Lessons that Inspired Our Company to Emphasize Humans in Technology

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smiling girl on laptop in employee office

Technology is amazing. I mean that sometimes what technology can do amazes us.

Remember, for example, the first time your mobile phone spit out turn-by-turn driving directions. I’d bet you were pretty awestruck. I know I was. And if we think about it, there are probably many such examples – times when new software or a new app could do something we’d never considered possible. It’s a great feeling.

But when you run a technology company like ours, a company that builds and leverages technologies to deliver value for clients and customers, there will be times when you will need to resist that feeling of technology awesomeness.

Thinking About New Technology

Deploying new technology is as much a question of “should you” as it is “can you.”

In the technology space our company occupies – ensuring the safe and equitable delivery of remote tests and assessments – we have many opportunities to add technology enhancements to our services. It’s something we’ve done repeatedly. In fact, many of the technology approaches and solutions that our competitors now use were designed and deployed by us.

So, when our technology wizards come up with a new solution or something we can add to our existing mix, we listen. And I admit that sometimes we get very excited. 

But to be successful, I think that listening has to go both ways. In addition to listening to your smart technology folks and being excited by what they can create, you must also listen to and really hear what your customers have to say.

Listening to Your Users’ Experiences

When the pandemic forced thousands of schools and professional organizations to move their programs online, we found ourselves with literally millions of new users on our platforms and in our systems. Recognizing that as a unique and valuable opportunity, we opened our eyes and ears to their experiences and heard two points quickly and loudly.

One of those points was that ease of use was important. Really important. Taking an exam was already stressful so any technology feature that slowed the exam process down or added steps degraded the experience and potentially added more stress to our users. That meant that adding new features simply because they were exciting or better was not necessarily a positive. Necessity is the standard, not capability. We should only include features that are absolutely needed and nothing more, no matter how awesome.

The second point we heard was that people are comfortable trusting technology to do some tasks and yet, there are other tasks people are less comfortable yielding to engineered solutions. We trust algorithms to give us directions to the Akron airport, however we may be less trusting of an algorithm deciding who gets a job or a mortgage.

Acting on that Knowledge

For our company, knowing about our users’ experiences meant balancing and deeply considering where and how we used trained and qualified humans, real people, to replace technologies – and not the other way around. So, we did something counter to what many technology companies might have done; we made a few changes so that people rather than technology would be more prominent. We minimized the role of technology and in some cases, minimized technology features where we had invested considerable time and money in development. By following our commitment to the customer, if these new features were outside of our partners’ and users’ comfort zone, if they were going to make their experience worse, they should not be implemented.

It’s possible that these lessons apply uniquely to our marketplace – in testing and assessment. But I doubt it. And even if that were true, the tools and techniques employed in test delivery and security are already spreading to offices and retail centers.

The take-away is that technology that can does not mean that technology should.

For businesses, the reason is simple. Your customers may not want it. If a solution solves one problem or enables new activities, even amazing ones, you may be better off keeping it on the shelf if it slows down or stresses out your customers because they may value ease and trust over even awesome new solutions. 

And, one more point. The only way to know whether this ease and trust over power mindset is important is to ask your customers and listen to what they say.

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