4 Lessons Learned About A Human-Centric Digital Experience

4 Lessons Learned About A Human-Centric Digital Experience

How do you create a human-centric digital experience? Here, Gajen Kandiah, President of Cognizant Digital Business, describes four ways to ensure humanity is the focal point of your digital initiatives.

It’s one thing to talk about why humans need to be at the center of digital initiatives, and quite another to figure out what the resulting solutions look like and how to actually achieve them. How did we get, for example, from fumbling with our BlackBerry keyboards, to talking to Siri and Alexa? From my observations and client experiences, here are four lessons learned about ensuring the ultimate humanity – and thus success – of a digital experience.

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  • Don’t make big data your one true love.
    Big data reveals important insights generated by consumers’ online preferences, interactions and transactions. However, taken in isolation, these insights can really lead you astray. I know of one online retailer whose big data revealed that a certain customer segment would be willing to pay more for a particular product. But increasing the price for these customers, while beneficial in the short term from a revenue standpoint, would be a terrible move when it comes to building customer trust.

    Businesses need to combine their big data and algorithmically-derived insights with actual observations of human behavior – how people live their lives, perform their work and use products and services in real time. We call these insights thick data, and the only way to undercover them is to embed social science researchers with customers in their everyday lives to really discover their needs and motivations.

    We worked with a global telecom and entertainment services provider to better understand the needs of modern families managing their mobile devices. The company was focused mainly on helping customers with home connectivity and program selection. As it turned out, however, customers also wanted to manage their children’s device usage and limit access to certain timeframes. The need for family time without devices interfering with human interactions was an insight the data alone couldn’t reveal.
  • Keep peeling the onion.
    It might seem overly time-consuming to send anthropologists out to spend days or weeks with customers, investigating their needs. But being endlessly curious and empathetic toward customers is never a waste of time. An example I’ve witnessed is Coloplast, a maker of ostomy-related medical devices. When the company needed to accelerate its growth, it worked with our partner ReD Associates to visit ostomy patients throughout the world. The question went from “how do we capture new sources of growth,” to “what is the experience of living with an ostomy?”

    As it turned out, while the company had focused on product innovations to improve the effectiveness of its ostomy bags, it realized through anthropological research that what it needed to focus on were the patients themselves. The product could be perfect, but if it could only fit an ideal body type, its usefulness for real people was diminished.

    Coloplast created a new product line based on four different body types, using information directly gleaned from patients. With better fitting bags, its ostomy business began growing faster than the overall ostomy bag market. This could only have happened by the business’s being willing to study both the data and its customers’ lives. Spending that time upfront – and involving social science researchers throughout the process – was time well spent.
  • Simplicity isn’t so simple.
    Delivery drones, voice assistants and other digital solutions all have the potential to fit seamlessly into our lives. But the experience needs to feel natural, comfortable and intuitive – even invisible – to the consumer. Everyone from mobile phone makers to insurers needs to figure out how to make the technology transparent and get out of the way of the services being provided.

    Those of a certain age might remember old-fashioned milk delivery, when bottles of fresh milk appeared on the doorstep every other morning, with no need on our part to understand the complexities behind it. So it is with delivering a digital experience.

    Such simplicity is not necessarily simple to achieve. It requires businesses to embrace a more iterative and agile orientation to solution building that enables a nimble response to continuous customer feedback. Delivering a meaningful experience to users of mobile devices with a voice assistant, for example, requires not only algorithmic processing of massive datasets, but also a thoughtful examination of what people say and how they behave while filtering out or addressing inherent biases.

    The digital experiences offered by the likes of Airbnb, Hotel Tonight, Uber and Lyft mask amazing amounts of complexity, and businesses need the wherewithal to keep that hidden from the user, so that the experience can become part of their lives. A first-class example is our work with a global beauty retailer to deliver a consumer-grade experience via its global commerce platform. With human needs at the core, we architected a flagship e-commerce site for the company’s 20 brands, appealing to consumers across 45 countries versed in 35 languages. We added capabilities to ensure inventory services, replenishment management and retail analytics systems to create a seamless, personalized shopping experience that sustained loyalty.
  • Don’t keep anything hidden behind the curtain. 
    While it’s vital to hide complexity, businesses need to be completely transparent about what’s happening with their brand, whether it’s new features being added (like microphones to home security systems) or subtracted (like “do not track” features from browsers). New levels of transparency are required to minimize the “creep factor” that can result from over-personalization, opaque decisions made by AI algorithms or the addition of new digital capabilities that people are unaware of or that intrude on their privacy.

For leaders looking to differentiate their products and services, a human-centric approach is essential as it supplies much-needed answers to the question of which new products and services are useful, why they’re needed, and how they should be built. The result is products and services that cater to people’s needs from the outset, which lowers adoption risk, increases impact and compresses the time from idea to value for both customers and the business.

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