Last week I had the chance to chair the digital stream of the Customer 3.1 conference. It was illuminating and I was privileged to hear some very smart people talk about some very smart things they’re doing in their businesses to shift towards a more seamless experience for their customers.As a customer of many of those businesses myself, I feel I’m invested in some of the initiatives they’re undertaking. They’re all set to make my life simpler, to integrate into my life in a more convenient way, and to make being a customer of their's easier than ever before. Which all sounds good right? So why does it feel like something's missing?
A shift to functionalism
Back in 2008 when the GFC was in full force in the UK and uncertainty about economic prospects dominated the headlines, the government announced some severe austerity measures. They would strip back public spending on all but the most critical of services. They would concentrate on utilitarianism and functionality over and above everything else. If it wasn’t necessary, it wouldn’t be funded.
I remember listening to the radio (the actual radio!) listening to a member of the opposition party react to the announced measures and proclaim with gusto that “he didn’t want to live in a world without flowers on roundabouts.” Somewhat insensitive perhaps when the everyday Brit was worrying about staying in employment and maintaining a roof above their head. But it was a comment that has stuck with me throughout the almost ten years since.
Where's the delight?
As human beings, our needs are complex. Far more complex than any other creature on earth. While of course we have a need to function, we also have a deeply ingrained need for moments of joy, a need to create and admire things of beauty, a need to play, a need to revel in frivolity, a need to express ourselves. In short, a need to interact with the world around us on a far deeper level than simply that of the functional. A need for flowers on our roundabouts.
I think with the emergence of digital technology, as business leaders we’ve forgotten that. We’ve become so distracted by the possibilities of minimalism, that we’ve created a digital movement akin to the architectural brutalism of the 1950s and 60s. Where anything which doesn't affect the core experience is considered extraneous and superfluous to requirements. So consumed are we by how we can make a customer’s experience simple, easy, convenient, fast and seamless that we’ve forgotten to ask how we can make it more delightful.
Think beyond the measure
Think about a roundabout for a second. At its heart, it fulfils a similar function to that which UX practitioners would talk about every day. It's designed to create as smooth a flow of traffic from one place to another. It empowers the individual components of that traffic to fork off in the direction they wish to go, with minimum fuss. It’s about creating easy, seamless and uninterrupted journeys.
If we adopt a digital mindset to how we would measure that roundabout, we would seek to quantify its success. We would measure average traffic volume. Or perhaps use the average time from approach to exit to measure its effectiveness. Or the number of cars through it per hour. Or we’d go bigger picture and talk to the number of successful journeys facilitated per day or month. There would be clear and very trackable KPIs.
Winning the long game
Sadly, in that digital mindset, I don’t think we would ever put flowers on the roundabout. Doing so wouldn't increase traffic volume or speed up the time through it, so frankly what would be the point?
I think the point is that while as business people we think we’re building a digital experience, our customers don’t think they’re having one with us. As far as they’re concerned, they’re interacting with our brand. Simple as that. They don’t care what our digital strategy is, what our digital KPIs are, what we’re measuring, tracking and optimising. They care about being able to do what they want to do AND about feeling good while they do it. There can be delight in simplicity, but there can also be delight in positive complexity. So why are we so focussed on the former and so neglectful of the latter?
If you’re not using your digital experiences to create moments of joy, moments of frivolity, moments of escapism and moments of self-actualisation, you’re almost certainly missing out on a huge opportunity to create a deep and meaningful human connection with your customers. One that while it might not produce an immediately measurable lift, will help you win in the long term. And that's what really matters.
So... how are you going to put flowers on your roundabouts?
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