By Arundati Dandapani
Do a few things really well.
Austin in Texas is home to more tech companies per capita than any other city in the US or North America, with a share of high-tech employment that’s triple that of the US average, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Post the pandemic, Austin also became the fastest-growing metro and hub for budget-conscious tech-companies and tech-talent seeking greener silicon pastures. I’ve already been to Austin twice before, first to accept an industry award and present at the IIeX conference, and the next time to empower and champion more insights. X-Day2023 was my third time in a city that is also the US’ live music capital. If you know me well, you also know I chair and attend insight tech panels at colleges, so XDay was an interesting “offsite” that fell on Reading Week right after an inspiring Vision2030 technology-and-beyond campus-wide workshop event I had the privilege of participating in as faculty.
Problems cannot be solved by the factors that created them said Einstein: @humbercollege President&CEO Dr Ann Vaughn urges everyone to think about how to deal w crises differently, using biotechnology, prompt engineering, quantum computing. Howto harness #possibilities better? pic.twitter.com/yObCkfk8LK— Arundati Dandapani (@itadnura) October 23, 2023
My first intro to Texas and its pressing social problems including homelessness and crime, was in the early noughties by J. Hubner, whose impactful book and case study on juvenile crime and recidivism data from a state institution that pioneered the rehabilitation of the toughest young lawbreakers Last Chance in Texas influenced my own work with low-to-high-security prison inmates, formative in my life as a data leader and educator. I also knew I’d be bringing my students more stories and potential projects or employers from the future of work, technology and experience metrics, in addition to more analytical lenses for my upcoming book on citizen experiences. Generation1.ca was thus a proud industry partner of QuestionPro’s XDay2023!
Three types of takeaways for us:
1. Technology is changing fast, but also slowly. Fast because new tools, techniques, technologies and data collection methods have flooded the market so quickly, but slow, because investment, regulation and consumer adoption are barriers, even as the US market leads in tech-enabled insights on the global stage. What does this mean for research, data or insights? Just that we need more “humane” storytellers who are proficient across business problems, research problems, and the larger industry problems as more of these technological shifts impact the insights we gather at scale.
For example, the business problem of digital transformation with cloud computing, AI and mobile devices disrupting business models created a new need to stay competitive as new industries emerged from the smart homes, to connected cars, ride-sharing, the gig economy and online / on-demand learning. From here, you could analyze the research problem of how to predict changing customer expectations and meet them in an exceptional way.
But where all this accumulates or aggregates to become an industry problem, is where the magic happens for me and all those invested in guiding industry ecosystems. Industry problems emerge from assessing the collective impact of “technological transformation” across industry businesses and organizations; whether in terms of the shortage of data talent needed to fill vacant jobs, timely analytical and accurate dissemination of insights, or the ethical use of AI, web3 or automation in terms of privacy, transparency, bias, accountability, fairness, risk, or responsible use, etc.
Walter Greer, Chief Experience and Design Officer at VMLY&R, the opening keynote speaker, brought high energy and emotion to the morning, discussing the role of creatives (“all creatives are problem solvers”) and why brands of the future should reflect the values of their consumers. Greer posited, “the most difficult thing for a brand to do is to speak the truth. Even if it means rubbing people the wrong way.” Inevitably in my classes too, we discuss communications disasters and its converse “moral courage,” and how brands that are more responsive to the truth and human sensitivities, end up winning the share of wallets stronger and longer. Think about taking your customers through the full loop of guest (first-time visitor), friend (regular visitor) and advocate (championing your brand and referring it to others it would benefit) more successfully. What are some barriers you face along the way?
Greer’s incredible career success as a creative and work with Madison Black’s 7 is not Enough project, demonstrated how inequity at the top is extremely challenging for Black America that is (now) home to a staggeringly low 10 C-suite creatives across US holding agencies! He reminded everyone, that the two most important days of your life are the day you are born, and when you know why you are born. All creatives are problem solvers, said Greer, goading everyone to really flex their mental muscle to understanding what unmet needs of what underserved audiences we can meet to differentiate on values and stay authentic, impactful and sustainable as brands and leaders. The inspiring work being done by Greer and his team for Dogs without Borders and the Advil Pain Equity Project were reminders that you don’t need to rely on “technology” for all innovation, but rather be a master of human empathy and experience first.
Greer’s diverse examples from public and private sectors, discussed user-effectiveness and brand memorability and how brands and organizations are constantly competing against the last best experience of our customers. Also, Greer discussed how competition isn’t always or ever a battle between equals. Have you ever considered that Netflix and Delta Airlines or Google and Delta Airlines could be competitors? Greer shared a fun and interactive card sort exercise of potential competitors across categories and brands, proving that competition is almost category-neutral, and at best a battle for your users’ values, attention, money and time.
Finally, Greer questioned the audience with, “What’s your prison?” and quoted Rumi, “Why do you stay in prison when the door is wide open?” urging everyone to smash all their prison walls by reimagining possibility and life, just like Greer does everyday as an experience design leader and creativity powerhouse invested in user-centricity and lifetime customer excellence.
