Why customer culture has replaced technology as the holy grail

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February 2, 2023

As you know, I’m a big fan of how technology can really enhance the user experience and boost the convenience to a maximum. But I also feel that many of the technologies that we have all been so excited about in the past couple of years are currently bouncing against some sort of 90% barrier of expectation. Let me explain. Each of these emerging technologies – like AI, VR, IoT, 5G etc. – promised amazing features and benefits. And, on many aspects, they did deliver amazing results. But in many other domains, there is still a huge gap between the cool experiments and a truly convenient customer experience. Just think about hotel adverts following you like a drunk barfly over every website you visit, while you already recently booked that hotel.

It’s Amara’s law

In cases like these, I always have to think about Roy Charles Amara who was the president of the Institute for the Future and who coined Amara’s law on the effect of technology in 2006:

“We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run”.

This effect is perhaps not exactly new, but it does clearly explain why hitting that 90% rate happens pretty fast (well, you know, considering…), while it takes a very long time to overcome the last 10% to hit the real 100% target.

I like to compare that to charging an electric vehicle. It takes about 25 to 30 mins on average to charge a Tesla Model 3 from 20% to a 80% state of charge (SoC). That’s why most people choose to load for a 15 minute session from 20% to 60% SoC. The reason is because charging speed slows down gradually as the battery moves toward a higher SoC. Just like that, getting to the 90% of what a technology promises happens relatively fast, compared to the last 10% where evolution seems to slow down.

Not there yet

At this moment in time, for instance, we’re all reading and talking about the metaverse, right? Virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality, NFTs, holograms and everything that goes hand in hand with these types of immersive environments are very hot. And, yes, there are a lot of remarkable evolutions. Meta, for instance, announced a few weeks ago that it is working on really impressive neural input wristbands:

And its new Meta Quest Pro, a headset that blends VR and AR together into one device, looks incredibly advanced:

But the truth is, if you try the Meta Quest Pro out for yourself, the experience is not as state-of-the-art as their snazzy marketing video would have us believe. It’s not bad, obviously, but it sure is not 100% perfect, either. And even though Mark Zuckerberg is trying to convince the world that virtual reality is the next platform, and even if his own company Meta has invested $36 billion in his Reality Labs between January 2019 and September 2022, today it’s still kind of gimmicky. It probably will mature into something important, but we’re definitely not there yet. And so we’re clearly bumping into the limitations of this technology.

And the same goes for many other concepts and technology that I was truly excited about in the last couple of years. Just think about voice assistants. I have pretty much all of them at home and, yes, they’re fun. They’re also super cool. At home, we use them a lot for music and some basic searches or requests, but they’re not the “Partner in Life” yet that we all hoped for so much.

Remember how crazy we got over the Google Duplex AI Assistant call, back in 2018?

I mean, it was so realistic and this functionality would have saved us so much time. But more than 4 years later, I’m not sure that many people use this day in day out, right? The demo was not the reality. It was what happens under perfect circumstances and that rarely happens in real life.

The 90% tech experience

Or look at the market of driverless vehicles. Six or seven years ago, I have to admit that I was truly convinced that my oldest son would no longer need a driver’s license. His car would take him anywhere he wanted in a fully safe way. Well, he’s 13 now, and he’s already starting to talk about getting his driver’s license. And now I believe that he will probably still need his driver’s license. Because we’ve bumped into the 90% border of what is happening with automated vehicles at this point.

So this is what I mean with the 90% tech experience: technology that’s really cool, but that is not (yet) good enough to create breakthrough evolutions in CX. And I had this aha-moment where I realized that this is the main reason why technology is no longer the holy grail in customer experience. Don’t get me wrong. We will keep using technology for efficiency, convenience and personalization. It will keep playing a vital role in CX, and it will keep evolving. But it is also no longer the holy grail.

In the past 10 years, we believed that technology would solve a lot of the issues in customer experience. Today we see that this is not the case. Technology is no longer the holy grail, but customer culture is.

The human side

In 2014, no less than eight years ago, I wrote the bestseller “When digital becomes human”. And the reason why it spoke to so many people, I think, is because – at a time where everyone was completely focused on the tech side of CX – I advocated that a big consequence of the digital evolution would be a deeply seated need for the human transformation of customer relationships. Today, I believe that the main premise of the book is more relevant than ever before.

Why? Because today, most of the organizations that I work with all feel that customer culture will make the difference. Not a culture of just automation, but a culture where you really listen and really try to understand what people want and then help them. Empathy, is the one domain where computers don’t even come close to competing with us. Over the years, software has even become quite good at being creative, but empathy remains that last beacon, something that is typically human. And so a positive culture of being kind, of being human, of saying “yes” to your customers will become a true differentiator. That’s what will bridge the most of that last 10% to get to great CX.

It’s about positive intent. Customers aren’t unreasonable. Most of the time, they understand that something is difficult or if something doesn’t work out. But if they don’t feel your positive intent, that’s when they become angry. If they notice that you try really hard and do whatever you can to make them happy, they will appreciate that and be happy.

If you look at the next couple of years and the challenges that we’re facing right now, I absolutely believe customer culture will be the most essential differentiator in a world where technology is not (yet) living up to the expectations to make customers really, really happy.

In the coming years, humans and culture will keep being the true differentiators in CX.

This article first appeared here. Read it and more here.

Steven Van Belleghem
Steven Van Belleghem
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February 2, 2023