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Thursday, 04 November 2021 23:35

Behavioural insights and quality practices provide the key to optimising CX

By Tony Bailey, CEO AccessHQ
Tony Bailey CEO AccessHQ Tony Bailey CEO AccessHQ

GUEST OPINION In recent years there have been a lot of fresh insights into how we think and make decisions. These insights have greatly helped businesses concerned with software development and customer experience. Maybe the time has come to also think afresh about the way business has changed, as we’ve moved from the industrial era to the digital age, because our management practices relating to quality may be out of date. Connecting these new insights together will allow us to optimise customer experience.

Let’s consider what we now know about the human brain. We have experiences and we have memories of our experiences. Our memories of our experiences are far more subjective than we think. More than that, what we actually keep of our experiences are stories. Stories based on the reconstruction of the event rather than simply replaying the event. This can give rise to errors, according to Daniel Kahneman, who won the 2002 Nobel prize in Economic Sciences for applying psychological insights to economic theory.

Kahneman upset many established economists as he shattered the myth of the ‘rational man’ and highlighted how our brains are riddled with biases, blind spots and other cognitive weaknesses, which cause us to do irrational things. Yet he has had an enormous influence on the growing field of behavioural economics. And, in turn, behavioural economics is increasingly being applied to wide-ranging interactions between people and services organisations: from buy-now-pay-later schemes, which offer an immediate reward but postpone pain, to an energy bill that compares your consumption with your neighbours, thus nudging you to reduce your consumption.

It’s clear that better insights into human behaviour are directly influencing the customer experience. Software development is at the emerging frontier of this trend, and ensuring a quality experience is delivered is proving no easy feat, since the way people think is not anywhere nearly as rational as was once thought.

Two thinking systems help explain our experiences

Another important contribution from psychology to consider, and one which Kahneman brings to life in his 2011 book Thinking Fast and Slow, is the notion of System 1 and System 2 thinking.

System 1 is our instinctive, intuitive, automatic, quick-thinking brain, which performs with little conscious control. Examples abound but include making a judgement about how distant one object is from another, where a sound came from, completing common phrases, applying stereotypes to people you’ve never met. It can be your best friend but also your worst enemy.

System 2 allocates attention to mental activities that demand effort, that make complex calculations, make multi-factor choices, or perform tasks that require concentration.

What is important in Kahneman’s analysis is that System 1 is in charge. Indeed System 1 effectively steers System 2, as it ultimately determines what tasks will have attention allocated to them. And that single qualification is immensely important when it comes to designing software for human interaction.

The better we can understand how effortless System 1 wants the world to be, how natural and intuitive our interactions are expected to be, and carry this into software projects, the more likely it is our customers will remember the experience as a good story.

It is tempting at this point to provide a list of the drivers of CX excellence or tell you what the nth pillars of excellence are, but you can find those easily with a Google search. Integrating those models with the complexities of the human brain is a different challenge altogether.

There is also a further challenge in how businesses manage the design and delivery of quality digital services. Not only must they take account of new insights into human behaviour, but they must also recognise that the digital economy is markedly different to the industrial economy, so quality practices also need a fundamental rethink. Indeed, when was the last wholesale rethink of quality practices? At least a generation ago.

In terms of digital customer experience, what is helpful to understand is that the way high-quality digital services are developed and delivered is fundamentally different to the way by which quality was achieved during the industrial era.

In our work assuring and testing software, we are guided by the notion of ‘human quality,’ which you can imagine as the connective tissue that ensures software development can provide the service experience you aim to deliver, from the human having the initial idea to the human who experiences the service at the other end. We believe that the customer’s experience is the ultimate measure of quality for any technology. True quality is less about process and technique and more about people and behaviour. System 1 and system 2 thinking directs our behaviour. Human quality considers the sum of all the moments of contact with your service, whether the service meets the expectations of irrational System 1 thinking people. It is not for the fainthearted.

And, because human quality relates to the total experience, that quality must be sought across the entire business.

Industrial practices must give way to digital realities

Indeed, at a business level, human quality must overcome three big challenges that arise as we move from industrial quality to digital quality, and they are complexity, customisation, and continuous development.

Industrial quality was helped by the fact that many products were simple. Services being delivered digitally tend to be complex and they become more complex as humans increasingly vanish from the business side of the service relationship.

Industrial quality typically aimed to provide a standardised product. ‘Any colour, so long as it's black’ as Henry Ford famously said. Today, a major element of competition in service delivery is customisation. So, our challenge is to develop customised service preferences, for irrational System 1 thinkers, in a complex environment.

An industrial era product was generally built once, shipped, and rarely modified or refined any further, once it was in the hands of the customer. That is no longer the case. Today it is more likely that you will be continuously developing and refining a digital service while it is in the hands of the customer.

So, now you need to develop customised services, for irrational people, in a complex, continuously changing environment, and you must be sure that the story those customers will tell themselves and others about their experience will be favourable. Repeat: not for the fainthearted.

The best way to overcome the challenges and to satisfy the customer is to have human quality baked into the entire process. You must have a clear line of sight to quality at every single point – from idea to satisfied customer.

The digital economy has been with us for some time now, it is about time our thinking and approach to managing the quality of services delivered is no longer anchored by the management practices of another time. It is time to experience a better approach by reimagining quality for the digital age.

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