The terms ‘customer experience’ and ‘customer centric’ have been around for some time. These terms are now referred to in shorthand as CX. But now a new term is emerging: HX, the ‘human experience’.
But what does this mean? Aren’t they the same thing?
Let’s look at some definitions first:
In commerce, customer experience (CX) is the product of an interaction between an organisation and a customer over the duration of their relationship. Basically, it’s the steps involved and how a customer experiences their buying and customer service journey with any organisation and its people — for good or for bad.
Human-centred design (HCD) is a design and management framework that develops solutions to problems by involving the human perspective in all steps of the problem-solving process. Human-centred design is an approach to interactive systems development that aims to make systems usable and useful by focusing on the users, their needs and requirements, and by applying human factors/ergonomics, usability knowledge and techniques. This approach: enhances effectiveness and efficiency; improves human wellbeing, user satisfaction, accessibility and sustainability; and counteracts possible adverse effects of use on human health, safety and performance. This is at the heart of human experience (HX).
I can’t help but be a bit cynical here. Any business who has always cared about their customers and team and focused on providing a professional and helpful experience has been working in the CX and HX zone for years.
This concept is not new. Peter Drucker, the father of business management and culture, wrote in his 1953 book: “The purpose of business is not to make profit but to satisfy the needs and expectations of customers. The consequence of satisfied customers is incremental profit.”
For too long, many businesses ignored the advice of Peter Drucker and focused on profit only, looking at customers as numbers and a means to an end for profit. And even if customer service was a KPI, it was often more to do with efficiencies of the task (in other words, get those customers in and out quickly without much fuss) than actually caring about the person(s) involved. Even if companies talked up CX, their efforts were often tokenistic at best.
Change is afoot
However, things are changing on many fronts.
CX-HX is becoming the next competitive edge for businesses as product quality dries up, buyer choice is rampant and profit margins go south. In times of flux and uncertainty, and with customers having so much choice and consumer loyalty waning, CX has become even hotter with the emphasis now heading in the HX zone. We are now seeing human experience with a big emphasis on human-centred design.
CX-HX is getting a lot more attention at board level and the C-suite helping businesses remain relevant and profitable. The new strategy is all about how we treat and engage with our fellow human beings, our customers and our team.
It’s the combination of the ethos and culture of CX and the human-centred design of HX that is now the key to driving profitable business, sales and service strategy in the 21st century.
CX-HX is a major shift in thinking and action. Peter Drucker was right all along. The pendulum is swinging back to the middle, showcasing a more reasonable way of doing business.
This state of flux is shaking up the old guard. Old ways of doing business are being disrupted. Can you imagine the likes of Gordon Gekko et al shifting to a CX-HX strategy willingly? The old guard, the captains of industry who have worshipped at the corporate altar of profit for over 50 years, must be having some major existential crises.
Customers are no longer objects, mug punters, ignorant consumers, demographics or stats on a balance sheet. Customers are people with whom we interact and engage. They are our fellow human beings.
CX-HX is the new frontier for improving customer loyalty and sales.
Alex Iles, director of PPBA and Litmus Group’s global experience design practice, states that: “Close to 90% of companies globally are placing CX at the top of their priority list (HBR, Gartner). Therefore, the benchmark for creating experiences that a) keep customers coming back for more and b) inspire them to share with others is, quite rightly, being pushed higher and higher.”
Four key qualities
Companies who are providing their customers with a great experience tend to show four key qualities:
- They show genuine empathy with their customers at every interaction;
- They make it easy for their customers to derive value from their experiences;
- They ensure the products, services, content, communications & experiences they provide are relevant to customers’ needs and wants; and
- They orchestrate all of the above across every channel.
CX-HX is a company-wide culture, and its capability for transformation shouldn’t be taken lightly.
People want their buying and service experiences to be simple, easy, straightforward and personable. Especially in times of flux. They want to engage with genuine people who care about what they are doing, especially when their buying or user experience starts to get complicated. In those times they want to talk to a real human being.
Dr Nicola Millard, head of customer insight and futures in British Telecom’s global services team points out that taking into account the human customer experience is critical for businesses to remain relevant. It is essential to:
- Provide an easy digital customer experience which delivers business growth;
- Make it easier for people to do simple transactions for themselves; and
- Make sure there is always a phone number and a person available to speak to when transactions get more complex.
Beware the omni-channel
Dr Nicola Millard highlights that omni-channels shift human channels towards complexity.
The internet was supposed to make things easier for humans. However, if it takes too long to find information online, there is poor navigation or if the issue is too complex, then people always want to talk to a human being.
And here is where the real shift is happening in CX and HX: human-to-human interactions.
Customers now want immediate access to well-trained, competent employees who have authority to make decisions and resolve issues versus being put on the endless hook of ‘your call is important to us’.
They want to talk to someone on the phone or face-to-face, especially if there is a crisis and they need a solution to a problem with a product or service.
The next step up with omni-channel experiences is creating engaging, helpful and personable experiences in easy-to-use environments (both online and physical). Forget NPS (net promoter score) and think NES (net easy score). Making the customer experience easier, whether it is automated or human, is key.
According to Alex Iles, it’s those companies who are able to craft a ‘human’ and emotionally rich buying experience (HX) for customers who will outperform the market.
Alex Iles goes on to say: “Customers will soon expect all of their experiences with companies to be empathetic, easy, relevant and well-orchestrated. The successful companies of tomorrow will demonstrate not only the four qualities mentioned previously, but will be able to create emotionally rich and ‘human’ experiences for their customers by:
- Establishing and articulating a meaningful purpose that gives employees and customers a reason to believe in their brand;
- Operating in a conscious manner, with awareness and integrity that authentically reflects their purpose;
- Demonstrating cognition, through their ability to understand and predict their customers’ needs on an intuitive, emotional and abstract level; and
- Adapting their business models to respond to changing customer and market demands, in a way that is apparent and valued by customers, employees and stakeholders.”
Cynical or not, the fact is this sales trend highlights that being kind to people, as well as creating a seamless and well-designed experience, is good for customers and good for businesses now and in the long-term. It is better late than never.
Remember everybody lives by selling something.
You can help us (and help yourself)
Small and medium businesses and startups have never needed credible, independent journalism and information more than now.
That’s our job at SmartCompany: to keep you informed with the news, interviews and analysis you need to manage your way through this unprecedented crisis.
Now, there’s a way you can help us keep doing this: by becoming a SmartCompany supporter.
Even a small contribution will help us to keep doing the journalism that keeps Australia’s entrepreneurs informed.