“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology, not the other way around.” – Steve Jobs
How very true and seemingly evident Steve Job’s observation is. Yet today much of the conversation surrounding AI and digital transformation is about the speed and reach of technological advance and not about its ultimate role. Digital transformation should not be regarded as an end goal in itself, but as a means to the goal of perfecting human experiences, the process of which I call ‘Emotional Transformation’.
We can explore this topic from both a public and a private sector perspective, as the objective of technological application should be the same for both. Singapore, UAE, and Estonia are three of the most digitally advanced countries, at the forefront of leveraging new technology in government services. Yet on the 2023 World Happiness Report Rankings, they rank 25th, 26th, and 31st respectively. The ranking is based on surveys of citizens’ sentiment regarding their national environment across six principal factors impacting happiness. It is clear from the results that public policies need to advance not just the adaptation of cutting-edge technology, but also how to leverage it to drive national happiness. That should be the ultimate goal.
The same is true in business. At the core of Apple Inc.’s phenomenal success is its ability to package technology into simple, attractive designs and transform their application into irresistible customer experiences. Just think how revolutionarily simple the iPod’s design was in 2001, or the way the touchpad of the first iPhone in 2007 irresistibly simplified and invigorated the smart phone experience.
But here is where the concept of Emotional Transformation gets interesting. A thought-provoking article on Insider.com in October 2018 presented analytical evidence showing that “customers are getting less excited for each new generation of iPhone”: Customers Get Less Excited . This phenomenon indicates that customer and citizen happiness is not a permanently attainable state, but a continuously moving target. As the result, what Emotional Transformation needs to enable is not happiness, but the ongoing pursuit of happiness of a target audience, which opens up a fascinating understanding of their experience.
This understanding is both ancient and largely untapped today by companies and governments alike. For example, the First Noble Truth of Buddhism originating from the sixth century B.C.E. states: “Human beings are subject to desires and cravings, but even when we are able to satisfy these desires, the satisfaction is only temporary. Pleasure does not last; or if it does, it becomes monotonous.” Echoing the same, basic view of human nature, psychology expert Tal Ben-Shahar recently coined the term ‘arrival fallacy’ to define people’s “illusion that once we make it, once we attain our goal or reach our destination, we will reach lasting happiness”.
How can these insights be converted into practical application, helping companies use technology to optimize customer experience? Similarly, how can public institutions harness the power of technology to bring new levels of lifestyle enrichment to their citizens, and create an ongoing cycle of rewarding, and fulfilling experiences?
The first thing we have to do is to reorient our focus. Given that customer satisfaction and citizen happiness are neither permanent nor fully obtainable, we need a more accurate way of defining and measuring their experiences. A way that captures the inherent cyclicality of emotional excitement and attachment. This is where the concept of ‘infatuation’ takes center stage. Infatuation is defined as: “An intense but short-lived passion or admiration for someone or something.”, synonyms: passion, enchantment, obsession, crush, fascination, rapture. Infatuation is the only word that simultaneously expresses a highly charged state of exuberance AND its transient, fleeting nature. Therefore, it provides the perfect lens for understanding the cyclicality of emotional transformation in customer relationships, and how to optimize them.
Any highly successful and well-received commercial offering elicits a strong emotional reaction on the part of consumers. This stage can be labelled the ‘Infatuation Interval’, during which consumers are fixated on the offering’s novelty, seduced by its perceived benefits, and blinded to its potential shortcomings. As the veil of infatuation wears off, consumers gradually take ownership of the offering, that is to say, they will see it as the new status quo, and no longer consider themselves privileged but rather fully entitled to it. The perception of ownership passes from provider to consumer. This is the start of the ‘Entitlement Period’, during which consumers will take notice of and express all the things that bother them about the offering, and what they expect to be better or different in the future.
One strategic target, therefore, is to fabricate Infatuation Intervals that are as long as possible. For example, think about the extended Infatuation Interval of Nintendo’s Wii, which captured the imagination and passion of an entirely new, massive consumer segment—that of previous non-gamers for several years. Ponder the same for the novel The Da Vinci Code, which became a worldwide cultural sensation for years after its publication.
A second strategic target is to have an ongoing process of innovation so that you create a continuous stream of Infatuation Intervals for consumers. In other words, as soon as the current Infatuation Interval for your offering is nearing its end, you tweak its features and utility in a way that a new Infatuation Interval is created. You can do this based on customer feedback from early adapters who have already transitioned to the Entitlement Period. Or, more powerfully, you can think about and anticipate latent consumer desires, which consumers themselves are unable to express. In this case you enter the realm of market driving rather than market driven, which allows you to occupy undiscovered market space. In the famous words of Henry Ford: “If I’d asked the consumer what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.”
Notice that the same approach is equally applicable to government services. The concept of Infatuation Intervals can be the very engine to create and sustain delighted citizens through the optimal application of new technologies.
And here is the best part. You can harness the power of a new analytic companion to measure the emotional impact of your offerings as well as its cyclicality. The tool, entitled ‘Infatuation Interval Index’ (or ‘I³’ for short) enables the real-time measurement of consumer sentiment through focused monitoring of social media and big data. It tracks your offering’s ‘infatuability’, the depth, broadness, and duration of elation your consumers are expressing about your offering and brand, and turns it into a simplified, real-time metric of their level of emotional connectivity to you. I³ transforms the vague and elusive goal of consumer happiness into tangible and highly practical market intelligence. The same way, I³ can provide government agencies a way to accurately track citizen’s emotional response to new services in order to optimize their impact and timing. It is a breakthrough metric for measuring government performance and guiding the smart use of digitalization.
Let’s come back full circle to where we started. The goal of digital transformation should ultimately be to drive emotional transformation. The key to understanding and achieving emotional transformation is the concept of infatuation, which is equally applicable to commercial offerings and government services. As a result, your new mission, should you choose to accept it, is clear: Keep your target audience continuously infatuated.
Written by Gabor George Burt.
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