woman looking out the window of a cafe
PHOTO: Joshua Rawson-Harris

A constant stream of unfiltered customer comments fill large screens placed in busy areas of the Fidelity International offices in London. Close by are white screens and markers and chairs and tables. Staff can regularly be found congregating around the screens, discussing what they are seeing from customers, coming up with plans for how they can improve the customer experience.

In a lot of organizations I deal with, digital is building walls between teams and customers. Even many UX professionals are busy with everything digital, and not busy with being with their customers. Support, the one group that has daily interaction with customers is either outsourced, or if it is part of the organization, is located in some cheap office space in a distant town, or else put down in the dungeon part of HQ. I have seen situations where weekly reports from Support containing tremendous customer insights are totally ignored by all parts of the organization, including the digital team, who are often too cool for their own good.

Alex Hamilton, head of digital research, Analytics and Insight for Fidelity International, understood the need to bring the customer in, to make the customer part of the daily life and culture of the organization. At Fidelity, you can now "meet" the customer as you’re going to have a coffee and realize that what they’re complaining about is something you can help fix.

“The most importance outcome of all this is that customers are now an intrinsic part of everyday conversations for multiple teams,” Hamilton explained. “Even teams that may be three steps removed from customers, they see and feel the customers’ perception. It’s about bringing the customer experience to life at all levels, letting it wash over our colleagues. At all levels our colleagues see it and it resonates with them at a human level.”

This is so crucial. Customers are humans too. Not just dry users, visitors or traffic. And because customers are now constantly communicating about their needs, they have much more of a place at the table. “It helps us to become much more focused on the things that really matter to customers,” Hamilton stated. “And the things that matter to us might not matter at all to customers; they might be regulatory, but the customer doesn’t know or care. They just want their experiences to be good.”

“It’s helped teams do better things for customers. Now that the information on the customer experience has been democratized out, teams can make much more informed decisions.”

Knowing the customer better helps establish balanced priorities. “Having this ongoing sanity check makes teams realize things they do are having real impacts on customers. Let’s say you’ve got forty things to deliver but you’ve just descoped 20 of them to make a deadline, you now know what descoping these 20 will mean for the customer.”

Digital can be a window or a wall. How many windows are you creating into the world of your customers? Windows where you can see real lives, real experiences, real people trying to get stuff done as quickly as possible, so that they can be in time to collect their kids at school, or have time to watch their favorite series after a long hard day at work.