As people grow closer to their friends, family and peers through use of digital, they grow more distant from the establishment, brands and organizations.

Digital self-service is a double-edged sword. Although it reduces costs, it creates distance between customer and organization. 

From a customer perspective, self-service means behaving in a semi-automatic, instinctive way. You’re drawn to self-service by the promise of convenience. Self-service is fast service. If you have to think too much, then the benefits of self-service decline. 

Designing for this sort of environment requires an incredibly deep understanding of human behavior. Yet, as organizations roll out self-service they get rid of the very employees who actually understand and regularly deal with customers.

The first priority of those of us who work in the web is to be the voice of the customer. In the age of digital, it is a fatal mistake for organizations to lose touch with their customers, and yet that is exactly what is happening in so many organizations today. 

The new digital divide is between organization and customer. The customer is building their own world in social media and increasingly excluding and ignoring organizations. Those who belong to the ‘establishment’ will become the new outsiders unless they show a genuine empathy for and willingness to respond to the needs of customers.

Customer experience begins with an understanding of the customer’s experience: By walking in their shoes, seeing the world from their perspective, truly, genuinely empathizing with them. The customer decides what experience they want. Your job is to make it the best experience it can be. 

It’s not about deciding what experience the customer is going to have, but rather about enhancing the experience the customer has decided they want to have.

Some think that big data is the answer, that it is the goldmine of customer understanding. Big data has tremendous potential if the people analyzing the data know what they’re looking for and why they’re looking for it. Without empathy for the customer, big data is like looking for a needle in a haystack, without knowing what a needle looks like.

This requires a radical transformation, particularly for marketers and communicators. Stop distracting and annoying your customers with your latest messages and campaigns. Stop trying to control your customers. Start listening and responding and helping your customers do what they want to do, instead of always trying to force them to do what you want them to do. 

That age is over. Get over it. Move on. Change your attitude or you won’t have much of a career in front of you.

Think about your career. Imagine you’re being interviewed for a new job and you’re asked what your greatest strength is. “I understand and empathize with customers and I can be a part of a team that turns that understanding into customer-centric designs.” That’s a powerful statement. Anyone who can say that has a great career in front of them.