By Brian Solis
Customer experience (CX) is the sum of the all interactions a customer has with your business. It’s not enough to measure performance in any one moment. The customer doesn’t care about your individual operations. All they care about is how well they can reach their objective and how they feel along the way (and after). This is where most companies miss opportunities in CX. It’s not a tech or business strategy that can be simply defined by a framework.
True CX is a matter of perspective and empathy. It’s possessive. It’s theirs. It’s the customer’s experience, with an emphasis on the apostrophe. Their experiences become memories. Whether they’re good or bad, it’s what they remember that becomes your brand and what they recall or share with others in critical moments of truth. Anything that’s forgettable is also your brand.
When it comes to designing meaningful experiences, value is in the eye of the beholder. It cannot be solely shaped by assumptions or capabilities. You are designing for someone else whose standards are defined by the best experiences they have in all aspects of their life.
I recently had the opportunity to share my research in CX and also digital transformation and innovation on the Savvy Business Leaders podcast series. Hosted by ZDnet’s Bill Dewiler and Microsoft, I joined Jaclyn Wainwright, CEO of AiR Healthcare Solutions to explore every aspect of customer experience and how businesses need to rethink operations, technology and models to reimagine the journey for a modern era.
Please listen below…
Bill Detwiler: Welcome to the Savvy Business Leaders podcast series, brought to you by Microsoft. I’m your host, Bill Detwiler, Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research. I think we can all agree that many of the products and services we consume have become commoditized. There’s no appreciable difference between offerings when everyone is racing to produce a cheaper, better, faster version tomorrow.
Customer experience, though, is one area where brands can still differentiate themselves, and that’s why I’m excited to welcome Brian Solis and Jaclyn Wainwright to the studio today. Brian is a well-known speaker and author of The End of Business as Usual and X: The Experience When Business Meets Design. Jaclyn is CEO of AiR Healthcare Solutions. Let’s jump right in.
Brian, tell us a little about your background.
Brian Solis: Thank you for having me on the show. It’s a real pleasure, and this is a topic … this is a passion point for me. I spend my time studying disruptive technologies and their impact on business. I also, as a digital anthropologist, look at technology’s impact on society, so customer experience is right in that zone. This is, single-handedly, the greatest driver for business innovation and advancement that I have seen in a long time, and by this, I mean customer experience.
Bill Detwiler: And you’re a principal analyst and futurist at Altimeter Group, right?
Brian Solis: Yes, sir. That’s where my research comes into play. As principal analyst, I look at essentially all kinds of different topics, and the Venn diagram of them is innovation, digital transformation, corporate … let’s just say enterprise innovation, as well, and then another part, which is becoming more instrumental these days, is corporate culture, so how are companies, or how they are not changing to take advantage of these new opportunities.
Bill Detwiler: Why do companies need to rethink customer experience now?
Brian Solis: Customer experience is the number one catalyst for digital transformation, and I think the biggest thing about this is that customers are going through or undergoing profound changes in their behaviors, which ultimately affect their preferences and their expectations—so, for example, the Ubers of the world, who are fundamentally changing how consumers interact with industries and services.
The thing about all of that is, consumers don’t blur the line between industries. They don’t say, “Well, okay, it’s okay for Uber, but I’m not going to take this new expectation set to my dentist,” for example. Or, I have a service in Silicon Valley called Filled, that is essentially the Uber of gasoline. Through an app, I can have gas delivered to my car, wherever it is or wherever I am, and pay $2.99 for the service. But not only is it going to change my behavior of never going to gas stations again, it’s going to change my behavior across multiple industries.
The other thing about it is that consumers are becoming more mobile, more connected, and as a result, they’re becoming more informed, maybe even overinformed, but they’re also starting to move faster, they’re also learning how to process and discover information faster. They are learning how to take control of their experiences. Businesses and services are starting to cater to them, to personalize to them in real time. They’re delivering conveniences, they’re delivering value propositions that are essentially human centered, that weren’t necessarily the case before.
Now customers are getting the taste to these new possibilities, these new services, and as a result, they’re seeking them. In fact, in my research I have found that customers are willing to pay as much as 25 percent more for a comparable product if they know they’re going to have a great experience, and this changes the game.
I don’t think any business leader wakes up and says, “You know, let me tell you a secret. We’re not really customer-centric. We don’t really care about our customers.” I mean, I believe in their hearts and minds they all want to do what’s right by customers. It’s understanding, though, what’s different between the idea of customer centricity yesterday and where customer experience needs to go in the future is all driven by the experience people value.
