Kate O’Neill’s Advice on Creating Human Experiences Through Technology

On February 11th, our ‘Inner Circle’ members were joined by Kate O’Neill as the first ‘Inner Circle Book Club’ guest author to discuss how to create real human experiences for patients through technology.

Kate has led innovations across technology, marketing, and operations for more than 20 years in companies from startups to Fortune 500s including Netflix, Toshiba America, Magazines.com and was founder & CEO of [meta]marketer, a first-of-its-kind analytics and digital strategy agency.

Kate’s most recent book is Tech Humanist: How You Can Make Technology Better for Business and Better for Humans.

She was interviewed by Phil about her book and her key ideas for how Inner Circle members can apply her philosophy of making tech work for you AND your patients.

Here are some key highlights:

How does one become a “Tech Humanist”?

Kate explains first that there are 3 concepts when it comes to becoming a “Tech Humanist” in your business:

1. The advancement of technology is largely driven by business
2. That business creates most human experiences
3. That human experiences thrive on meaning

But it’s not all about AI and robots. In Kate’s next book “A Future So Bright”, she introduces the concept of “strategic optimism” and the importance of using technology to give meaning and amplify experiences.

The future for how humanity, tech and healthcare can work together

In the future, the importance of data will be even bigger. The fact that we will have more access to data means that responsible use of it, plus considering how much data we need to collect and how we are going to use and store it, will all become more critical for being responsible with patient data.

How the pandemic has changed how we see tech

The biggest change that Kate sees is in the workplace and how what it means has changed with so many people working from home. It’s now more critical and relevant to distinguish between the future of work and the future of jobs, with jobs being the human side and essential work becoming more essential in many cases.

In a “human-centric” industry such as hearing care, there is a resistance to tech, even when the results become the hero of the journey – such as results of hearing tests. The outcomes and meaning of those results to humans is the real focus and provides that link between tech and people.

Getting clear on our purpose and building meaningful brands

Kate encourages everyone to have a clear “purpose statement” of around 7 words that states what they exist to do and what they want to do at scale. And the discussion that leads to creating this statement doesn’t always begin with tech. The more important focus is to first know the answer to this question:

“What problem are you solving for people?”

It’s likely that providers will have a similar “North Star” and priorities, and that’s OK. What is a better focus is whether it feels truthful. When you say it to yourself, do you sit back and feel that it’s both bigger than you AND aligned? Does it make you feel like it’s why you started in this profession?

The right way to embrace tech

Kate moves on to dive deeper into how tech can help to achieve our purpose. This can involve answering questions such as “What could I automate around this so it’s a more convenient/comfortable experience?”

Much of the tech that can help can also be a barrier. Kate and Phil discuss chatbots and how initially they can be perceived as providing a far from human experience. However, when used in a way that answers questions fast, but gives the opportunity to transfer quickly to a human conversation, it can provide a great experience. Furthermore, in using features like “Question Trees”, by the time a human gets involved, we already know a lot about them and can provide a more effective service and have more efficient conversations based on their answers so far.

Examples of these questions could be:
• How much
• What to expect
• I need help for a family member

The key here is to be upfront and the honesty and authenticity of being clear that this is using technology can be important to the relationship.

Using “both and” thinking

We hear next from Kate about the idea of “Both and thinking”. An example of this could be giving attention to how we address the downsides of tech, by balancing them with the clear human-centric advantages. For example:

How can this allow us to be both profitable AND create meaningful experiences?
How can this be both intrusive in gathering data AND a respectful use of data?

Here Kate also encourages us to acknowledge the full landscape of what’s possible plus what can go wrong AND well. What happens if this is successful beyond our wildest dreams? How can tech support this for us and for the patient experience?

Creating meaningful experiences

Meaningful experiences can absolutely be created through tech and we next are encouraged to consider the importance of understanding the patient journey and what they go through towards a positive outcome. Question to ask yourself here are:

Where does my practice/expertise fit in that journey?
What can I most affect?

Kate shares an idea where mixed augmented reality could be used more to show people what hearing loss is really like for their loved ones – either through an app or web based feature. Some manufacturers already do this, where the product is the star, but as practitioners there is an opportunity to own the “empathetic space” and be truly with them on that journey. This is an excellent way to position your practice to intake the “post-consumer market” from OTC and online retailers.

Having one eye on the now, one eye on the future

The last part of the discussion is a big one. When asked what the world will look like in 10 years, the only certainty that Kate can offer is regarding climate change. But she does say that we have an opportunity to create technology that addresses human concerns at scale.

Want to know more? Check out the UN’s 17 goals here.

There’s a chance that we could solve them all using technology, but business incentives don’t always align. So a focus for you is to consider this:

How do we align business incentives with the best outcomes of people who entrust their hearing care to us?

Action steps to become a “Tech Humanist” in your practice

The interview ends with both Phil and Kate suggesting some key steps and takeaways:

  • Put thought into creating your own purpose statement
  • Get stakeholder unison/buy-in/awareness
  • Measure whether you’re managing resources but introduce a customer focused metric – how are your patients faring? How successful is the person on the other side in achieving what they want to accomplish?
  • We focus on what can go wrong, but what about focusing more on what can go right? “What if this succeeds beyond our wildest dreams?” Then plan for it. What resources are needed for that scenario?


These are just some of the key notes from a 75-minute interview with Kate O’Neill. The full interview is only available to “Inner Circle” members, but you can view the highlights below.


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