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Human-centered design: Business transformation that starts with people
October 18, 2023
Authored by RSM Canada LLP
Joel A. Humphrey, CPA, CA shared this article
ARTICLE | October 18, 2023
Are you putting too much faith in data alone? Yes, data can tell you a lot about your customers’ and employees’ behavior. With today’s powerful data analytics tools, gathering and using data to build customer and employee experiences that respond to user desires and actions has become almost a given. But there’s still a piece of the puzzle that’s missing: The human piece.
Data can tell you “what” but not “why”
With all the advanced digital tools available, it’s easy to look to them for all the answers. But every business process is about user experience, i.e., people.
Here’s a nugget of truth to keep in mind: Data tells you what people do, but it doesn’t tell you why they do it. When it comes to customer and employee experiences, people are more complicated than we think.
Further, experiences don’t just happen in one digital space. They happen in multiple places that may be both digital and physical.
Business transformation is experience transformation
While your business may need digital solutions to achieve its objectives, those digital solutions ultimately all have users: customers, employees, vendors and partners. Yet it’s all too easy to jump straight to technology. A huge risk of doing this is that you may end up implementing a solution that your users don’t like and won’t use. You can have great digital tools, but if the experience is ”meh,” it doesn’t matter.
Business transformation, then, needs to start by looking at the broader business outcomes you’re trying to achieve, and all the human touchpoints involved in your processes. Rather than beginning with digital experience, you need to begin with people experience. And that’s where human-centered design (HCD) comes in.
What is human-centered design?
At the highest level, HCD is just what its name implies. It aligns your products, processes and services with the way your customers and employees interact with them. It puts human experience and expectations at the center as the dynamic driver of business outcomes. In any process to transform experience, it eliminates ambiguity, aligns people with business goals and reduces friction in the user experience.
Business transformation becomes experience transformation. And the process to get there is human-centered.
Human-centered design begins with understanding people
We have tools that track user behavior. We can glean insights into how they are interacting and want to interact with processes, especially when they are interacting online. But that doesn’t tell us why they behave the way they do. And understanding why gives us a deeper, more accurate, more predictive view into how they want to interact with our business processes, products and services. People need to be understood because great experiences can’t be built without a deep understanding of the people they serve.
This discovery stage combines quantitative and qualitative research—all focused on understanding your customers and/or employees. The quantitative data is necessary. But qualitative interviews and observations of the users themselves, in their environment, goes beyond the what they do and helps you know the why of their actions. The environment could be physical as well as digital, in a retail store, for example.
The result of this research is the ability to segment users by behavior rather than demographics, pain points and the other descriptors common to traditional personas.
What comes next?
Once the research is completed, a robust and agile HCD process will move to a design, test and prioritize stage and, finally, to solution delivery and ongoing refinement. The HCD process shouldn’t end with the initial implementation. It should be an agile process that continually learns more about your customers, your employees, your vendors and your partners. As you learn more and understand how they interact with your processes, products and services better, your experiences should continue to have new and more personalized and individualized experiences.
Sparking a total experience transformation
Human-centered design in action
The client: A national building and fire codes agency
- A nonprofit professional membership organization
- Provides the electric code, fire suppression systems standards, etc. for much of the U.S.
- Sells code books to electricians, building inspectors, maintenance and facility staff
The business problem: Competition from vloggers
A national building and fire codes agency faced an erosion of its membership and viewership over the past decade. And the reason was readily apparent: Electricians with their own YouTube channels were talking about fire and electrical codes in their own videos. The agency’s audience had no reason to purchase expensive and weighty hardbound code books, an entire set of which could run upwards of $1,000. The organization realized its revenue model was antiquated and its membership disappearing.
The solution: An interactive SaaS platform
Notes RSM US LLP HCD practice principal Joshua Benton, “One of the primary objectives that the NFPA came to us with is they wanted to reinvent their business model and the revenue model. Now that's a little bit pie in the sky, and it feels daunting when a client tells you that on day one. But you know, in a little over two years, that is precisely what has happened.”
"One of the primary objectives that the agency came to us with is they wanted to reinvent their business model and the revenue model. Now that's a little bit pie in the sky, and it feels daunting when a client tells you that on day one. But you know, in a little over two years, that is precisely what has happened."
Joshua Benton, RSM HCD practice principal
After working with RSM’s HCD practice, the agency made all its code books digital and sold access to the information. In fewer than two years, the agency went from launching the new platform with zero members to nearly 73,000 paying members today.
How were they able to attract members with all the vloggers creating free videos? The videos have inherent problems. First, the information must be location-specific; the code for Ohio is different from the code for California, for instance. Also, much of the code information is outdated as it is always being updated. The platform makes it much easier to get updates out to the people that need the latest information.
According to David Hickethier, RSM HCD practice principal, the most important part of the new business model is that it’s a SaaS platform. This allows electricians and other users to customize the books, highlight snippets or share them with colleagues, and take notes. The code books are highly interactive. Users can engage with the information rather than just read it.
Putting people at the center of design
HCD is as much a paradigm as a practice. It identifies and defines moments and how they are experienced by the people who will engage with the product, process or service. It puts people—not technology—at the center of the business. It provides that essential missing piece of the experience puzzle that can make your user experiences truly transformative.
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Source: RSM Canada
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