The past few months have made it more apparent than ever that shifting to more virtual offerings and seamless interfaces are now the main way for businesses to survive and thrive in our online post-COVID world. These changes – accelerated but not triggered by the pandemic – have fundamentally validated one of Prophet’s core convictions: customer-centricity shouldn’t be determined by what companies think is technically feasible. It has to start with us human beings, putting the real needs of people at the center of every decision. It is clearly digitally driven, but at the core, customer-centricity is always a deeply human endeavor.

For too many companies for too long, the strategy has followed what is technically feasible instead of the other way around. But for the few that have been focused on a people-first approach, having their strategy informed from what humans need first before shifting to what is possible on the back end, the success is apparent.

Companies like Amazon or Netflix – two highly relevant brands and businesses everyone would agree – are heralded as paragons of the digital age but these brands have become the powerhouses they are because they are human-focused. While there are billions of dollars of tech investments behind each, their unwavering focus on their customer and delivering an experience for them that is fast, simple and incredibly gratifying drives what they do and their bottom line.

Of course, for companies in manufacturing, life sciences or financial services, reinventing themselves as digital entities is more complicated than for say a company with a digitally native business model and their failures often show a similar pattern – namely that their strategies demonstrate a lack of clear thinking from the customer’s standpoint. They’re preoccupied with their products, their sales and their success. But now it’s time to look at everything through the lens of the customer, this is where it should start. Success starts with knowing the buyer. What is then required is a holistic view of the digital landscape with technical feasibilities assessed early on. That is how you bridge the often missed gap between a customer-centric digital strategy and a human-focused one.

Faux humans: The rise of bots

The reason we have opened our doors in such large numbers to tools like Siri and Alexa comes down to convenience, ease of use and the fact you speak to them as you would a human. They are customizable, often adapt to your preferences and deliver an experience you can consistently count on. And companies are eager to take advantage.

One of our favorite examples of the successful use of artificial-intelligence-driven empathy comes from the global insurance company, AXA. To help it successfully grow its business in Asia, AXA had the desire to develop a new digital customer engagement proposition, one that humanized the experience and provided a consistent customer journey and brand experience across the region. Emma was born – AXA’s first humanized user interface, which has become the core of the brand’s new digital customer experience, handling everything from claims to servicing, health content to symptom checks and helping individuals find the solutions and content most relevant to their needs. She’s not just efficient and accurate. She’s a friendly embodiment of a brand committed to assisting people as they strive for financial wellness, whilst successfully bridging the gap between digital engagement and financial advisor partners.

And recognizing the massive gap in helping people deal with the mental-health challenges posed by the pandemic, AXA expanded Emma’s skills to deftly field calls about mental-health questions. That’s a high-risk undertaking, but initial tests show customers don’t just appreciate the effort, they’re using the service extensively.

Challenge definitions: What does it mean to be human?

It’s easy to make assumptions, and companies often mistakenly believe they know everything there is to know about their customers. That’s seldom true, especially in a period of such massive upheaval. It’s critical that companies take this time to go deep as they gather insights, with an entirely rededicated sense of empathy and rigorous analytics. For us, that typically means finding out which drivers are the most essential, right now, for customers and prospects. What makes one brand relevant to them and another forgettable? Are they looking for inspiration or efficiency? Do they feel the brand is available to them when and where they need it? Do they sense it meshes with their own values?

With each new wave of technological development, the digital age shifts shapes and speeds up. And it’s vital that leaders focus on the potential of emerging technology. It’s critical that companies do not let themselves fall behind in efforts to continue to be as connected, nimble and data-driven as can be. They need to continually ask: What tools do we have? How digital is our go-to-market approach? How automated is our production?

But too often, we have seen companies spend tens of millions – and sometimes hundreds of millions – in tech investments before understanding how these initiatives might help customers and eventually drive growth. The critical decisions must always balance both: What do your customers need most right now and what is your company capable of providing?

The bottom line

Digital investments, like any other use of capital, should only be made when companies are clear on how they will serve the largest purpose. Addressing just the digital possibilities in a siloed view is a surefire way for a business to fall short in today’s reality. It is the combination of instilling a human-focused process with digital capabilities and prowess that sets up a business for customer-centric success.

If you’d like to learn more about how a customer-centric strategy can improve the growth of your business then reach out today

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