Bill Detwiler: I think that’s a really key point, because customer expectations are changing so rapidly that businesses find it hard to know what those expectations are or are going to be. How does data help put customers at the center of that strategy?
Brian Solis: Traditionally, businesses trip up at this very point in the conversation. Most customer experience strategies, most customer journeys‚ unless you’re a startup, for example, or unless you were born in the digital era, most businesses have constructed customer-centric strategies in an analog world, and then as technology became available, we modernized those processes and those systems to be not just more modern, but facilitate different types of interactions and transactions.
So when we look at data, we’re looking at data traditionally in the construct of how we think about customer engagement and customer experience, and so this is that opportunity to reimagine, to ask different questions, to look at the customer and appreciate them for all of their differences than how we operate.
Customer experience is the number one catalyst for acceleration and for purposeful maturity, and among those, the best practices of these companies are they’re using data to constantly map the customer journey, and they’re using data to engage in deep consumer research to understand who they are, what they value, how they behave, how they make decisions, where they go, what influences them, but more importantly, they’re starting to use data to, in real time, understand how to be discoverable, how to be engaged in the right conversations, and how to essentially have the right touch points that lead customers to their desired outcomes.
One really interesting example that I had found in my research was a haircare company that used predictive analytics and existing data to study haircare trends, to predict with 90 percent certainty where haircare trends would be six months from now, so that they could then spend that time and resources wisely to essentially have the right content, the right click paths, the right touch points, and be ready for those trends.
Bill Detwiler: Can you give me some other examples of how this technology and how this idea around customer service, customer experience, is taking hold in the marketplace?
Brian Solis: Most customer journeys, regardless of the age of the customer, begin on a mobile device, and some of my research has shown in the past that, for example, 90 percent of customers, when they go to make a decision, use a mobile device, and 73 percent of those customers will make a decision based on whomever or whatever was most useful.
The reason why this is really critical is that it provides … essentially mobile, and digital in general … provides businesses with signals. Those signals represent intent. What is someone trying to do? And then, more so, once you start to analyze what that journey looks like, you start to see what they value, where they go, what other types of apps and services that they use, so that you can sort of reverse engineer all of these things into fixing problems and creating opportunities.
Bill Detwiler: I know you do a lot of work on corporate culture and corporate mindset, and you brought that up, and so I’m really interested to hear your thoughts on, if you’re talking about changing corporate mindset around their customers, around building a good customer service experience, how do you advise companies to change that mindset?
Brian Solis: Well, that is the billion-dollar question. I have this joke that I like to say, is that I tried to be innovative once but I got stuck in meetings all day. What I like to say is this, is that there’s a new normal. It is different than our normal. Customers are self-interested, they’re very fast. There are apps and services, like for example Uber or Netflix, that teach customers that they are the center of their universe, that they can have what they want, when they want, how they want, right. This conditions their behaviors to expect this for everything. So I say that, at the end of the day, innovation in customer experience starts with mindset.
You look at this experience divide. On one side you have executives, and executives have essentially a different priority set every day that they wake up. They’re looking at business outcomes, cost controls, margins, profits, shareholders, stakeholders, scale, growth. But then you look at customers and they’re looking at selfies, and the decisions that have to make, and why didn’t enough people like this last photo that they posted, but they also are looking at digital as part of their lifestyle. They’re valuing conveniences and personalization, immediacy.
So for example, one of the things that I’ve done for executives is I specifically looked at how dramatically mobile has disrupted and fragmented the traditional customer journey. I’ve done this for every single industry, and you can show, firsthand, the amount of opportunities that we’re missing, where we’re not even part of the equation, and then also where customers fall out because we’re not necessarily customer … not only customer-centric, but mobile-centric. This creates a sense of urgency that speaks the language of … I call it the language of the C Suite. Sure, they all want to be customer-centric, but once they hear that customer experience is going to drive all of their goals, then we can start to close the experience divide.
Bill Detwiler: So where do companies get started? What is your advice to companies today, and what kind of investments do they need to make?
Brian Solis: Believe it or not, a place to start is to understand what the experience is today. The experience is actually not something that can be tracked from beginning to end. You have to essentially bring together these cross-functional groups who are responsible for different aspects of the customer journey—traditional, physical, digital, mobile—and start analyzing this stuff. Data is critical to all of these things, of course, but so is this cross-functional collaboration.
And then, I think another place to look at is just, where’s it broken? What are the biggest issues right now in the customer journey? And I’ll you that the magic shortcut to this is always mobile. It’s not an age group, it’s not just millennials, it’s not just centennials. It’s really looking at how the mobile customer journey unfolds because you can learn a lot and you can also create smaller, incredibly value ROI-rich pilots that force cross-functional collaboration, and it usually creates a snowball effect that leads to the greater journey evaluation.
