When the COVID-19 pandemic affected the world in 2020, the world of work was irrevocably changed. Necessary steps to safeguard ourselves, family and friends led to a nationwide lockdowns – both intermittently here in New Zealand and often for prolonged periods overseas. Long periods of time working and learning from home made the realities of living in a ‘digital world’ very real for a large part of the globe.
As a result of this changed world, there has been extensive customer research undertaken over this period of time which shines a light on human behaviours (albeit in extreme circumstances), the human condition and what needs to be considered when seeking to design more humanity into the services, experiences and products of our businesses.
Deloitte US undertook significant research on this topic and while this research did not specifically cover New Zealand, there are many topics in this research that are directly applicable to our businesses and government and the people they seek to serve. The remainder of this article covers two of the key findings around trust and connectivity, and how these might be applied here in New Zealand.
It is fair to say that trust has been tested and at times undermined during the pandemic. The importance of trust came to the forefront in Deloitte’s research. Where once having a trusted brand was enough for customers and citizens, this trust was tested and was often times found wanting. When faced with intense risk, people simply did not take for granted that businesses and governments were always looking after their best interests or walking the talk. In New Zealand there was uncertainty around repeated managed isolation breaches. In the US hotel customers were packing an extra bag with cleaning products and cleaning their own hotel rooms.
The pandemic has highlighted that organisations need to ask more critical questions of how they operate, care for their customers and people, and go to market. While not COVID-19 related, we can see these trust issues playing out in technology with constant questions being asked about the use of our personal data by Big Tech and social media companies. The recent announcement by Apple on the additional data privacy features in the new version of the iPhone operating system is a clear response to the human need for trust - and increasingly more control when that trust has been lost.
Our clients here in New Zealand are also redefining strategies and customer and employee value propositions with a heightened emphasis on trust. This often involves the human experience lens - examining how people interact with the products and services they offer to future-proof the organisation’s success around the core value drivers of reliability, responsiveness and agility.
While the tools that customers use to get things from A to B through the supply chain are important, designing the service experience around a strong foundation of trust is becoming increasingly critical. Translating trust into digital experiences will no doubt continue to be at the forefront of New Zealand businesses’ minds.
In a year where many people have been physically disconnected, we have been provided with some real insights into the importance of connectivity and what it means to have authentic human connections. Video conferencing software Zoom entered the daily lexicon overnight, accompanied by Microsoft Teams and Google Meet to fill the connectivity void.
However, many were disappointed with what they experienced. While the software provided a great service and was easy to use, it was simply missing some of key human aspects of connectivity. In Deloitte’s US research 56% of people wanted virtual experiences to feel more human and 48% thought that virtual gatherings were inferior to the real thing.
These results should come as no surprise to those who had been using these tools prior to the pandemic. In fact, anyone who has been in a large business and experienced years of e-mail would attest that while the technology provides the basics of connection, it misses the mark all too often on the human dimensions of communication.
Unfortunately, in this case there is only so much that the technology companies can do to improve how humanity shows up on these platforms. Tools like Slack which are based around a more casual and personal forum certainly improve the situation but it’s likely that it will take humans – not software - to close the humanity gap within these tools. We need to acknowledge that virtual connections are different, since showing up and behaving as if it is a physical connection isn’t the same. Workplaces and business will need to think more deeply about the cues that they are providing their employees/customers and design these cues into the service experience to enable the best use of the technology alongside delivering a much more human experience.
Considerations for New Zealand organisations
Under the extreme situation of COVID-19, it’s clear that customers and citizens are revealing truths that we can all learn from. Many New Zealand businesses have structured customer experience activities. For those delivering digital services to their customers, which increasingly has a significant self-service component, there is a huge focus on usability and simplicity.
Based on this research, there is a real opportunity to broaden these activities further to embed the key insights of what it means to be human and therefore what is required to deliver human experiences through digital technology. Humans will continue to look for relationships with brands and companies they feel they can trust. Understanding what makes for a meaningful, authentic connection with customers and employees, and how those trust factors come to life as a product or service experience, is a great place to start.
As a Partner in our Consulting practice and the NZ lead for our Customer and Applied Design offering, I am focused on customer experience-driven product and service design and experience-led transformation. I have worked with some of Australia and New Zealand’s largest telecommunications, utility and financial services organisations combining strategy, research, design and technology to deliver new or improved product and service concepts and experiences for their customers and their people. I am a passionate advocate of co-creation and insights-driven design as a mechanism for driving meaningful business change and enjoy supporting my clients on their own Design journeys, helping to build capability in designer mindsets and the application of Design Thinking methods and tools. I have over 15 years of consulting, design and leadership experience.
I use data driven insights and human centred design to solve complex problems and create unique solutions. I have worked on a number of projects spanning customer experience strategy, employee experience design and change management gaining experience across a range of industries including media, sport, financial services, resources and telecommunications.