Cannibalizing Your Own Experiences

The way strategists and designers theorize about human experience — and specifically customer experience, which is humans in the contextual role of “customer” — is often disconnected from the way business leaders think about strategy and business models. But in practice, for substantive and sustainable results, the efforts must be aligned.

For example, I’ve been vegan for nearly 23 years. The plant-based food revolution of the past few years is thrilling to see. But I see brands executing poorly against it. Dunkin’ and Starbucks, for example, both have introduced breakfast sandwiches with Beyond Meat vegan sausages or with Just Egg, but the sandwiches themselves, as merchandised, are not vegan. So vegan-minded customers who are drawn in by the new products have to know to order them with a whole set of modifications and off-menu tricks. How much more welcoming would it have been for the brands to simply add vegan sandwiches to their menu? People transitioning to eating more plant-based foods wouldn’t object that the bread is vegan, and it would be a far better experience for the actual vegan customers. (And by the way, the number of vegans in the U.S. grew by 600% from 2014 to 2017 while 500,000 people have pledged to eat vegan for the first time for the whole month of January 2021, so we’re talking about non-trivial market share that’s shown no signs of slowing down.) Moreover, it would encourage vegans who weren’t already fans of Dunkin’ and Starbucks to come and buy those sandwiches, meaning incremental purchases the brands never had before. And the kicker? People who aren’t vegan-inclined already had meal options at these brands, so making the vegan-ish sandwich not vegan may actually be cannibalizing (sorry) the sales of the other meal options.

Another example is the trend of high-quality non-alcoholic mixers like Seedlip along with a growing population of people who, whether over short spans of time or long periods, choose not to drink alcohol. (Another non-trivial market segment. Pre-packaged mocktails and other non-alcoholic beverages have been on the rise and are expected to continue growing, while an estimated 15% of Americans planned to participate this year in “Dry January.” How many have stuck to it in the wake of the past week’s political turmoil is worth wondering, but the intent was there.) This experience and strategy disconnect would be like a cocktail bar owner bringing Seedlip in only to offer it mixed it into alcoholic beverages. Meanwhile there’s a group of would-be customers who have not been catered to who might otherwise patronize the establishment, and they’re not being accommodated. That’s incremental business, and the bar in this example would be turning up its nose at it — in this economy?!

I witnessed this pattern up-close myself, when I was heading customer experience and product at Magazines.com. The company had historically pushed hard in every channel to sell cheap People magazine subscriptions because they were viewed as loss leaders that would get customers in the door, but something wasn’t working out right in the equation. There were too many cancellations as the first terms were coming up for renewal.

Eventually a colleague and I crunched enough numbers to work out what was happening: customers were buying the cheap first-term subscriptions in lieu of a steeper-priced renewal (where the company hoped to make its money back). We also saw why. When the subscribers to People magazine were getting their renewal notices by email, those emails often had cross-sell promotions — including, sometimes, for People magazine. We were doing nothing to exclude those promotions for first-term rates from the renewal emails. Once we added programming logic to the renewal emails to exclude promotions for the title being renewed, cancellations went down, and renewals went up. If I remember correctly, it meant gaining about a million dollars a year across channels. It sounds pretty easy to recognize in retrospect, but it is this holistic way of thinking about the entire business model and how it is presented to every customer, one by one, that makes it work in the details.

These three examples have in common that they are relevant to the customers — in other words, the humans you do business with. When I talk about meaningful human experiences, relevance is a form of meaningfulness. Showing that you have a sense about what is suitable, appropriate, and timely for customers helps them feel understood. And being understood is tantamount to being seen as human beings.

Leaders, don’t cannibalize your business success. Think it through, experience by experience. It could be costing you a lot of money to ignore providing better experiences, while it’s also costing you the goodwill and loyalty you might have enjoyed from customers who would appreciate having a relevant experience provided for them.

Human Experience = User Experience + Customer Experience + More

As we head into 2020, I’m still obsessed with the integration of human experience. My work over the last two decades in technology has often been centered on the user or the customer. What I began to realize was first of all that when we talk about the “user“ or the “customer“ that we are always talking about humans, and that it benefits us to think in a more holistic human context when we do that.

Now I find I’m not as interested in user or customer experience as I am in human experience: what does it mean to optimize for the human experience; what does it mean to be human at all; how can that apply to businesses, marketing, to schools, to hospitals, and well beyond.

But I also find that when business focuses on improving human experience in alignment with what the business objectives are, the chances for success increase. This is why in my books and keynotes and beyond I always talk about “human-centric digital transformation.” With emerging technology, because of the increased capacity and scale that it offers, it’s becoming increasingly important that that alignment is in place so that we don’t scale unintended consequences.

I believe some of the biggest opportunities right now for the future of human experience — and indeed the future of humanity in general — are in looking at the ways online meets offline, customer meets user, employee meets candidate, global meets local, how the gig economy is shaking up the work landscape, and on and on.

