Beyond the Pursuit of Convenience

Humans crave convenience. It’s not just that we want to make our lives easier; convenience allows us to spend our time on things we find more meaningful, like practicing a hobby, pursuing a personal goal, or spending more time with people we care about.

Technology helps us on our quest for meaning by constantly increasing convenience. Online shopping is more convenient than trekking to the mall, but one-click shopping is even better and one-click shopping with curated, relevant product recommendations is better still. The more technology drives convenience, the more convenient we want things to become, creating a constant feedback loop that drives the evolution of the customer experience.

When technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) transform burdensome tasks into easy ones, it shifts our thinking about how we live and work. We will increasingly push mundane pursuits—like replenishing our coffee and laundry detergent—to the background in favor of experiences that engage us. The big question for companies is how to develop customer experiences that provide emotional resonance.

How technology amplifies our instincts

If technology gives us more time to pursue meaningful experiences, it also accelerates instinctive behaviors in both good and bad ways. The human penchant for tribalism, for example, can manifest itself digitally as a crowdsourced fundraiser for a humanitarian cause or as a swarm of bullies wielding social media as a weapon. Such tribal tendencies can materialize at unprecedented speed and scale thanks to technology that enables near-instantaneous creation of online communities of practically any type imaginable. The social media site Reddit alone boasts more than 130,000 such groups, known as subreddits, each with a specific and granular area of interest.

And that’s just the beginning. Technology makes it possible for almost anyone, almost anywhere, to express innate traits like fear, greed, and narcissism—or cooperation, kindness, and creativity. What’s more, technology makes exercising those behaviors in response to an offer or a message so fast and easy that customers have come to expect an almost frictionless transition from having a desire to acting on it.

Some platforms are already using digital technology to narrow the gap between inspiration and acquisition. While Pinterest’s photo-pinning and -sharing capabilities have long nurtured creative expression, users also flock to the site to collect ideas before making a purchase. Recognizing this, the company launched an AI-driven visual search tool that scans the objects in users’ “inspo” photos and pulls similar product offerings, allowing them to shop their favorite looks in a few taps. And as connected features, like a separate “Shop” tab, draw from the whole of users’ pinned boards to show them up-to-date inventory and pricing information, the company makes shopping directly from sources like aspirational images and mood boards even easier.

Platforms redefine meaning

If companies want to create exceptional and satisfying customer experiences, they’ll have to use technology to do more than simply speed up the traditional customer journey. Companies must understand how their target market’s values, desires, and experiences overlap and appeal to them everywhere possible by creating platforms that enable customers to share their experiences with the company and each other at scale.

Nike, for example, focused on giving parents greater convenience while promoting children’s fitness with the launch of a sneaker subscription service. The service reduces the amount of time parents need to spend in a store with their young children to replace shoes that are quickly outgrown and face wear-and-tear on the playground. Along with the shoes, children receive activity guides, stickers, and additional gifts, while parents can visit the Nike Adventure Club website for kid-friendly fitness ideas.

By allowing parents to review shoe choices online with their kids and set their own cadence for delivery, Nike allows its customers to turn their previously allocated shopping time into family time. And a recycling program for outgrown sneakers appeals to customers’ dual desires for greater convenience and a smaller environmental footprint.

As technology enables us to do more of what we want to do and enhances the experiences we want to have, it will make the customer experience more human. When the telephone companies of the 1950s predicted phone booths with video calling, they weren’t anticipating mobile phones and the death of the public telephone, never mind laptops, tablets, and high-speed internet access. But they understood people wouldn’t want to stop talking to each other, that the desire to hear and see a loved one who’s far away is age-old and fundamental. They predicted that technology would make satisfying that desire faster and easier.

Then, as now, convenience and meaning are intertwined, with innovation enabling them both.