Empathy: The X Factor in Digital Transformation

Digital transformation means different things to different people. For many, it’s about the speed and power of back office technology. For some, it’s about getting more visibility into process and data. For others, it’s about driving efficiency and cost savings to the bottom line.

But the real gem in the digital transformation jewel box is back office empathy.

Not empathy in the sense of a fuzzy emotional feeling. Nope, I’m talking about the empathy of focusing back office changes on improving the customer experience. The empathy of connecting process and data to create effortless, personalized customer interactions that make customers feel like their time is valued.

If the empathy narrative sounds more like art than science, that’s OK. It’s easy to downplay the importance of it. But it’s hard to ignore the math. Seventy-three percent of consumers say that making them feel like their time is valued, is the most important thing you can do to provide them with good service, according to the experts at Forrester.

Here’s the challenge. In the age of diminishing attention spans, it’s becoming increasingly harder to connect with consumers on an emotional level. Yep, in the mosh pit of digital media, consumers lose focus faster than goldfish (nine seconds). In fact, the average attention span of consumers has fallen to eight seconds, down from 12 in the year 2000, according to a survey by Microsoft.

Which reminds me of a TV commercial I saw the other day. A young driver with a short attention span starts daydreaming that she’s singing on an “American Idol”-style TV show. She snaps back to reality as her car’s digital braking system stops her car in the nick of time, to avoid a collision. Metaphorically speaking, you could say that the braking system was empathetic, that it was designed to put itself in the driver’s shoes, so to speak, and automatically stop the car in emergency situations.

Unfortunately, there’s no automatic braking system for distracted consumers who abandon online purchases, or defect to your competitors. In fact, Internet Retailer reports that 87 percent  of online shoppers abandon shopping carts, resulting in $18 billion per year of lost revenue  for online retailers. The question is, how do you turn the tables on consumer distraction, and overcome the attention span challenge? How do you connect with fickle consumers, and turn them into loyal customers?

Here’s a quick tip. Nothing inspires loyalty like great customer experience. Which is the mojo of back office empathy. It’s worth noting what Forrester says about the importance of focusing on empathy in your digital transformation plans: “…To address customer needs, enterprise architects must empathize with customers and their emotional states when scoping and designing new solutions and services…” For business leaders, the take away is that empathy should be a core element of your digital transformation strategy.

Back office priorities matter. But focusing on stepping up your customer experience game is a critical success factor too. Empathetic apps get this right. Like the banking app that pushes the bill pay option to the front of the menu, because that’s the option you most frequently request. Like the online retail app that allows you to start a chat session on your mobile phone, stop and resume the interaction on your desktop, without repeating information you already provided. Or like the pharmacy app that allows you to skip the waiting room, and do 24/7 video chats with board-certified physicians, who can treat routine illnesses like sinus, ear infections and sore throats. Even write prescriptions, if necessary.

End users also benefit from back office empathy. Like the representatives at a major healthcare company that integrated five legacy systems into one and deployed it within a week, with a low-code digital transformation platform from Appian. For  company representatives, the big challenge was a regulatory obligation to manage site Inspections for over 100,000 providers in a large provider network.

Before Appian, the process was paper based, manual and slow. With data fragmented in emails, spreadsheets and other systems across the organization. Updating provider information meant navigating multiple systems – with no big picture view.

In just 4 weeks, Appian delivered a fully-mobile Site Provider Inspection app that unified all of the data from these fragmented systems, and delivered a single, simple interface to work with the information. As a result, company representatives  can now visit a doctor’s office or hospital, pull out the app on a phone or tablet, and approve or disapprove the site, in real-time. Which eliminated the inconvenience of going back to the office to re-key data and wait for results. This kind of back office empathy streamlined the credentialing process for new providers. Saved significant time for company Reps. And took the effort out of routine transactions and service requests, for company staffers. 

The interesting thing about Appian is that it represents a new breed of digital transformation platform, which allows you to build and deploy empathetic, customer-facing apps in minutes — not days, weeks or months, as with conventional app development platforms.   

Hmm-mm…Empathetic app development, with a low-code twist. It might be worth trying.


Roland Alston