We’ll have to think about context, environment, culture, aesthetics, identity. We’ll have to think about the human journey instead of the customer journey.

We’ll have to think about metrics that measure the human experience. What will those be? How do you measure fulfillment? A life well lived?

This moment in history feels very chaotic, where automation, artificial intelligence, and other emerging technologies are rapidly changing our vision of even the near future. Meanwhile, 70-80% of CEOs think the next 3 years are more critical than the past 50. We’re clearly in a truly transformative time.

So there’s tremendous opportunity for UX and CX professionals to put a stake in the ground on behalf of a wider lens on humanity, and advocate for integrated human experiences in the midst of machine-driven interactions and transactions, to make them as meaningful as possible.

Experience Timeline by Technology Era

To understand what constitutes experience and what has constituted experience throughout different eras of technology, I offer this timeline of what characterized and will characterize experiences throughout the major eras of recent and forthcoming technology. We are somewhere around the social-enabled and “smart” era, with elements of the “intelligent” era beginning to show up and legacy remnants of the previous eras still left behind.

To understand what constitutes experience and what has constituted experience throughout different eras of technology, I offer this timeline of what characterized and will characterize experiences throughout the major eras of recent and forthcoming technology. We are somewhere around the social-enabled and “smart” era, with elements of the “intelligent” era beginning to show up and legacy remnants of the previous eras still left behind.

Experience Timeline by Technology Era

platform? context? (not eras, because many overlap)

analog (industrial/pre-industrial?)

digital

web-enabled

social-enabled

“smart”/connected data sources

“intelligent”/AI

fully virtual / ambient virtual

characterized by

solid state, tangible

electronic, power-operated

interlinked, global knowledge, global village

social sharing, FOMO, FONS, selfie culture

data tracking, anticipatory based on past behavior, algorithmic

anticipatory based on externalities, secondary behaviors, cognitive cues, emotional indicators

dominant eras

??-?? (ongoing)

19th century – ?? (ongoing)

1990s – ?? (ongoing)

2000s – ?? (ongoing)

2010s – ?? (ongoing)

2010/20s – ?? (ongoing)

automation

mechanical

electronic

interlinked

social triggers

algorithmic

anticipatory

dominant interface

tactile

tactile, impulse?, text

desktop screen, text, images

mobile screen, text, videos

voice

voice, gesture, ambient

sensory interactions

buttons, dials, levers, etc

typing, mouse, visual cues

typing, mouse, visual cues

typing, touch, visual interactions

buttons, keypads, visual displays, voice

visual

y

y

y

y

y

y

tactile

y

y

y

audio

indicators

indicators

content

content

interactions

Interactions, triggers

ambient cues

kinesthetic

motion-powered

gestures to trigger sensors

gestures to interact

olfactory

detect gas leaks, detect coffee smell

simulate aromas?

taste

simulate taste?

What does placemaking look like in each context?

What does business need to do to innovate in each?

What do meaningful human experiences look like in each context?

What is the future of meaningful human experience?

The future of meaningful human experience is multi-sensory, contextual, dimensional, integrated, intelligent, responsive, anticipatory, adaptive, and inclusive.

 

Beyond Customer Experience

Businesses are finally starting to catch on that a disciplined approach to improving the customer experience leads to profit. That’s the starting point, and it’s fantastic.

But what’s the next step? What’s beyond improving the customer experience?

Well, we can think about the customer not merely as a customer, but as a well-rounded human being, who takes on many roles throughout the course of a day: patient, student, user, guest, citizen, not to mention friend, employee, parent, and so on. We can improve the human experience.

How can we improve human experience? How can we think about those many roles we all have in a business context, and why should we?

Those additional roles become dimensions of the person you’re trying to do business with. The more dimensional that person is to you, the more likely you’ll be able to offer them value. When you offer them value, you establish the basis of a meaningful relationship.

We always have to look for the human nuances if we want to build meaning.

Is Your Business Based on an Outdated Model of Customer Interaction?

You probably know, as most people do, that Netflix was all about renting unlimited DVDs before pivoting into streaming, but what you may not know is that before launching that DVD subscription program, they started out as a service to rent DVDs a la carte, just like Blockbuster, except online and through the mail. When they hit upon the idea of a DVD subscription model, they discovered that they had been working with a rapidly-aging notion of how customers wanted to interact with the physical world, and their new model simplified it. Of course their even newer model, of streaming video, simplified it even more. What are the wide-open opportunities to rethink the interactions with your customers and in your market?

The key thing to remember is that the convergence of physical and digital happens around the human experience. It’s not a new phenomenon, but the opportunities to adapt and offer more contextually relevant experiences are evolving all the time.

There’s a whole lot more about this in my new book Pixels and Place, coming out September 1st, 2016. You can pre-order the Kindle version here. Check back over the next few weeks, too; I’ll be posting more excerpts and giving away copies.