Innovation Begins with Curiosity: Using Technology to Embrace Humanity

by Monitor Staff Jan/Feb 2022
We are using technology in more areas of our lives than ever before. And while the pace and quality of technology changes every second, human nature essentially remains the same. Those who are technology averse often mention that technology is superseding people, but does it have to be that way? How do we innovate while embracing humanity?

Nate Gibbons,
Chief Operating Officer,
Innovation Finance

What is the true dynamic between technology and humanity? Is it adversarial or symbiotic? 

Denis Stypulkoski: There’s this pendulum swing that’s been going back and forth over the past 20 years about technology first/people first and how do you land? I think now it’s a blending that’s coming together, where, done right, digital technology allows someone to serve themselves where they want to be, when they want to be and to gain access to the people that are part of the relationship they have with the company.

Nate Gibbons: You see scenarios where individuals are being replaced in terms of their job function with technology or with robots. That can create some tension between technology and humanity, but technology’s entire purpose is to meet unmet needs of humans. Without humans, technology ceases to have meaning.

Many individuals dealing with anxiety are dealing with it because there’s an issue

Denis Stypulkoski, Founder and Principal, Reimagine Advisors

with a sense of purpose. Or they feel less important or less popular. Social media has strong correlations with that. On the flip side, there are entirely new opportunities for people to do things that they couldn’t do before. You see a lot of individuals on social media and YouTube that do what they love and it’s giving them a sense of purpose. These are things that technology didn’t enable them to do before. It’s a complex relationship, but the new opportunities that technology has created, in my opinion, have caused it to be a symbiotic relationship.

If we look outside the equipment finance industry, where can we see examples of technology embracing humanity?

Gibbons: I think of a company like Neuralink. They’ve developed technology that through the use of an implant can influence brain activity. Think of somebody who has been blind their entire life or somebody who suffers from amnesia. It turns out there are ways to influence brain activity through the use of technology that can correct these types of conditions. There are other implications in terms of anxiety and depression, hallucinations, phobias, addictions, insomnia — all things related to what’s going on inside of our minds.

Technology can enable us to improve humanity. Creative technological solutions are enabling us to live a quality of life that was not possible before.

Stypulkoski: One year ago, I was confronted with COVID-19. I went to my physician [whom I had known] for 30-plus years with implicit trust between me and that physician. But it was a single person office, and they weren’t equipped to handle or see anyone that had COVID-19. So instead, I went to this practice [in] the next town over that is a team of six people, and it’s technology-enabled. And every one of them knew as much about me as the other, and every one of them was on a video call, and they were empathetic, they were concerned, they were engaged.

I have five people now that I have implicit trust in where before I had one, and they’re all operating off of the same playbook — and technology is what enabled that. Technology was right at the root of them establishing and maintaining trust with me. So, I think that’s a really great example to try and bring back to our industry.

What could human digital engagement look like in our industry? 

Gibbons: Certain things are key to really taking advantage of the opportunities that technology presents, and one of those is understanding the importance of trust. There are certain elements of technology that actually enhance trust. Historically, trust might have been based on physically looking someone in the eye and shaking their hand. Now, trust is often based on the convenience that the customer experiences. Where an individual feels forced into something, whether it’s forced into a meeting or forced into a very long bureaucratic, friction-filled process, that experience causes trust to decline.

Where individuals are given control, that causes trust to increase. Because of the amount of information that’s available, the amount of data that’s available, the dynamic of trust has flipped. We used to place our trust in our sales representative who always took good care of us and knew when our kids’ Little League games were. Now, because there’s so much information available and because of the strong demand for increased transparency, our customers feel that they are the most credible source of information.

The key is to look through the lens of the customer, and seeing examples outside of the industry reminds us of the evolving needs and preferences of customers. We know customers are becoming more expecting of self-service capabilities. We know that customers are becoming more expectant of instant gratification

There are technologies that are enabling us to deliver the things that are becoming increasingly important to us if we look at our own human preferences. We want to remain mindful of human nature and of human preferences and how those have changed.

Stypulkoski: Nate focused on the word trust, and it brought me back to the example I gave. My trust was implicit in my doctor of 30 years. My trust is now in a network of physicians and the technology platform that ties them all together so they will understand me and so that I understand them and they can engage with me. But it’s a different definition of trust, right? It used to be I look the doctor in the eye and I trust him or her. And now it’s the ecosystem of trust.

Think about Amazon as a retailer. They are an incredible software company that knows how to create experiences. And so, as we think about reimagining our businesses in this industry, we need to become bimodal. We need to become exceptional finance companies coupled with exceptional software engineering or composability capability to deliver an experience for the markets we serve as well as for our employees.

What’s going to help equipment finance companies lean into the future is embracing this notion of being a bimodal company that needs to be digital software experience-based on the one hand, and designing how it fits to their markets to deliver and provide access to the extraordinary finance capabilities and financial experts that they have within their organization.

How can our industry utilize technology to build the best experience for customers and partners so we can attract and maintain relationships?

Stypulkoski: Experience is everything. All of us as business leaders should look back at our own companies over the past number of years and think about the investments we’ve made and think about how we designed how to make those investments. And I would argue that more often than not, we do it from the inside out. We think about what we need as a company, where we want to go as a company, and we start designing things around our process, around our technology, around our people. But we’re not doing it from the outside in. We’re not doing it with experience-based design, and that’s what we really need to embrace, is experience-based design. The digital expectations of folks that are moving up into management and leadership within our industry and within our companies and the companies we serve, they are expecting engaging experiences digitally as well as individually when they’re working with someone.

Gibbons: That dynamic between relationship and experience is, in my opinion, an inseverable one. That’s one that if considered carefully can really allow for the strongest possible customer retention. Companies like Amazon understand this. They have great customer service in terms of return policies and refunds, but their phenomenal service has everything to do with their product. Their whole purpose is to create an experience and a product that creates value for their customers and every time somebody calls in with an issue or a complaint, they’re getting intel, they’re learning, they’re getting knowledge that allows them to continually refine and improve their product and, in some cases, even reconsider entire processes and business functions in their model. They’ve made changes to their business model through the use of technology as a result of the approach that they’ve taken with customer service.

Many people see service departments as just sort of an area to take in inbound calls and to have customers vent, whereas Amazon uses their service teams to gather as much intel and feedback as they can so that they constantly have a pulse on what’s important to their customers and then they use that to innovate and to rethink their model.

Stypulkoski: One of Amazon’s strategies is to use data mining technology to look at exceptions or requests from customers that are a deviation from their standard process or the standard way they intended something to work. Technology they’re using to categorize and organize information can allow them to then pivot to re-engineer their product in a way that’s more useful to their customers.

I often say that innovation begins with curiosity, this unending stream of questions that one must ask, and curiosity can be about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it and what our customers are experiencing and why they’re experiencing it. But curiosity is also then to go way outside of our industry and begin to explore how others are doing it.

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