Customer experience design is the forgotten dimension of sustainability. We need to transcend what have now become well-defined approaches and definitions of customer experience, to help companies understand why their offerings are no longer resonating with people, and how to develop a profound understanding of the lived experience of every single person whose lives our organisations touch. This understanding is just as applicable to those businesses and organisations developing sustainable products, services, technologies and initiatives.
Around the world there is a growing awareness of the destructive nature of current economic paradigms based on fragmentation, where powerful nations aim to dominate weaker nations rich in natural resources. The most enlightened businesses are now transforming their life-destroying business models to ones which are life-enhancing and which regenerate natural ecosystems and local economies. By shifting our focus into a more soulful way of being we can radically transform the attention of business from a focus on interactions that individual people have with products and services, to the quality of experience of communities and the richness of the quality of their lives.
Three examples from Brazil demonstrate this principle. The first comes from Laces and Hair, a hair spa specialising in hair care as opposed to hair styling. The company introduced cosmetics and natural personal care products into Brazil in 1987, when the fashion at the time was for synthetic products. There are many adverse health effects relating to the chemicals used in synthetic personal care products, and these can also affect the health of the stylists and professionals who are exposed on a daily basis. Laces and Hair focus as much on their professionals as they do on their clients, and this includes providing training and support far beyond which is typical for this industry.
Laces and Hair now have five salons in São Paulo, and each is adorned with natural vegetation, which naturally are able to lower the temperature of the salons by 2 degrees, thus reducing the need for air conditioning. Using the latest sustainable technologies such as water recycling, solar energy and natural sunlight for lighting, clients are able to relax and feel as if they are at home, rather than a more artificial salon environment.
The hair care philosophy of the spa is based on the idea of ‘slow beauty’ which follows in the footsteps of the slow food movement. The focus is not on creating a momentary hair style for when the client steps out of a beauty salon, but in teaching clients how to care for their hair at home. For Cris Dios, the founder of Laces and Hair, it is the inner beauty which reflects and impacts on our outer beauty, and for this reason the salons run regular meditation sessions with Márcia De Luca, a practitioner of yoga, mediation and Ayurveda with over 30 years of experience. As Cris said to me when I interviewed her last year, “Meditation is resetting the mind and starting a sincere dialogue with the soul”.
The second example of the value of focusing on customer experience comes from Hospital Sírio Libanês, one of the most important in Latin America. One of the core values of the hospital is calor humano, which translates as ‘human warmth’ and which is the sense of friendliness, empathy and care that every member of staff has with each patient and guest of the hospital. I had the opportunity in 2015 to speak to Dr. Paulo Chapchap, the CEO of the hospital. He described calor humano in the following way:
Calor humano is one of our values. It means noticing other people and liking other people. Caring for your family, siblings, mother and father, that’s natural. Being able to show it in the very first moment when you meet someone who is fragile, suffering and afraid, showing that you care, looking into their eyes, using your hands, that is calor humano.
It has to be everyone. If you are afraid that you may die, if you are suffering and you are in pain, then every moment that someone looks at you, you will value. If the person is distant, you may think that you are in a bad way. You may think that you are going to die. You can’t stand over someone because then you are showing a difference. You have to sit down with a person and look into their eyes.
The final example of customer experience comes from Walter Mancini, one of São Paulo’s most highly respected restaurateurs. In 1980 Walter Mancini opened the first Famiglia Mancini restaurant but his vision was greater than just one single restaurant. His vision was to renovate the entire street, the first project of its kind in São Paulo.
Last year Maria and I had the opportunity to speak to him about his dream to revitalise and regenerate this part of São Paulo. In this interview he also spoke about the relationship between soul, love, profit and happiness:
In all of those places where there is a soul conducting, there is consciousness that you have to live your life in service to others, otherwise it is not worth anything. It makes the soul of love, dedication, care and generosity, always floating in the air inside every place, wherever it is present. My soul has a light of caring, it shines inside all of my restaurants. My profit is your happiness. This is the most beautiful currency I know. Not because of the recognition, but because you know that you are passing through life being useful to others. It is very beautiful that the doors are always open, and each person who comes takes a little of this beauty and this enchantment which is spread amongst the walls, the tables.
The sustainability, resilience and durability of a business can be found in the quality of its relationships. People do not find truth in experiences which are not truly authentic, and these are the types of experiences which cannot endure because inevitably, one day the illusion will become apparent to others. If you really care about creating something that endures, that has roots, there is no way other than authenticity. The truth, therefore, starts with ourselves when there is complete coherence between what we say, what we mean, and how we act. Cris Dios, Dr. Paulo Chapchap and Walter Mancini are three very different business leaders who all show us that no matter what type of organisation we are working in, a more soulful way of business is indeed possible.
Great companies are the ones which design customer experiences with soul. A customer experience has soul when it has the quality of authentic wholeness, the principle of life itself. When you can connect with the soul of your organisation and experience the way in which it is expressed through each and every part, you will have created an authentic customer experience with soul.
The interviews in this article come from the book Customer Experiences with Soul: A New Era in Design (Holonomics Publishing, London, 2017).
Simon Robinson is the co-founder of Holonomics Education and the co-author of Customer Experiences with Soul: A New Era in Design and Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter. He is a member of the Emerging Future Institute, a member of the Strongly Sustainable Business Model Group at OCAD University, Toronto, and editor of the blog http://www.transitionconsciousness.org.