People are more than users

Whether we are talking about e-commerce, customer relations, HR and therefore general experiences, we often end up designating the subject of a process or a device by the word “user“.

This is only logical because in a world that has become digital (and a fortiori since the pandemic) no matter what the objective or intention is, the achievement of an objective, the realization of the intention requires the use of something.

The user is what we know about a person

But, and the transformation of commerce during the pandemic has, I hope, convinced the last skeptics, the world is not digital, nor is it totally physical. It is phygital.

The “user” is not 100% online or 100% offline. He moves from one to the other and what is closest to reality is to say that he is permanently in both at the same time.

The concept of “physical”, digital or phygital place therefore applies to the place of interaction. When the user is online, using a device (an app, a site…) he is in a “closed”, controlled environment, in which he can be traced, his actions, his behaviors can be analyzed.

As for the offline dimension it depends. It can be partially traceable when it is in front of an agent who at some point will end up registering his request but losing a lot of context elements that an application could track. If he is in the street, in his office, in his living room thinking about his project or his intention, we know nothing. And since we know nothing, we act as if it didn’t exist. Or, in other words, when we are interested in the user, we only look at what we can know about a person.

The user is digital, the person is phygital.

Whether we are talking about the customer on an ecommerce site, the employee who uses an intranet, or any software to take vacations or manage a project, we only learn from them what we can capture when they are connected and active. We don’t know anything about their relationship to the device, their intention and globally what is going on in their head in relation to the subject that interests us when they are not connected and online.

To look only at your website, your mobile app and deny what is happening in the store and, a fortiori, what happens when the person is not interacting is to lose a lot of elements of understanding of its context. How much? I don’t know. 20%? 50%, 80%? That’s if you have a place or point of contact approach.

If we have a person-based approach, we will say that the user we know is only a fragment that the person we are trying to satisfy. The person is a human being.

He has expectations and what he does online or asks a salesperson, his manager, his HR department is only part of it. There are hidden, unexpressed expectations. There is the necessary fragmented vision that we have things because his request is only one element among others that allow him to satisfy a need. Someone who buys thick adhesive tape wants to pack boxes or make a homemade bomb. Someone who asks for time off wants to go on vacation, to have time for job interviews elsewhere or to visit a sick relative.

The person is in an emotional state. Curious, confident, joyful, stressed, under pressure. This will condition his interactions with the agent or system. It will condition whether or not what is offered to him or her is satisfactory. Whether she goes about it awkwardly or aggressively. Whether or not she grants a right to make mistakes.

I will stop here, but what distinguishes a simple user with whom one interacts from a human being in all its complexity, uniqueness and context is, depending on the angle one adopts, what prevents a device from totally satisfying those to whom it is addressed or a major cause of non-quality or dysfunction for those who operate it.

Just because something is difficult or impossible to know doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

Indeed we are talking about a whole field of knowledge, data that is very difficult (some would say impossible) to capture and process. So be it. But it’s not because it’s difficult to know, to understand, that we have to pretend it doesn’t exist. Admitting that there is a grey area means admitting that the device is fallible, that it can be improved and that at some point you have to know how to get around it or improve it by giving autonomy to human agents. To think that the truth comes down to what we know is to induce a considerable number of biases by assuming things that we do not know.

How many times, for example, have we seen a salesperson leave the boundaries of a process after talking with the customer, better understanding his or her context, and thus deciding to operate in an unplanned way or even to help the customer modify his or her request to better satisfy his or her needs?

I also often say that the difference between a good and a bad manager is seen in the application of processes and rules, whether you are in the scope of the business or HR. There are those who mechanically apply the rule and those who take advantage of their knowledge, even if it is only fragmentary, to not just satisfy a demand, not just apply a rule but satisfy a need.

Let’s note about managers that when we talk about using our knowledge of the context to satisfy a demand and a need, we don’t always talk about the need of the employee. Of course, knowing the employee’s context allows us to better accompany and respond to his requests, but it also helps us to better manage him outside of any request expressed in the interest of the organization.

This lack of consideration of the context leads to a situation too often experienced as individuals, customers or employees. We have a system, a process, which at the end produces exactly what it should produce, so from an internal point of view everything is fine. The problem is that, seen from the outside, it does not satisfy the needs of the person concerned.

The limit of fixed (and thus biased) vision of personas.

Today to design a path, a process, we use personas that represent typical users in terms of needs, demographics, skills, uses…. This is essential. All users are not the same, they have expectations and references, but they also have their own limits. Thinking that the same device can be applied to everyone means designing something that suits no one.

But the persona gives a fixed and biased view of reality. It’s nice to know that Carine is in her thirties, has a college degree, likes this type of product and is very comfortable with new technologies. But if you don’t know her state of mind at a given moment, you miss an opportunity to really satisfy her.

To pose the problem is simple, to answer it is complicated and will not be done only by technology but by a mix of humans and technology. This already supposes that we have enough confidence in humans to let them influence the system and that we give them the means to do so.

And while I’m at it I’m sharing with you a very interesting video I found while doing some research on the subject.

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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