they have rethought what’s important to them in life and expect companies to understand how their needs and objectives change during times of disruption, and to address them.
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An experience renaissance is afoot. Many brands simply must reexamine and reimagine the experiences they enable, with an acute sensitivity for what people really need right now, their new behaviors and new expectations.
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A few pace-setter brands in each category are showing the way, creating the type of solutions that people happily adopt into their lives, but many organizations move too slowly and set the bar too low. They are increasingly exposed, with commoditized or irrelevant offerings and services failing to make a meaningful connection with people. It’s time for an ambitious reimagination of experience.
Traditional customer experience design has become so commonplace that the resulting services are starting to seem bland and repetitive. The best way to deliver experiences that are differentiated and harder to replicate is to weave experience innovation through the fabric of every function within your business – i.e. to become a business of experience.
To create offerings your customers will love will take a bit of work – in both thinking and doing. Reimagining experiences means looking at everything from physical experiences to new products but, here, we're going to pay special attention to how your product or service can unlock value in your customer’s life.
Characteristics for experiences that stand out
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If you want to set a new bar for experiences with your business, there are three characteristics you must aim for.
We’ve looked at a range of domains and industries to see how experience is changing, and we’ve discovered a pattern in the businesses who are setting a new bar that your experiences will need to clear.
If you want your brand and offering to be part of this renaissance — rather than be left behind — these are the three characteristics you must aim for:
1. Visible helpers: Experiences that shift the focus from digital change to human change
Over the past decade, organizations have invested heavily in "digital transformation", with the primary aim of increasing efficiency in their own operations. Now is the time to shift the focus to enabling positive "human transformation" — helping people live happier, safer and more productive lives. This means their relationship with their customers becomes more about collaboration in the context of a commercial relationship, and less about transaction as the only meaningful outcome.
For instance, launching a new business can get overwhelming fast, so Shopify created a neat, user-centric platform that is particularly helpful for small businesses and individuals that want to get a retail business up and running quickly.
Transformational experiences like these provide a sense of accomplishment and they help people with important objectives or goals — whether it’s to do with starting a new business, living a healthier lifestyle, advancing their careers, or simply spending more time with loved ones. They also save people time and hassle by helping them do things easier and faster.
2. Invisible facilitators: Experiences that fit around people, rather than the other way around
For too long, people have had to invest time and effort to learn how to make best use of powerful technology, and to accommodate the often clunky processes put in place by the brands that created them. However, we’re increasingly seeing people changing their attitude, and bending technology to meet their specific needs — they’re using the tools they have available to innovate their own solutions. We wrote all about this in Fjord Trends 2021 (Do it yourself innovation), and it’s something your brand needs to understand, then seek to offer people the tools they need without being prescriptive about how they use them.
This newly necessary approach extends to marketing, too. Introducing people to goods and services became a challenge in 2020 as many were required to stay home. They were no longer naturally exposed to as much advertising, meaning brands had to go to people where they were. On top of that, the channels of communication at work have exploded into a series of notifications, instant messages, and emails that demand attention – some of which replace chance conversations at the coffee machine.
People feel inundated, their attention is fragmented and their ability to focus is dented, and many are longing for a digital “off” button that will make certain things invisible to them. (Proof, if it were needed, lies in the fact that three quarters of American families said they needed a digital detox after self-isolation.) Instead of being able simply to walk past products, displays or ads that aren’t relevant to them, they now have to take action to delete, unsubscribe or mute the branded contact they don’t find helpful. It’s a bit like being followed around by a persistent fragrance spritzer, all day, every day. Your brand should aim to fit more naturally into people’s lives – rather than forcing your way in.
There is value in making parts of your experience invisible – especially if that means time-consuming or undesirable experiences disappear. Giving people time back or removing unnecessary distractions will directly add quality to people’s lives. For example, qualifying for credit used to be a clunky, anxiety-provoking and lengthy process, but experience leaders like Rocket Mortgage have made it near-instantaneous and simple. In transport, people used to have to decode and match public service schedules or arrange their own car and parking but today, cars, buses, trains and schedules increasingly fit around the individual.
3. Responsible actors: Experiences that consider purpose from the word go
As you start to reimagine the experiences you offer, you’ll be expected to be demonstrably mindful of the way you source, treat and replenish human and natural resources – and bake it into plans from the outset. It won’t be easy (or cheap) to retrofit such concerns into a fully formed experience offering.
Some of people’s expectations and personal behavior changes are borne out of the environmental consequences of a massive reversal of the flow of life — i.e. we used to go to get things, and they now often come to us at home (or wherever we are). This change gives us more visibility on the waste we produce, prompting us to rethink what we need and to become more critical of brands who don’t seem to be doing their part. Certain changes, like this one, are expected to stick even as other changes revert.
