Technology – Panacea or Tool?

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Recently I had a conversation with a brilliant IT professional who repeatedly referenced the “limitless possibilities” of technology. His zeal and enthusiasm for all things technology made him well-suited for his specialty but as we talked, it became increasingly clear that he lacked similar respect for the importance of understanding human behavior. In fact, at one point he suggested that “technology will help clean up all the ills of humankind.”

Much to be Done

While I won’t dispute that humankind has many ills, I am not convinced that technology will remedy all of them, and in some case, I fear it might even enhance some.

For me, technology is certainly leaping past unimagined boundaries, but ultimately the relevance of any technological solution is inextricably linked to its ability to address a human need. Fortunately, I am not alone in that thinking. Writing in Ad Age, Nelson Kunkel the Chief Design Officer for Deloitte Consulting notes:

Today…we’ve reached a point where the limits of technology feel almost nonexistent and where design and understanding of human behavior and needs are eclipsing the constraints of what’s possible. The challenge is shifting to how do we best use all this power to meet human needs. I believe this is truly the new frontier, one that can unleash new ambitions and possibilities in every industry, business, and society.

Understanding Human Behavior and Human Needs

Therein, is the core of this blog. How well do you understand human behavior and human needs – particularly as they relate to your core customers? Also how well do you deploy technological advances to meet the needs of your core customer segments?

Of all the great interactional moments in the illustrious career of the late Steve Jobs, my favorite involves his insights on the need for customer-centric technological design. Steve was addressing a group of engineers – some of whom had been working on OpenDoc, a software component framework, which Steve Jobs ultimately shelved in light of what he felt was a more customer-centric solution.

When confronted in a public forum by an disgruntled OpenDoc engineer, Steve noted, “I am sure there are some things OpenDoc does – even more that I am not familiar with – that nothing else out there does and I am sure that you can make some demos, maybe a small commercial app that demonstrates those things….One of the things I’ve always found is that you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backward to the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you are going to sell it!

Starting with the Customer Experience

So what customer experience do you want to create? Desired experiences can vary greatly across brands. For example, in books like The New Gold Standard, Leading the Starbucks Way, and Driven to Delight, I’ve documented how leaders at Starbucks seek to deliver an affordable luxury experience that emotionally connects and inspires; whereas, a Ritz-Carlton experience is rich with nurturance and sensory enhancement. In each case, technology plays its role but only in the context of each brand’s experiential aspirations.

Where to Spend on Tech

As you think about your future technology investments, I strongly encourage you to heed Steve Job’s guidance “to start with the customer experience and work backward to the technology” or in the words of Nelson Kunkel realize that:

All the algorithms, computational intelligence, emerging interfaces and realities, and shiny devices are only as valuable as our ability to use them deliberately and appropriately to enhance relationships, create more natural solutions, and advance the human condition.

What technologies do you see helping you enhance customer relationships, create natural solutions/customer value, or advance your ability to help your customers get their needs met

What technologies do you see helping you enhance customer relationships, create natural solutions/customer value, or advance your ability to help your customers get their needs met through you?

It is those technologies which (in the words of the IT professional that prompted this blog) will help us clean up – at least some of – the ills of humankind.

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