Amid the fascination surrounding artificial intelligence (AI) and other hot digital technologies, there’s a recurring theme among business executives, and certainly within Cognizant: keep it human. Not only is it essential to embed human intelligence, judgment and empathy in the design of the digital experience, and especially to ensure ethical AI outcomes; it’s also critical to never stop asking the question: what’s in it for the human being using the solution?
But 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.
- Don’t make big data your one true love.
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.
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.
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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