2. Customer experience is about measuring and integrating all components of the Total Human Experience (customers, employees, citizens or prospective customers / consumers). Some brands and organizations achieve this balance across their verticals and touchpoints with more ease and seamlessness than others. Valerie Peck, Managing Director of QuestionPro’s CX Suite (images 1 and 2 in the slideshow below), offered her take on the dynamic world of customer behaviour and the onus on companies to “do things right and do the right things.” Peck emphasized that well done customer experience is about accelerating growth which was a sum of acquiring more customers, retaining more customers longer, and improving the customer lifetime value. She talked about the scope of UX being limited to product entities whereas that of CX pertaining to customers’ interactions and experiences across all your brands and organization, even as the goals of doing both are to advocate for a better customer journey.
David Hicks, Cofounder and Chairman at XMCoach.com and Sumair Sayani, AI and Global Partnerships Lead at QuestionPro described the building blocks of Customer Experience as ambition, metrics, operations and principles. They do this by focusing on the business outcomes of customers (e.g NPS, Customer effort, Satisfaction, Emotional engagement, sentiments), organizational (e.g. brand, loyalty, trust) and employees (feedback, engagement, satisfaction).
Shawn Nason, Founder and CEO of experience design company MOFI, his own company that is built on the three experience principles of “Know me” (your customer), “Surprise me” (make customers feel special and gain their loyalty), “Make it Easy for me” (make it easy for customers to navigate the systems and processes), offered wise insights on building effective experience eco-systems across touchpoints. He shared his experiences working at Disney, OFFOR, and MOFI, in how they are able to design successful experiences and grow their customers’ lifetime value using data and insights across the experience ecosystem. “What’s your experience proposition?” asked Nason of the audience, urging everyone to learn how to build better experience ecosystems (see image above), have a solid mission statement, create and deliver on an experience promise, design values your organization embodies through every single touchpoint, and core values your organization embodies through every employee. For more directional feedback, innovate beyond NPS, think about your Net Trust Score, by asking customers, “Does Brand X have your best interests at heart? Tell us why?”
Data validates the human experience, but don’t let it dictate it. If you get the human experience right, you’ll get the numbers you need to be obsessive about benchmarks.Shawn Nason, Founder and CEO, MOFI
Puja Rios, a multi-faceted superhero, respected revenue leader and Chief Revenue Officer at Adobe Frame.io, offered the best closing keynote, also bringing the audience to tears with her story on rising through adversity, oblivious to social pressures, being laser focused on her vision, tasks and action, biting past the disappointment of accidents, social criticism and stigma to take on a whole lot more and achieving exponentially with her own data-informed framework with good and believing people at the foundation of all her ventures. Her book is phenomenal too, in how simple and customizable it can be for anyone in any business or industry with big dreams, and all sales teams and data-led teams (aka everyone) should read all about her struggles, fed on values of relentless hard work, compassion and an unending love of excellence and her loved ones.
As the founder of a platform that integrates those who move to another country alone in their adulthood often confronting similarly crazy, dangerous and strange struggles that turn them into “anti-fragile” (a term coined by Nicholas Nassim Taleb to discuss growth through hardship) well-rounded individuals that improve the lot of a whole country, continent and world, across their human capital metrics, I know Puja Rios’ book will inspire our brave communities of movers and arrivers to break free of their mental shackles of the past and present.
3. Innovation is important across operations, marketing, finance, and companywide, and has always come from the most unexpected of places including necessity, pain-points and problems. This is why problem-scoping is the most sought after skill in business today (along with communication) because you can differentiate with innovation, improve customer experience and bridge any gaps that occur between tech creation and implementation. Little surprise how innovation peaked in the pandemic, and Gina Woodall’s presentation was testament to some of that innovation across customer experience and social innovation.
Rockbridge, Illuminas’ Vice President of Client Services Gina Woodall‘s presentation about how innovation happens across sectors in the United States shed light on how customer experience innovation was being led outside of the technology sector than within it in the US. Woodall leads reasearch on the American Innovation Index and Social Innovation Index studies conducted by Rockbridge, Illuminas. This annual benchmarking study scored the most innovative companies judged by customers’ experiences and based on the social impact / positive impact on society in combination with loyatly indexes, and other metrics like brand attractiveness index, NPS and share of wallet.
The research is conducted in conjunction with Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business and the Norwegian School of Economics covering 150 firms across 20 industries measured across 40,000 customer touchpoints across the US. They tracked customers’ perception of innovation because innovation matters across operations (drives loyalty and word of mouth), marketing (customers choose your brand over others), and finance (increased innovation leads to increased shareholder wealth by 8% on average, as well as employee engagement and retention). They also tracked social innovation metrics.
The day long conference was rich with takeaways for all those interested in discussing and elevating “experience” across their customers, stakeholders, projects and businesses.
Oh, and we were overlooking River Colorado in Austin’s Texas with delicious cocktails and food. Thank you QuestionPro for the invitation to join XDay as an industry partner and for hosting Genration1.ca.