You need to understand the possible consequences and act accordingly. For example, delivery culture has grown exponentially since early 2020 – how does this impact the environment? Do you know your drivers are treated well as employees? Does your digital experience encourage good behaviors in terms of sustainability? Does it show your business is doing its part to make the world and our society a better place? Does it encourage people and your ecosystem partners to adopt habits that do the same?
The drive for environmental sustainability is only going to accelerate in the coming years, so you would be wise to get ahead of this clear consumer trend, which will impact their decision-making — eventually for everything they buy. Reimagining experiences also means taking a fresh look at partnership ecosystems – your partners are part of your experience so make sure your value systems are aligned. Do they follow the same sustainability and ethical standards as you? Your ability to inspire and effect partners to behave more responsibly has the power to spark positive change at a larger scale, including initiatives that give back to the local community, that drive equal opportunities in workforce practices, and that preserve and protect the environment.
Improving the quality of people’s lives is not as easy as giving them what they want, when they want it. It’s also showing them better ways to live their lives and helping them with more sustainable, empathetic behaviors – even while technology makes consumption easier. For example, UK subscription service, Potage, delivers its frozen meals in recyclable packaging and natural wool insulation that can be easily returned (free of charge) for reuse, composted, or repurposed as nesting material for birds. They’ve made it easy for people to make sustainable choices — a brand value that’s baked in to everything they do.
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How to move forward
Now that we have our contextual understanding and our recipe for success, we need a strategy for putting it into action.
1. Shape your experience portfolio using the winning characteristics
If you’re creating new propositions and experiences, use the three characteristics to guide all aspects of creation.
Visible helpers: Is this solution helping people attain key life objectives or goals, and is the experience collaborative rather than merely transactional?
Invisible facilitators: Does this solution fit elegantly into people’s lives, and does it make things simpler and easier for them? If it’s demanding too much (time or cognitive bandwidth), or if it’s adding more noise, you need to rethink.
Responsible actors: Does the solution consider how you source, treat and replenish related human and natural resources, and is that transparent to customers? Is the solution helping them with more sustainable, empathetic behaviors?
If you’re about to renew or refresh existing offerings and experiences, you should use the same characteristics to strategically guide the design and development of them. You can also use them to examine and rate your complete portfolio of customer-facing and employee-facing experiences, and to create future-proof roadmaps for renewal and new service incubation.
The key performance indicators you monitor continuously should extend to include metrics that measure the quality and equality you're adding to your customers' lives. These could include physical experiences, digital experiences, and a measurement of the noise you are creating for your customers.
Infrastructure is critical to your agility. Cloud is an invisible enabler of new and better experiences for customers (both B2B and B2C) and employees. It increases the speed at which you can use the processes and data needed to understand when and where to present your experiences in the customer's life. It also democratizes access to tools and data, so your employees can adapt the organization around customers as fast as possible.
2. Prioritize empathy and a deep understanding of people
Relearn what human nature is. Help people be better at it — don't be an obstacle. Reimagined experiences are designed with the customer's emotional infrastructure as an anchor, so understanding human emotions and human drivers that influence behavior is critical for creating experiences. You now have the opportunity to change (reimagine) what clearly doesn't work, and to stop thinking of experience as a one-way transaction but more as a collaboration with your customers.
Motivation and empathy are critical to understanding your customers and the emotional drivers that underpin all human behavior: acquisition, bonding, learning, and defending (as written in Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices by Nitin Nohria and Paul R. Lawrence). This adds circumstance and focuses your product or service on helping your customers accomplish something. Data is an incredible asset to understand your customers more deeply and to offer them better experiences through tailoring.
There remains continuing uncertainty over how exactly people’s patterns of behavior have been affected by the global pandemic and how they will evolve from here. This makes it even more important to become an insight- and data-led student of psychology.
Reimagination calls for a new operating model and attitude
Becoming a business of experience is an operational shift that affects all parts of the organization, meaning that you can weave a mindset change throughout, to make the customer experience into an obsession for everyone. With everyone swimming in the same direction toward the same goal, you will find you can change direction with more speed and agility if the world throws you another curve-ball like a pandemic.
From the very beginning of your ideation process, consider how you can shape an offering and an operating model that actively does good things for people and planet. How can you increase convenience and helpfulness while reducing noise? How can you deliver what people want, when they want it, while making a positive impact on the environment? How can you weave a socially responsible aspect into your ways of working, to help make society kinder, more inclusive and more supportive?
Most of the experiences we use today were designed and optimized for the old definition of value and success metrics, often limited by systems and structures that felt dated, yet unbreakable. However, the pandemic challenged what we took for granted so we’ve started to question everything we’ve previously accepted. With new ways of living came new value systems, opening up opportunities for experiences that add value by understanding our new lifestyles and delivering on what really matters to us.
Brands that successfully reimagine their experiences with the three characteristics as their focus will earn customers’ loyalty and respect, and become leaders within this renaissance. The time is now.
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