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PHOTO: Jon Tyson

We put great effort into differentiating our organizations and fueling growth by crafting and delivering seamless, effortless, amazing customer experiences. This is extremely critical. But recent trends and developments are compelling us to pay equal — or greater — attention to purpose and values as we design for the future.

Living through the pandemic has changed many things. It forced people to get comfortable working and doing business through digital channels, and these new ways are likely here to stay. For example, six in 10 customers don’t plan to return to bank branches after COVID-19 recedes. Increased comfort with digital channels opens up far more choices for consumers.

More fundamentally, the pandemic has prompted people to reconsider what matters to them. Numerous studies document aspects of this shift. For example, 68% of respondents in a FleishmanHillard study said the pandemic has changed the products and services they once thought were important. In another study by Parade magazine and the Cleveland Clinic, 65% of people said the pandemic has made them reevaluate how they spend their time, and 58% have reevaluated their life goals.

At the same time, Generation Z is coming of age and is now the fastest growing segment of both consumers and employees. Gen Zers are well known for their differences from previous generations. As digital natives, they expect omnichannel, fast and frictionless, personalized interactions. They like conversations and sharing. They value trust, integrity and transparency. This generation is also well-known for its desire for higher purpose and making a difference: For example, 65% want to personally create something world-changing.

Gen Z also has strong views about the racial inequity issues that came to the fore in 2020 — but so, too, does the population at large. A June 2020 flash poll by public relations firm Edelman found that 60% of people in the United States expect brands to take a stand on racial injustice; among respondents aged 18 to 34, that grew to 78%. Sixty percent of respondents also said they would buy or boycott a brand based on its response to the protests at the time.

Polarization of Society Is Forcing Companies to Take a Stand

The pandemic, political climate and racial inequality are all contributing to greater polarization of the population. Now more than ever, companies are challenged to show their cards on where they stand on social topics. My firm, West Monroe's most recent quarterly executive poll found 55% of respondents said that social, economic and moral issues will play an increased role in organizational decision-making.

This excerpt from Forrester analysts Dipanjan Chatterjee and Nick Monroe does a good job summarizing why this is so important to CX professionals: “Brands have traditionally mirrored consumer sentiment to reflect prevailing attitudes. But this balancing act becomes increasingly precarious as society polarizes. In a tug-of-war over issues, commitment requires a brand stand wholeheartedly behind a set of beliefs. Finding that value platform is easier for purpose-led brands like Patagonia; mainstream brands have to work with great deliberation to establish the values they will hold sacrosanct.”

Related Article: Customers Are Factoring Employee Treatment Into Buying Decisions

The Implications for Performance

Industries have been evolving in a value- or purpose-based direction for some time. For example, financial services firms are increasingly focused on helping customers achieve financial wellness. Healthcare organizations are shifting to patient-centered care models. Utilities are emphasizing energy equity and a cleaner planet.

What’s changing is the sense of urgency due to impact on the business. According to Forrester’s research, 68% of US consumers say that a company’s social responsibility reputation has at least some influence on their purchasing with that company; 70% of the most empowered consumers (trendsetters who influence others’ decisions) are the most tuned into company values.

Related Article: Want Profits? Start With Purpose

Adopting a Values-Driven Approach to Customer Experience

With the democratization of digital channels, delivering an effortless customer experience now may not be enough to differentiate an organization. This means companies need to employ a human- or values-driven approach to designing customer experiences that appeal to demands for a greater sense of purpose.

Of course, having a clear and resonant sense of purpose is a prerequisite. If your organization does not, start there. For now, let’s assume you do and that you want to be deliberate about making it central to your customer experience. Following are several key considerations.

1. Start Inside

Delivering a higher promise to the market with authenticity starts with your people. When your people understand the purpose and the “why” behind it, then they can better deliver on it. Yet, according to a Gallup survey, fewer than half of employees strongly agree that they know what their organization stands for and what makes it different.

Beyond knowing what you stand for, employees also need to feel connected to the organization and its purpose. That’s where employee experience strategy comes into play. Because of the clear trickle-down effect, you cannot separate customer experience and employee experience efforts. Important steps include:

  • Ensuring you deliver consistent messages throughout the employee lifecycle. For example, what people hear during recruiting should be consistent with what they experience as an employee. This is necessary for building trust.
  • Understanding the employee experience through journey mapping or other analysis — with a specific eye toward where employee and customer journeys intersect.
  • Focusing on employee fulfillment rather than just satisfaction or engagement. Fulfillment is the product of several factors, including perceived growth potential, ability to have an impact beyond the job, and a sense of belonging within the organization.

That last point — belonging — is increasingly important to employee experience. Just as consumers have more choices due to digital democratization, the longer-term prospect for remote work gives people more choice in who they work for. Organizations feel greater pressure from employees — and prospective employees – to be purpose-driven and to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion.

Diversity in the workplace matters, not just to employees. According to Edelman research, 64% of US respondents said that to earn or keep their trust, brands must take the steps necessary to ensure their organization is racially representative of the country as a whole. The recent West Monroe quarterly executive poll found only 13% of respondents said their organizations won’t measure diversity in 2021.

Diversity is a key contributor to an environment that promotes inclusion and belonging. To have a human-centered experience, you also need diversity of thought and perspectives. Diversity and inclusion initiatives should be broader than traditional areas of focus such as race and gender.

Related Article: Build Organizational Purpose Into Your Talent Systems

2. Sense and Respond at the Speed of Digital

In a market that values purpose, it’s critically important to keep the pulse on what is important to your customers and employees — and understand how you are doing with respect to delivering on those expectations — as expectations, market conditions and trends are constantly evolving at a blurring pace. This is not something you can measure periodically. You should have operationalized measurement programs (Voice of the Customer/Employee), tools and processes to measure it continuously and have it inform and guide your strategy and execution.

More important, your organization must be able and ready to adjust quickly based on what you hear. CX and digital leaders in today’s market share a few things in common: they are customer obsessed and put the customer at the center of everything they do, they are hyper focused on creating mutual value (between the customer and themselves, versus a one way value exchange) and lastly they are agile through and through, from their strategy to their technology and data to their organizational operating conditions; they are able to listen, sense and respond at the speed of digital in our ever changing market landscape and world.

Related Article: Customer Trust: Are We Experiencing an Existential Crisis?

3. Eliminate Noise to Enable Being Purpose-Led

The pandemic may have democratized digital interactions, but those interactions can still make or break the customer experience. Specifically, the role of digital innovation becomes one of making sure that the infrastructure of the business does not get in the way of delivering on the purpose and that the organization can respond rapidly to changing needs. For example, if your bank wants to help customers achieve financial wellness, your representatives need to be able to see and assess various aspects of a client’s financial health. If your goal is patient-centered care but providers can’t see all of the services received, then they cannot engage patients effectively to manage health outcomes.

In other words, your digital strategy should be about making the experience seamless in order to enable your purpose — rather simply striving to deliver a seamless experience.

Finally, it is important to approach digital innovation as an ongoing process without a defined end point. Given the evolution of technology, competitive threats and consumer expectations, digital interactions will need continuous tweaking to ensure you are equipping the organization to deliver on its purpose-led promise.