Essentially, every aspect of the customer journey and the customer experience today can be improved but also reimagined, so it becomes a great corporate journey in a way, that leads from little things to essentially what becomes, ultimately, digital transformation or business transformation, all based on true customer centricity.
Bill Detwiler: How do companies cultivate the necessary digital skills to really create this customer-centric experience, and how do they empower those employees within the organization to make the necessary change?
Brian Solis: You have to, as hopefully a change agent within your organization, realize that the role that you’re in today, especially in an era of machine learning, can change and/or be different, and those skill sets can be yours to acquire, whether directly or outside of the organization, if you want to grow as a professional, because it’s not like customer experience is going to go backward. It’s only going to continue to evolve and even be disruptive.
We live in a real-time world, and we’re asking employees to take on new things, to learn new things, to operate faster, to keep up with this rapidly evolving customer. So we also need to change how we think about engaging employees, to learn, to unlearn, the things that are holding them back, and we have to build management infrastructures and incentive programs or incentivization programs that allow them to take risks, that allow them to shed the things that they do in their daily routines that are holding them back. And human resources and corporate culture become fundamental to empowering innovation programs and customer experience programs that are going to move much faster than a traditional organization can move today.
Bill Detwiler: Brian, I just want to say thanks for coming by.
Brian Solis: I’m just happy to be here, so thank you for the opportunity.
Bill Detwiler: Where can our listeners see more of your work?
Brian Solis: I would be delighted if they’d come and find more of my work. A good place to start is BrianSolis.com. That’s where I have links to research and articles and the books I’ve written. And then from there, on social media, if you want to send a shout-out, I’m @BrianSolis on pretty much every channel.
Bill Detwiler: Now let’s turn the discussion to an innovative CEO who’s using these techniques and generating impressive results. Jaclyn, tell me a little bit about yourself and what AiR Healthcare does.
Jaclyn Wainwright: Thanks, Bill. My name’s Jaclyn Wainwright, and I am the CEO of AiR Healthcare. I grew up in the healthcare space, meaning I was raised by two physicians, so I sort of saw the other side of healthcare, the patient care side, the people dedicated to caring for others, and it really inspired me, from a young age, to be on that side of that business, whatever business I went into.
So caring for others has been a big motivator in my career and led me to AiR Healthcare, which is an organization that is dedicated to helping families and individuals struggling from behavioral health conditions. We’ve evolved over the years from working with individuals and families in a B2C model to actually delivering population health services, so to hundreds of thousands of individuals, which has been a really great way to sort of change the world and change the way healthcare is thought about and delivered in the United States.
Bill Detwiler: What are some of the issues that get in the way of effective patient care?
Jaclyn Wainwright: When you think about patient care, the only thing that should matter in that equation is the relationship between the patient and the professional, meaning making sure we understand and communicate and give the patient what the patient wants and needs when they need it. So I think there’s been a lot of noise in the healthcare space over the years because there’s been a lot of people in that equation, other than the patient and the provider. It creates almost white noise, or too much information, or too many people trying to make decisions, and takes away from that primary relationship. So I think healthcare has gone from a very simple preventing death sort of mission, back when it was developed, to trying to promote health. So we’re taking a system that was built to do one thing and trying to make it do something else.
Bill Detwiler: When it comes to helping patients get good outcomes, where does patient feedback come into the equation? Are we really asking patients, “Hey, look, what is it that you want to get out of this relationship? What do you want to get out of this interaction?”
Jaclyn Wainwright: I think we have completely abandoned asking patients, and spending time with patients, understanding what it is they want, what it is they need, because ultimately, if we know what patients value and what patients need, then changing their behavior, or getting them to follow medical recommendations or a continuing care plan, would be very easy. The problem is we don’t ask those questions for various reasons. Time doesn’t allow, or that’s not the job of the individual in front of the patient.
So I think in order to change outcomes and provide better healthcare, we need to pause and really think about, what is it that the patient needs? What is the patient trying to tell me? Am I listening? Because if we don’t understand what motivates a patient or an individual, then we absolutely will not be able to deliver an outcome that is satisfying to them.
Bill Detwiler: Talk a little bit about the reactive nature of healthcare, especially behavioral healthcare. Is there a way to be more proactive as opposed to coming in after a crisis has occurred?
