#3 User Empowerment — A Strategic Business Capability for Fintech

This is the last post of series on user empowerment, check out the previous post here.

Indifference or Making a Difference

Businesses which realise user empowerment as a strategic business capability are additive. Rather than taking relationships, capabilities and latent assets for granted they are actively adding to them. The opposite of additive is indifferent or as Kentaro Toyama explains in Geek Heresy, amplifying. Amplification takes place when companies piggyback ride on their technological potential, instead of directing technological possibilities toward the evolvement of human capabilities. Amplifying services are indifferent to the user. At best, amplification means that technological potential is used to increase existing strengths without qualitatively altering the status quo; at worst it means that it randomly amplifies users’ shortcomings, thus deteriorating the status quo.

Indifference is a dead end for user empowerment and for digital platforms and solutions. Indifferent services do not qualitatively alter the status quo but merely intensify both users’ positive and negative skills, gaps, and opportunities. It results in the random exaggeration of what already works as much as the amplification of crucial gaps, lacking capabilities and short-comings of users. In order for a company to not be stuck in the amplifying mode, it needs human mind, heart and will. There can be no positive empowerment of the customer, if there is no positive empowerment of employees.

Understanding user empowerment as a strategic business capability links back to the human and not the technological capabilities and qualities. For companies to design for and achieve customer empowerment there needs to be an internal dynamic which allows employees to embed attention, intentions and care into their work, design, implementation and prioritisation. Without a deep link between user empowerment, employees and the business model, companies run the risk of creating indifferent services instead of making a difference.

External empowerment builds on internal empowerment. It stems from a high level of awareness of the user and service, as much as the ability and willingness to adjust to observations and outcomes. These are no technological procedures, because they necessitate empathy, sensing and sense-making. The internal empowerment of employees gives services the extra edge, that differentiates a wise from a brilliant service. Empowerment is about knowing what to do rather than how to do it right and these insights cannot be generated from big data alone. They are brought in by human beings, which on the basis of sensing, relating, empathising with and relating to users, can ultimately judge what is not only best, but what is right. Neither can empowerment be the sole responsibility of one single division.

When user empowerment is a strategic objective, employees do not need to minutely infer what the customer wants on a daily basis. They will be guided by a more intuitive deep understanding of where customers want to be in the future and how to support them in getting there. Empowerment is a company culture which has customers’ best interests in mind.

So rather than approaching user empowerment as an external outcome, I would like to invite the reader to approach it as a process in motion which extends from the inside to the outside of a company. Acknowledging employees as an internal source of consumer empowerment, recognises and benefits from the similarities and synergies they share with their customers. Viewed as an ongoing process, empowerment is a strategic choice each company needs to make. Its strategic implications span across the whole business, revealing themselves by virtue of the limits, leaders impose on the growth of their employees, customers and businesses.

Stöberkiste: Kentaro Toyama, Amplification