Humanist Design: 5 Questions With Davy Rennie, Interbrand Australia


Davy Rennie - 2017Interbrand Australia has hired customer strategist and renowned design thinker Davy Rennie as director of customer experience. In this new role, the Scottish-born Rennie will deliver solutions across the business, with clients including Telstra, Event Hospitality and Entertainment and The Star.

Rennie joins Interbrand with more than a decade of experience across digital, innovation and customer strategies. With a focus on designing and delivering large-scale transformational change that places the customer at the center of all aspects of the business, his past clients include Shell, Microsoft, Telstra and government agencies.

Find out more on how he’s bringing humanism to design—and why customer experience shouldn’t be an afterthought but the first thought in a client engagement—in our latest Q&A:

Davy, what’s your philosophy on experience design and delivering CX that’s people-focused, effective and innovative?

My philosophy is evolving, from just design- and strategy-focused to a broader approach for the ever-changing professional world. Regardless of the complexity of the project or challenge, the single most important thing I have learned is to listen.

Listen to the business, the market and most importantly the people who you are delivering for—the end user. This allows you to know your brand, your challenges and ultimately the people (the end user), and create incredible and useful experience for them.

Listening is paramount, but so is allowing yourself the time to think and consider, and then react in a strategic and purposeful manner. Don’t just react. CX programs allowed the space, not just time, to think; that’s essential for success. It can be a bit niche, but I like to allow my team and the client’s team to listen in and find the real value in what we’re doing.

How have you seen customer experience evolve in your decade-plus in the space?

Massively. I think it’s evolved through different titles: user experience design, customer experience design, human-centered design, etc. The common thread between them is placing humans in the middle of the entire process to succeed.

Recently I have read two books which have helped me gain a bit more of a ground-up view of why CX is important, and why it has also been around for longer than we think: Shoe Dog by Nike founder Phil Knight and Richard Branson’s latest autobiography both call out the need for Customer Centricity in new and existing businesses, long before CX was a ‘thing’. Their approaches are so different yet so focused on delivering excellence to the end user, and that facinates me.

A lot of CXers are being hired by larger organizations. My hope is that they’re not just hopping on the bandwagon, and it is part of a internal culture transformation. Ticking the CX box isn’t just an option. There has to be a fundamental shift towards customer centricity, and that isn’t an app or a website or new interior, it’s a complete change starting with culture. Your brand is now experience; experience is your brand.

Companies are still struggling to optimize and measure customer experience; what’s your advice on that?

There’s a unique blend of human insights and hard data that needs to be brought together. They’re too separate at the moment and not measured together enough. This can be the fault of the creativity side of the puzzle more often than not. Measurement isn’t just focus groups with people who know the brand explicitly. It’s wider than that. It’s a mixture of art and science with a smash of creativity and strategy.

If you bring data, human insights, creativity and human behaviors together, the data will tell you where to look and the human insights will tell you why there is a problem. The creativity and understanding of human behaviours, such as internal chemical reactions, will help you solve those challenges.

There needs to be a coming together of data, science and human-centered design process. The more ethnographers and anthropologists that come together with designers, strategies and scientists as well, the more accurate the services are going to be.

There is a catch, though—businesses can’t go from zero to one hundred immediately. There has to be a sustainable foundation in place for them to get to where they want to go.

How should the CX function be located and structured to be most effective, and not siloed or roadblocked, in an organization?

If you think of brand as your experience, and experience as your brand, CX should be a collective of departments: tech, marketing, HR, customer services, etc., whether or not it’s a team or a coming together of teams. If you look at consultancies, they’re placing CX as a major department, with the siloes underneath them. This should be no different in business. Customers are everything at the end of the day, and the customer team should be the enablers of experience, marketing, tech and digital etc.

How do you put the ‘custom’ back into customer experience and create personalized, relevant experiences?

I think it’s done by not creating broad, disperate capabilities. It about engaging with customers in the moments that matter, or signature moments empathetically and inclusively. It’s what’s important to our people. It’s not about doing absolutely everything. It’s about doing the right things at the right times and doing them really, really well. And then doing it all over again.

Personalisation in a digital sense is very, very different to experience personalisation. Sometimes a simple ‘Hello, how are you doing?’ is enough to make a customer feel included. In digital, personalisation has to work infinitely harder. It has to know you inside and out, be methodical and empathetic all at the same time—something that goes against the primary function of machines.

How can data and analytics fuel real-time (consistent, personalized, high impact) customer experience?

This goes back to the idea that data and analytics has the power to go beyond what we see today. It can predict events based on trends, sentiments and other hard data points. Data shows you where to find problems, but humans show you emotion, and irrational decisions. Blending real-time data with real-time insights from the mouths of humans will allow us to change the way we engage with our customers. It will show us why a certain event occured, not just that it occured. The more data scientists and designers coming together means we are going to be living in a fascinating space.

How did your 2017 predictions fare and what’s your outlook for 2018?

I think a lot of my 2017 predictions came true, but at a much slower rate than thought. I spoke a lot about UI and the decline in digital design, which happened somewhat, probably faster in the U.S. and Europe than Australia, and self-driving is creeping in, but slowly—primarily because it is being held back by draconian policy makers and manufacturers.

In 2018 I think more people will continue talk about customer experience, both physical and digital, coming together to create cohesive brand experiences. Cars will continue to be the untapped frontier of experience design until we see brands like NEO and Daimler challenge Tesla to not only change the way the car moves, but what we do whilst we are inside it.

I also think some businesses will begin to rethink their long-term strategies with the continued emergence of challenger brands and disruptors, especially in the retail space. Why major retailers continue to have large proportions of premier CBD (central business district) real estate designated to product storage and fulfilment is astonishing.

I believe the reduction in real estate required in this space should result in major savings passed onto customers. Businesses like this can leverage express delivery and centralised fulfilment centres to enable flagship stores to act as physical showrooms, and have the products tried on there to be delivered in the time it takes the customer to travel home.

I hope that businesses will start to look to be more empathetic and human, as it’s what our customers expect now. They expect their banks, food companies and others to be more empathetic. They want to be cared for, not processed. Loving a brand is a real thing, and the brands that are loved are the ones that love back.

Finally, ambient design in Australia is now competitive. Google Home, Microsoft’s Cortana, Amazon’s Alexa and other forms will become part of every Australian’s day. This will allow them to live smarter. It also allows them to bring more simplicity to their everyday lives. Being Scottish and living in Australia, I look forward to real-time translation for the thickest of Australian accents.

Get more insights in our Q&A series.