Writer/Editor focused on technology, marketing, customer experience design and more
Two simple questions are going to determine everything about how the reopening of world's economies will look and feel like over the next few months.
For consumers -- whether they're thinking about going to a store, to a park or even restaurants eventually -- the question will be "Is it worth it?"
Beyond the possible risks of becoming infected with the Coronavirus, "Is it worth it?" refers to all the challenges of moving through a world that is now being governed by long lineups, physical distancing and constant hand-spritzing.
For businesses -- whether they operate in retail, hospitality or anything else that traditionally relied on face-to-face customer encounters -- the question will be, '"Can we offer a digital version of this?"
Ever since lockdowns began, companies have moved quickly to sell, provide services or simply entertain customers by some form of videoconference or online alternative to a physical experience.
Some of these digital alternatives have been okay. Some, like virtual wine tastings, have felt like the next best thing to the original thing. Others, like virtual funeral services, feel . . . less than ideal.
Right now people have probably been pretty forgiving about many of these experiments because they happened with incredible speed and agility, and when you're stuck at home, how much can you really expect?
The post-quarantine phase of the pandemic, on the other hand, may raise expectations, not just of individual companies but entire industries. It should also shift the thinking of everyone from startups to large enterprises to ditch growth hacking in favour of what I'm calling experience hacking.
The idea that companies should pay more attention to customer experience (CX) design has been around for years now, even though efforts have been somewhat narrowly focused.
According to a survey conducted by CustomerThink, for example, 7% of CX initiatives have tended to focus on what happens after someone has made a purchase, like service and support. Companies that upgrade their call centres with new software or throw more people on the phones will think they're making big CX strides.
More mature organizations have augmented their customer service resources with customer success teams to make sure buyers get off to the best start once they make a purchase. More recently, marketing leaders like CMOs have started to take a greater interest in CX in the earlier stages of a customer relationship, like when they first hear about a brand.
The arrival of COVID-19 will add another wrinkle to CX. Specifically, companies will now have to not only make sure they have a digital complements (or digital-only options) for every experience they offer. They will also have to be able to guide customers into choosing which one is most worth it, based on the trade-offs of safety and convenience.
This will require something similar to, but more evolved than, what we have described until now as a growth hacker.
When Sean Ellis coined the term growth hacker in 2010, he was recognizing a need for a blend of skills within marketing to help companies move with agility and speed to reach their potential. These were people who didn't just take SEO courses but continually A/B tested the best approaches to copywriting, outreach, and data analytics to ease the journey towards each company milestone.
Andrew Chen took the idea much further by identifying the unique combination of technical skills and creativity that made growth hacking more of a product role.
Today, the non-stop talk of CX and "customer centricity" has been nearly derailed by the impact of COVID-19, where providing any experience at all has become harder.
This calls for a particular breed of professional who will not only help remove the friction from an experience that a company creates, but reduce the friction caused caused by uncontrollable events like a pandemic and a subsequent shelter-in-place order.
By tweaking and modifying an experience, or perhaps introducing a whole new element or dimension to an experience, this individual and their teammates will balance growth objectives with operational initiatives that keep existing customers as happy and loyal as possible.
Experience hackers will be like growth hackers in being open and willing to add anything to their arsenal to put out a fire or battle a longstanding problem. This could mean everything from experimenting with new digital channels like AR and VR to taking a Python course so they could help build experiences themselves.
Just as growth hackers have had to continually educate business leaders that their title does not translate into "finding short-cuts to growth," experience hackers will become role models for breaking down siloed thinking and cultivating proactive responsiveness as the guiding principle for organizational values.
Perhaps most critically, experience hackers will become highly adept in not only figuring out what needs to be changed temporarily as a result of a pandemic, but what to keep from those makeshift solutions -- call them minimal viable experiences -- once a crisis has passed.
Experience hackers may not formally be part of a CX team, and may never even be given such a title officially. Yet we will know them by their actions, which may in the long-term lead to greater growth than a growth hacker could have ever imagined.