Since its humble beginnings in 1887, the family-run business Stannah has become a world leader in manufacturing and selling stairlifts. The traditional sales process has always been central to its success. Face-to-face communication with clients and their families was at the core of every employee action, offering support and guidance when most needed.

However, when the pandemic hit last year Stannah had to rethink its interaction with customers. It was essential to reach out to the customer base digitally while keeping services personalised and supportive at the same time.

How did such a traditional business manage to switch to online services without losing the personal touch that has kept it special in the past? As a participant in the Zone and Cognizant Digital Experience project with Stannah, I reveal the most interesting facts from the transformation journey.

Kicking off the transformation project

We came up with a solid project for bringing humanity and technology together. Although the task was challenging, the digital journey still needed to be simple and easy to understand.

A girl works on her computer to bring humanity and technology together.

Therefore, we kept users at the heart of everything, conducting frequent research and testing with real prospective customers, iterating on those learnings throughout the 12 weeks that it took to launch.

Every element of the content, including language, tone of voice and visual design, was tested with users to ensure the proposition was clear and helpful to a diverse customer base – allowing customers to find and purchase a stairlift tailored to their needs and homes.

How Stannah switched to digital?

One of the first initiatives was transferring Stannah’s traditional emotional support to the digital setting. Just like in person, humanity needed to sit at the heart of the digital experience. While it’s very important that all businesses adapt and evolve to suit changing consumer behaviour, that shouldn’t come at the cost of losing what makes you special as a business.

A stairlift is a big-purchase item that can typically provoke a negative mindset in consumers – there is a huge emotional weight attached. For many, buying a stairlift means accepting the current physical condition, and the experience we were creating had to bring this into account. It was essential for the online purchase journey to be positive, supportive, and seamless.

Here are a few steps we performed to ensure all of this:

Three elements of inclusive product design

We created a brand-new digital platform that focused on distilling the key aspects of choosing a stairlift down to a small set of questions, each guiding the user through the journey to purchase:

The photo shows a page on the Stannah webisite.
The photo shows a page on the Stannah webiste.

These questions were designed to help the customers find a stairlift with utter confidence and create a bespoke product tailored to their needs.

Conducting collaborative product iteration  

We made sure the users are involved in the project from the beginning to the end. The collaborative process required us to constantly validate the solutions and iterate along the way. Even though this process might be time-consuming, costly, and demanding for the whole team, we truly believe it is the right way of building a sustainable product. Digital transformation means embracing agility and innovation tools such as digital customer journey mapping that can help identify pain points and opportunities along the way.

Meeting accessibility standards  

Accessibility was at the heart of our every action. We made sure to follow Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and meet the highest levels of accessibility and conformance in general. It goes without saying that this step was essential for keeping our customers safe and sure about their purchasing choice.

Changing the conversation from dependence to empowerment

The main goal of all these initiatives was to help customers see the stairlift as furniture rather than a mobility tool with the stigma it often brings.

Therefore, we made sure to design positive narratives across customers’ digital touchpoints. For instance, we recognized the importance of independence during the Covid 19 crisis. Having control over one’s mobility in the time of social distancing became crucial for those living alone. Instead of emphasizing the danger of being alone, we chose to talk about the empowerment, control, and safety such a product provides. Our content across the entire digital experience was written with this view in mind.

The importance of bringing humanity and technology together

Employees working together to conduct the Stannah project.

It was also important to onboard Stannah’s employees and include them in the design process. We brought in key stakeholders from Stannah’s sales, marketing, product and digital teams to gain their insight and help drive the solution.

To help them feel a part of the change and understand the customers’ needs, we ran design and sketching sessions with Stannah employees, giving them the opportunity to present ideas and thoughts on how to make it easier for customers to see, understand, and select the different products.

The mutual collaboration at every stage throughout the project allowed us to continuously iterate the platform based on their feedback and ensured we were all on the same path and supporting customers through every touchpoint.

Taking a participatory approach

The Stannah project was enriched with various disciplines to shape an outstanding customer experience. These included research, UX, design, front-end development, technical engineering, project and product management, and QA testing. Our aim was to see through the eyes of the customers, and we achieved that by including them in our project.

Using lean agile methodology, we were in continuous conversation with customers and stakeholders from the inception of the idea to validating and iterating key moments that matter throughout the customer journey. Thanks to the constant user feedback, we quickly uncovered value and ensured the product is made to satisfy customers’ needs. People’s feedback was invaluable as it ensured we are always on the right path, unravelling the behaviours, motivations, challenges, and goals of Stannah’s target audience.

The key lessons on humanity and technology combined

Stannah has become the first stairlift provider to offer a full end-to-end online customer journey that ends with an order being placed via a digital platform. In the past, the company had a traditional sales process that has been central to its success for generations. And while its salespeople and the personal touch they bring will always be at the core of the business, customers were eager to see an online option. 

An illustration shows people in a circle and demonstrates the success of humanity and technology combined.

By offering the choice of a digital experience, Stannah has been able to grow its user base and market share by appealing to an increasingly digital-savvy customer base.

Now, the company has an opportunity to target regions that have been more difficult to service under the existing traditional model. Moreover, all of this was achieved through the project completed within a 12-week timeframe!

The Stannah project displays the value in recognising the need to digitally evolve, whilst retaining the company’s ethos. The fact that a 150-year-old business managed to successfully switch to digital during the pandemic is a testament to its innovative will. It shows how important it is to work as a team and keep core values right at the heart of customer experience.

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