Sales Trend 6 of Barrett’s 12 Sales Trends for 2018 is about the ‘human experience’ in businesses and sales.

The terms Customer Experience and Customer Centric have been around for some time. These terms are now referred to in shorthand as CX. Now a new term is emerging – HX, the Human Experience.

What does all this mean? Aren’t they the same thing?

This sales trend explores the terms CX and HX and helps put into perspective the old and the new when it comes to creating a competitive winning edge in sales and business.

Let’s look at some definitions first:

In commerce, customer experience (CX) is the product of an interaction between an organisation and a customer over the duration of their relationship. Basically, it’s the steps involved and how a customer experiences their buying and customer service journey with any organisation and its people – for good or for bad.

Human-centered design (HCD) is a design and management framework that develops solutions to problems by involving the human perspective in all steps of the problem-solving process. Human-centered design is an approach to interactive systems development that aims to make systems usable and useful by focusing on the users, their needs and requirements, and by applying human factors/ergonomics, usability knowledge and techniques. This approach enhances effectiveness and efficiency, improves human well-being, user satisfaction, accessibility and sustainability; and counteracts possible adverse effects of use on human health, safety and performance. This is at the heart of HX – Human experience.

I can’t help but be a bit cynical here, because any business who has always cared about their customers and their teams and focused on providing a professional and helpful experience, has been working in the CX and HX zone for years. This concept is not new. Peter Drucker, the father of business management and culture, wrote in his book, The Age of Discontinuity, published in 1953 that:

 “The purpose of business is not to make profit but to satisfy the needs and expectations of customers. The consequence of satisfied customers is incremental profit …”   

For too long, many businesses ignored the advice of Peter Drucker and focused on profit only, looking at customers as numbers, a means to an end for profit. And even if customer service was a KPI, it was often more to do with efficiencies of the task i.e. get those customers in and out quickly without much fuss, than actually caring about the person(s) involved. Even if companies talked up CX, their efforts were often tokenistic at best. 

However, things are changing on many fronts. CX-HX is becoming the next competitive edge for businesses as product quality dries up, buyer choice is rampant and profit margins go south. In times of flux and uncertainty along with customers having so much choice and consumer/ brand loyalty waning, CX has become even hotter with the emphasis now heading in the HX zone – human experience with a big emphasis on human-centred design.

CX-HX is getting a lot more attention at board level and the C-suite helping businesses remain relevant and profitable: the new strategy is all about how we treat and engage with our fellow human beings, our customers and our teams.

It’s the combination of the ethos and culture of CX and the human-centred design of HX that is now the key to driving profitable business, sales and service strategy in the 21st century.

CX-HX is a major shift in thinking and action. Peter Drucker was right all along. The pendulum is swinging back to the middle, the more reasonable ways of doing business.  

This state of flux is shaking up the old guard. Old ways of doing business are being disrupted. Can you imagine the likes of Gordon Gekko et al shifting to a CX-HX strategy willingly? The old guard, the captains of industry who have worshipped at the corporate altar of profit for over 50 years must be having some major existential crises.

Customers are no longer objects, mug punters, ignorant consumers, demographics, stats on a balance sheet, they are people with whom we interact and engage. They are our fellow human beings.  

CX-HX is the new frontier to improving customer loyalty and sales. Alex Iles, Director of PPBA & Litmus Group’s global Experience Design Practice, states that:

“Close to 90% of companies globally are placing CX at the top of their priority list (HBR, Gartner). Therefore, the benchmark for creating experiences that a) keep customers coming back for more and b) inspire them to share with others is, quite rightly, being pushed higher and higher.

Companies who are providing their customers with a great experience tend to show four key qualities:

  1. They show genuine empathy with their customers at every interaction
  2. They make it easy for their customers to derive value from their experiences
  3. They ensure the products, services, content, communications & experiences they provide are relevant to customers’ needs and wants
  4. And they orchestrate all of the above across every channel”

CX-HX is a company-wide culture and capability transformation and cannot be taken lightly.

Especially in times of flux. People want their buying and service experiences to be simple, easy, straight forward and personable. They want to engage with genuine people who care about what they are doing, especially when their buying or user experience starts to get complicated. In those times they want to talk to a real human being.

Dr Nicola J. Millard, Head of Customer Insight & Futures BT Global Services Innovation Team for British Telecom points out that taking into account the human customer experience is critical for businesses to remain relevant. Things like:

  • Providing an easy digital customer experience which delivers business growth
  • Making it easier for people to do simple transactions for themselves
  • However, when it gets more complex, businesses need to make sure there is always someone to talk to; there should always be a phone number on the website and a person available to speak to

Beware the Omni-channel

Dr Nicola J. Millard highlights that omni-channels shift human channels towards complexity. Even though the internet was supposed to make things easier for humans if it takes too long to find information online or takes too long to get an answer, if it’s not possible to do online, there is poor navigation or if the issue is too complex, then people always want to talk to a human being.

And here is where the real shift is happening in CX and HX. It’s in human to human interactions: Customers now want immediate access to well-trained, competent employees who have authority to make decisions and resolve issues versus being put on the endless hook of ‘your call is important to us’.

They want to talk to someone on the phone or face to face, especially if there is a crisis and they need a solution to a problem with a product or service.

With omni-channel experiences (online, phone, face-to-face etc.) the next step up for organisations is thinking about and creating engaging, helpful, relevant, warm and personable experiences in easy-to-use environments, both online and physical. Forget NPS (net promoter score) and think NES (net easy score). Making the customer/ buyer experience easier, with less friction, and more personable, whether automated or human, is key.

According to Alex Iles it’s those Companies who are able to craft a “Human” and emotionally rich buying experience (HX) for customers who will outperform the market.

Alex Iles goes on to say that, “Customers will soon expect all of their experiences with companies to be empathetic, easy, relevant and well-orchestrated. The successful companies of tomorrow will demonstrate not only the four qualities mentioned previously, but will be able to create emotionally rich and “human” experiences for their customers by:

  1. Establishing and articulating a meaningful purpose that gives employees and customers a reason to believe in their brand
  2. Operating in a conscious manner; with awareness and integrity that authentically reflects their purpose
  3. Demonstrating cognition, through their ability to understand and predict their Customers’ needs on an intuitive, emotional and abstract level
  4. Adapting their business models to respond to changing Customer and market demands, in a way that is apparent and valued by Customers, employees and stakeholders.”

Cynical or not, the fact is that this sales trend highlights that actually being kind and helpful to people, showing empathy as well as creating an easier, less stressful experience with a well designed, easy to navigate human /customer journey is good for customers and good for businesses now and in the long term. It is better late than never.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

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12 Sales Trends for 2018

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