Over the course of his career, Brian Solis has evolved from being a technologist to what he calls a “digital anthropologist,” analyzing how technology affects people, their behaviors, preferences and values.

“My goal was to be more empathetic in how I advise companies to better engage with human beings,” he said.

Solis is currently principal analyst at research and consulting firm Altimeter, a Prophet company, which focuses on helping organizations understand and take advantage of disruptive technologies.

Build Bridges Between Technology and Customers

Starting out as a programmer and database architect, Solis moved to Silicon Valley in 1996 and soon found himself advising enterprise companies on how to better market and sell their technologies. He then began working with internet startups to help them in educating consumers both on their software and the need for that technology.

“In both cases, what I noticed was a consistent focus on technology as a solution rather than on work or life aspects and the impact of that technology on them,” Solis said.

This led him to adopt a very customer-centric view of technology in terms of the “human-side” challenges and opportunities it posed to customers. “I wanted to reverse engineer all of that so I could help create bridges between new technology and customer aspirations,” Solis said. That work has continued and morphed over the years to encompass product innovation, the reinvention of business models, digital transformation and customer experience.

Solis will be speaking at CMSWire’s DX Summit taking place Nov. 12 to 14 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago. He will give a keynote address titled “The Rise of the Assistance Economy” on Nov. 13.

We spoke with Solis about his definition of the Assistance Economy, the importance of mobile technology on the customer experience and the changing nature of the customer journey.

Speed of Interaction Completely Reinvents the Customer Journey

CMSWire: For organizations and for their customers, what would you call out as the most significant changes you’ve seen in the digital customer experience world so far?

Solis: Some of the biggest changes on the enterprise side have been around the move to cloud. Cloud has been a very interesting dilemma for many companies —do we want to trust critical information off premises?

Now, add artificial intelligence and machine learning which can help companies learn and process data in ways they couldn’t before. They can catch up to the customer and then get ahead of them as they become more predictive about customer behavior.

On customer side of things, the biggest disruption has been mobile. Smartphones have fundamentally disrupted the entire customer journey and what customer experiences should be. They have changed how people interact with information and how they communicate, making them more empowered, connected, impatient and demanding.

CMSWire: Where would you have expected changes to occur, which have yet to happen, and why do you think that is?

Solis: Companies have been very slow to adapt to mobile. They’ve taken an internet 1.0 mentality and applied it to mobile devices. What we have with mobile is the Uberization of customer experience. Apps like Uber, DoorDash and Postmates are all teaching customers they can have what they want, when they want it.

Companies need to completely reimagine their entire customer experience and put mobile at the heart of it so that they can compete with the Ubers of the world. 

You see Dominos saying they’re a tech company and Starbucks saying they’re a mobile technology company. Companies aren’t structured to act this way and also executives aren’t in the position to think this way. It challenges their every convention and mindset.

CMSWire: How do you define the “Assistance Economy” in terms of the changing relationship between companies and customers?

Solis: The Assistance Economy is something which came about through research with Google over the last several years in observing how people are interacting with information re: decisions about what to buy and where to go.

Those behaviors are demonstrating what people are really looking for is not information — they don’t want to search through data and sales pitches. They want to find someone or something which could be useful in that moment so they could move to the next step.

CMSWire: How is the customer journey shifting and evolving?

Solis: As people become more impatient and demanding, it’s because they’re moving faster. Think about scrolling and swiping and tapping, essentially you’re learning how to interact through the customer journey much faster, completely reinventing what the customer journey should be.

The companies who understand what it means to be assistive, what customer intentions are, what their goals are and how to measure values, they are creating opportunities for their brands to become assistive. This is what it means to deliver a meaningful digital experience.

CMSWire: How should companies start to rethink their digital customer experiences?

Learning Opportunities

Solis: Simply understand that your mobile customer is every customer. Everyone is using smart phones, not just millennials, it’s everyone. Everyone is becoming reprogrammed as a result.

Understand the questions customers have and where they go. Deliver meaningful solutions and create new and modernized touchpoints. Gain an understanding of people.

The irony of customer experience today is it’s a technology-first discussion. Think more about customer’s experience. Focus first on helping people and understanding where to add value, and then technology becomes an enabler.

Starbucks’ whole infrastructure is a business model designed to understand customers and use those insights to deliver not only a better mobile experience, but also to apply them in physical retail locations.

Domino’s is doing the same thing. It’s understanding mobile behaviors and translating that into innovation, for instance, the [outdoor] delivery hotspots. By studying mobile behavior and blurring the lines between the physical and digital worlds, companies can learn how to deliver more meaningful experience to their customers.

CMSWire: What is your current thinking on digital transformation and the relationship between digital transformation and how companies might reimagine digital customer experiences?

Solis: In my five years of studying digital transformation, I have found that it too was a technology-first discussion. It was very much led by the CIO and, in those cases, digital transformation struggled, it had no purpose.

When I started to study the Starbucks or Domino’s or Amazons of this world, their digital transformations are more digital evolutions. Digital is just a way of life for them and they understand it’s that for their customers too.

Effective digital transformation prioritizes and focuses on customer experience. There’s a sense of urgency because the customer is changing so quickly. You’re not just implementing technology, you’re doing so with a purpose to deliver better and more relevant customer experiences.

You have to have a unified view of customers and a model that you can implement across the customer journey. Today, the customer journey is operationally siloed, with experiences designed to operate independently. Those silos are often competing with each other and mostly delivering disjointed experience with different measurements of success. And customers can see that.

CMSWire: As an author of best-selling business books, what lessons have you learned which might be applicable to the world of digital customer experience? Is what you’re working on now in the same genre as your earlier books?

Solis: With my last book “X: The Experience When Business Meets Design,” I was writing a book to help businesses to design experiences that are going to matter. The biggest takeaway for me was to understand what the book was trying to teach in the first place — the experiences that customer love, which led me to mobile devices and to apps.

I spent a long time time studying UI and UX design for mobile devices and then thinking how to translate those design insights into paper and make a print book relevant to the digital world. It led to design innovation — you don’t need a traditional Table of Contents. You don’t need to work linearly. You can write chapters in bursts of information that people can jump to.

I’m working on something now completely unrelated to my usual topics. I’m taking a break from business innovation to talk about how as a human being to regain control and focus on creativity in an era of distraction. I never saw myself writing what could best be described as a self-help book!

What I found out in my research is that many of these mobile devices and apps are also designed to be addictive. They’re causing real issues with attention spans, attention depths, shallowness and narcissism.

Learn more about the Digital Customer Experience (DX) Summit here.

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