No matter what organizers plan for, conferences have a way of coming up with a common topic all on their own.
DigitalK is a conference on the future of business. But based on the talks this year, I can say it’s a conference focused on customer knowledge, customer experience, and how tech can be an enabler of meaningful relationships. These were the common threads that came up again and again, ever since Brian Solis came on stage and spoke about understanding the changes in customer behavior with the onset of technology.
Start with the customer
Brian made it clear we can’t rely on what we already know because the world is changing and consumer behavior is changing with it. To be good at change management, we need to understand customers. We need to spend enough time to learn about their needs, requirements, and priorities.
What struck me was a stat Brian shared. Only 35% of companies were mapping their customer journeys in 2017. That’s down from 54% the previous year. You can’t understand how the digital environment is evolving, as that’s happening at great speed. But you can surely try to understand your customers. Then why don’t we do it?“Marketing’s biggest challenge today is keeping personal meaningful relationships with consumers and scaling them through digital channels.' - Momchil Kyurkchiev, LeanplumClick To Tweet
The topic of customer empathy came up again later in the day. Leanplum’s CEO Momchil Kyurkchiev talked about the difficulty marketers face when trying to scale personal relationships. To forge meaningful bonds with users, we need to reimagine personal connections and use technology to create the conversations of tomorrow.
Elizabeth Barelli from Medium showed us a prime example of building meaningful relationships and a sense of community. It’s a bleak time for those looking for quality content – click bait and fake news seem to prevail. That’s when Medium spearheaded a new movement. This made it possible to create a community united by a true cause. If you’re looking for content inspiration, look no further than Medium’s manifesto.
Technology is just an enabler
Being a technology conference, it’s easy for DigitalK to go into the “tech as panacea” direction. Thankfully, speakers wanted it another way.“Technology isn’t the answer. It’s an essential enabler of a greater vision and mission.” - Brian SolisClick To Tweet
The truth is, technology is just a means to an end. Brian Solis made it clear that the key to innovation isn’t shiny new tech, but change agents with a sense of purpose. As change agents, we need to master all too human skills and work to change company culture – the biggest hurdle to innovation according to 62% of companies.
Technology can be powerful, if you use it to your customer’s advantage, according to Amazon’s Max Amordeluso. He presented some great examples of companies building Alexa skills for voice search. These are not designed to sell, but to bring value. Tide doesn’t sell you detergent through voice search, it lets you know how to remove a wine stain from the carpet.
But to do that, we need to start with people. Check out how BBC built their Alexa skill for reference. The prototype was made by humans, for humans. It’s almost endearing to see complex algorithms being developed first on sticky notes.
Still, all this doesn’t mean that tech is completely renounced. If it’s used well, it can be akin to magic. But tech for tech’s sake is a no go.“When technology merges with great customer experience, it becomes extraordinary” - Jessica GioglioClick To Tweet
The point was reinforced by Google with several examples of how technology builds better experiences. The best example was Starbucks – their Order & Pay app functionality accounts for 10% of their US revenue, amounting to $1.5 billion. This shows how convenience for users can lead to great business results.
Customer experience builds stories
When you take a closer look, technology is meaningless unless it helps us build memorable customer experiences. But when that happens, consumers are delighted and they will be the ones telling your brand’s story.“Meaningful stories start with the customer experience - if customers are happy, new stories will emerge.” - Jessica GioglioClick To Tweet
Jessica Gioglio gave us some great examples of that. The one that stuck with me features a set of hiking boots bought from the outdoor gear retailer REI. A woman was hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail when she had problems with her hiking boots. REI managed to send a replacement pair to her mid-hike. The reason we hear about this story is that the woman was Cheryl Strayed, who came to be a bestselling author. She featured the story in her memoir Wild – and then it made it to the movie with Reese Witherspoon. A great example of customer service done right – and the way it eventually repays you.
Forget what you know
“Success is a poor teacher – it lulls us into complacency; it makes us not challenge our beliefs.” – Brian Solis
If I have to make a one sentence recap of DigitalK, it would go something like this. “Technology isn’t the answer – empathy and striving for meaningful human relationships is what will differentiate successful brands in the future.”
This is not a new paradigm, but one we’re somewhat out of touch with. It’s a shift from short-term results and getting that revenue up to pausing for a moment and truly listening to users.
To fully understand that, we need to unlearn many of the old models we’ve been accustomed to. No gimmicks, hacks, or “Facebook strategies”. It’s about focusing on the user and bringing value transmedia, in any channel they might happen to be using. So start unlearning and focus on understanding how tech can help you be relevant.