Jaclyn Wainwright: I think healthcare in general has always been reluctant to spend money on proactive measures, on preventing things from happening. Instead, we’ve been chasing and treating individuals, which I think is part of the problem. Ultimately, if we’re going to make any progress toward healthier individuals, better health in general, we need to stop the cycle, stop reacting to decisions or behaviors that have led a person to be in crisis or be at the point where they need medical services, and start educating and proactively identifying people prior to a crisis.
I get that that’s hard a lot of times for businesses to understand, that are operating on a quarter-by-quarter basis and looking at financials in a short-sighted way, but we’re talking about individuals who have potentially, with behavioral health, who may not even know, to some extent, that they’re sick. So I think if we were to better educate and use some of the technologies that are available to us to proactively find those individuals and reach out and help them, think of the possibilities in communities and in the lives of individuals when we do that.
Bill Detwiler: If today’s static systems aren’t really capable of doing that, tell me a little bit about how AiR Health has managed to kind of change the model and achieve better results.
Jaclyn Wainwright: When we look back at where we’ve come from and then we look ahead to where we’re going, it’s been motivated by one thing, and that motivation has been to better serve the lives of the individuals and families that we touch or reach. So because that mission hasn’t changed, because the idea that every single individual that has a behavioral health problem deserves and can recover and live a happy and fulfilling life, it opens a lot more opportunities to leverage technologies, think outside the box, and not be bound by some of the modern conventional methods of treatment that may not best serve patients.
We got our start 16 years ago, helping individuals and families get well, find solutions, and so it was really important to us to know what was important to them, and I think that fundamentally has built our organization around a central point, a customer, right, serving an individual and delivering to that individual what they need, and knowing exactly why they need it.
Bill Detwiler: What are some of the specific systems that you’ve put into place at AiR Health that enable you to do that?
Jaclyn Wainwright: If you look at total population, 25 percent of a population, at any given point in time, has a behavioral health illness, and so that’s one in four individuals in any given day, and yet only 30 percent of those individuals are actually being treated. We’re talking about a huge number of people walking around sick, so the biggest question was, how can we reach the people that need treatment that aren’t being treated?
To do that, we started leveraging predictive analytics, so being able to leverage a technology in an environment like Azure, in the cloud, that makes that sort of thing easy to do for an organization that may not have the resources internally to do it, we were able to build a model that allows us to ingest claims data and find individuals in a population that have a behavioral health need, or an unmet need, prior to crisis, and even prior to diagnosis sometimes.
The predictive analytics helps us identify people, but then we have to rely on other analytics or other types of technology, and the skills of the clinician on the phone, to do what I think is one of the most important things to do when it comes to healthcare services, which is engage and connect with the individual on the other side of the phone, or the other side of the table, or other end of the phone line. To do that, we need to ask.
There’s not a predictive tool in the world that’s going to be able to tell a clinician what’s important to an individual, but the key of knowing who, in a sea of people of maybe a quarter of a million or a million covered lives, who needs outreach or who needs an intervention, in any given moment in time, that’s what the technology can do for us, and then we can use systems like Dynamics 365 or these tools that allow us to improve communication, or collect data and information on people once we do connect with them, to better engage them over a longer period of time. So using that type of technology, relationship management tools, has really enabled us to track, document, analyze what’s important to people.
Bill Detwiler: So it’s helped you better align the care with the patient, right?
Jaclyn Wainwright: It’s allowed us to stop thinking we know what a patient needs and ask. I think it’s the only way, in healthcare, to get results.
Bill Detwiler: If I had to sum up today’s conversation, I see a variety of takeaways. Customers expect personalized experiences, and they expect companies, whether they’re healthcare providers or anyone, to communicate with them through mobile, through social media, or whatever platform that they’re on. It’s important for companies to constantly reevaluate the customer or the patient journey, and then embrace change and build the necessary organizational skills to do that, and to change their corporate culture, which also comes down to being more proactive, and using technology to be predictive instead of just reactive, and then lastly, I loved Jaclyn’s point, ask customers what they want. Thanks so much for sharing your story with us, Jaclyn.
Jaclyn Wainwright: Bill, thank you. It’s been a wonderful conversation. I’ve really enjoyed it.
Bill Detwiler: For everyone listening, you can find out more at dynamics.microsoft.com. Till next time, I’m Bill Detwiler for Savvy Business Leaders.
Image Credit: Robert Bye @robertbye, Unsplash
Brian Solis is principal analyst and futurist at Altimeter, the digital analyst group at Prophet, Brian is world renowned keynote speaker and 7x best-selling author. His latest book, X: Where Business Meets Design, explores the future of brand and customer engagement through experience design.
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