How does attention improve customer experience?

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A member of The QoE (let’s call her Angie) is currently volunteering in an orphanage for ‘differently able’ children in Sri Lanka. ‘Differently able’ is a term used in Sri Lanka for children with conditions such as autism, Downs Syndrome and cerebral palsy.

It has been heart breaking to read Angie’s reports of the poor conditions and treatment that many of the children experience. Underpaid carers who have almost no empathy for the childrens’ situation regularly dole out punishments, regardless of the fact that the children have no understanding of the reasons behind their actions.

Sadly Angie is largely powerless to reverse these deep-rooted cultural differences. But what has made her experience bearable has been seeing the difference that simply investing her time in the children can make. To use her words:

“the most rewarding thing in a day is to see a child’s eyes light up with joy when you give them attention”.

Contrast this experience with that of another QoE member, Sam Ellis. As part of Atos’ Dream Builders team, Sam spent much of last year raising money for The Prince’s Trust charity. In a fantastic achievement, Sam and the team raised an unprecedented total of £210,111 between July and December last year. This will be invested in helping people improve the lives of disadvantaged young people in the UK, and The QoE were proud to be a sponsor of their efforts.

Despite the vast cultural differences between Angie’s and Sam’s volunteering efforts, the principle is the same: there is great value in investing your attention in people.

The Attention Economy

As long ago as 1997, Wired Magazine commented on the growth of the Attention Economy, noting that attention is both a valuable and limited resource. As our lives become increasingly full of distraction and noise, our ability to pay attention is being squeezed between status updates, online shopping, instant messages and the like.

As we become increasingly hyperconnected, the scarcity of our attention increases. And as any good economist will tell you, the scarcity of a resource only drives up its value. The author of the Wired article, Michael Goldhaber, even goes as far as to suggest that the flow of attention around the internet will eventually replace the flow of money altogether.

Investing attention improves experience

The lesson from the above examples is this: investing attention in people improves their experience. As organisations become increasingly obsessed with using data to improve customer experience, it is worth remembering that there remains just as much (if not more) value in simply spending time really listening to and talking with customers. And more than just spending time, this involves spending attention.

Data-driven approaches to understanding behaviour try to reduce people to categories and trends, but this is a 20th century approach to understanding customers. Delivering great experiences in the 21st century requires authenticity, personalisation, and a willingness to listen and adapt to the specific needs of each customer.

To borrow the Sri Lankan term, we are all ‘differently able’ in one form or another. We all have our strengths and our weaknesses, this is a fundamental aspect of human experience. In the attention economy, we expect our organisations to pay attention to us, accommodating – and valuing – our differences.