Tech Determinism Yields to User Determinism
By Dana Sher
Head of Product
Technology has long been a driving force in business. From personal computers and fax machines to the internet and smart devices, companies are continually evolving thanks to the latest technological advancements.
This begs the question: How much is technology evolution influenced by its creators vs. its users?
The answer is both, actually. Our society, and by extension our workplaces, are shaped by the technology we use every day. But user expectations are also pushing tech companies to continually raise the bar. Technological evolution is now a two-way street where companies and end users are in constant dialogue.
Technological Determinism Has a Weak Spot
We experience technological determinism every day. A concept derived from theorists in the 19th century, the idea posits that technology shapes every element of society. The effect of technology is so pervasive, in fact, that it influences everything from values to relationships. Because the workplace is a microcosm of our larger society, it also experiences the push-and-pull of technological determinism.
Think about how digital technology has changed our professional lives since the turn of the millennium: WiFi, video conferencing, cloud computing, to name just a few. How a global company is managed today is completely different than it was even 10 years ago. The skillset of knowledge workers has also evolved significantly to keep pace with the latest generation of software programs.
Technological determinism can be seen in the model of tech teams as creators and users as adopters. Customers patiently looked to tech providers for the latest products and updates. In the past, even if users reached out with an idea for a new function or improvement, most of the time their feedback would be ignored or take months/years to implement.
But a massive shift has taken place that is challenging the distinction between creators and users. Call it “user determinism,” because customers have become a powerful sphere of influence to demand technological changes. Smart technology companies recognize the value of bringing their customers to the product development table.
This shift resulted in the birth of the “customer success” role around 2010. Back then, companies had customer-service programs, but were missing the “success” part of the equation. Today, it’s critical that tech providers ensure a customer’s implementation goes well and that their needs are fulfilled on an ongoing basis. Customer success professionals are the links between clients and product development. In the end, customers want to feel they are heard and that tech providers take their feedback seriously.
How Users Drive Technological Innovation
How have users become such vocal proponents of innovation? For one, the feedback loop between companies and clients is at the most transparent it’s ever been. Online reviews and social media tags fundamentally alter how users communicate with technology developers. Clients have no compunction about publicly sharing their opinions (positive or negative) about a product for all to see.
Their expectations about a company’s response time have also changed. The days of writing or faxing in a complaint or suggestion are long over. Even waiting 48 hours for an email response is seen as unacceptably slow—people want an immediate answer. A quick reply is now a given, plus it shows that a business values the opinions of its users.
Yet some legacy companies are holding onto the outdated mindset that only tech determinism rules product development. Because they believe they have all the answers to their clients’ needs, they are slow to respond to or act on feedback. When customer comments aren’t prioritized, however, companies stop innovating.
This is at odds with tech-savvy customers. Because they work in dynamic companies experiencing rapid growth, the ability to pivot quickly is paramount. That includes the technology tools they depend on every day for creativity, collaboration, and productivity. These users are not shy, nor should they be, about demanding modifications or updates that are uniquely suited to their needs.
Like most next-gen tech companies, we’re in a constant marathon to bring new value to our customers. We are always looking for ways to innovate and are deliberately positioned to make agile product changes. Part of our philosophy of continuous improvement is integrating customer feedback into our latest offerings.
For example, a San Francisco-based communications company was using our wayfinder kiosks to show employee and resource locations. Company leaders came to us for ways to book a meeting room at the kiosks. They also wanted an employee catalog with workers’ photos and their current locations.
Suggestions from our customers resulted in substantial improvements to our wayfinding platform. And our collaboration continues to this day, with an add-on that allows wayfinding maps kiosks to reflect the direction in which the person using it is facing.
These are examples of user determinism at its best. The pressure to innovate comes from both internal vision and external feedback—not for just one company, but for every customer looking for ways to maximize every square foot of their workplace. The close ties between technology providers and their clients, via customer success teams or other communication channels, make for more innovative solutions that meet business needs and drive greater workplace productivity.
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