The pace of change and innovation is expected to increase dramatically in the next 20 years and far eclipse the changes we’ve seen in the last 200 years. All that upheaval makes it difficult to anticipate or predict what will happen in the future.
However, there a few things that we do know about.
The first is that we have moved out of the information age and are in the age of the customer. What this means is that the customer is in control and wants and expects more. You only have to look at the rise of services like Airbnb and Uber to appreciate the amount of input that customers now have into the way that services are delivered and how they operate.
Despite Uber being illegal in many states, the acceptance and just sheer logic of its offering mean that it will continue to grow. People like the convenience, the trust and the lower prices that it can offer. The safety and trust aspects increase more over time because of the ability to provide direct feedback on each ride. User-to-user feedback, which functions like eBay, is at the heart of making the service both appealing and high functioning.
The second thing that we know is that customers are demanding innovation. The challenge is that if you aren’t innovating in your business then you’ll be left behind because your competitors will be making changes.
If you haven’t at least kept up then the industry may move on and you will be so far off the pace that you can’t adjust. Some examples of where this has happened are Kodak, Trading Post, video stores and Yellow Pages. These businesses either don’t exist anymore or are fighting for relevance.
The third is that in order understand what customers want, you need to get closer to them, to become experts at understanding their problems.
There are 3 ways to do this:
This is about building on the knowledge of solving your customers’ problems that your business has gained over the months and years you’ve been in operation, as well as seeing how other companies in the same industry have approached problem-solving.
To really innovate though sometimes it takes looking at how other industries have approached a problem and seeing how that can be applied to your business. For example, when building fuel tanks for their rockets, SpaceX was having problems getting enough large metal tanks. They thought about who else created tanks and approached manufacturers experienced in the food processing and dairy industry.
This is about asking the right questions at the right time. You can’t innovate if you don’t listen, not just to what people say they want, but by looking underneath to see what they really need.
By studying how they use your product or service you can get clues about what would really help them. Your ability to create something new is being willing and able to combine those hints into a tangible product or service that you can then test on your customers.
People don’t buy product or services, they buy outcomes. By looking at the underlying need rather than focusing on the product or service that you’ve typically supplied, you have a better chance of coming up with something different.
The needs remain the same and it’s the ‘how’ that changes. For example, think about the need for entertainment and connection on an emotional level. How this need has been satisfied has changed dramatically over the past centuries from sitting around a campfire to telling stories, through to books, radio, plays, movies and now to mediums like Apple TV and YouTube.
The desire to connect, share experiences and build empathy and understanding is still there, just met in very different ways.
Being relevant in the Age of the Customer, therefore, is about learning from the past, listening to what people want and understanding what your customers need. It’s essential that small businesses tick all these boxes if they want to keep up with their competitors and ensure the continued success of their business.
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