This blog is the second in a series of four. The author, Kate Carruthers, is Head of Data Governance and Business Intelligence at UNSW. She has deep experience in enterprise digital and social media and has delivered solutions across the public and private sectors.
We are in the midst of a major shift in consumers’ expectations. This includes how and when consumers expect to be able to access goods and services. Take shopping for example. While in-store experiences are still the norm, more and more people are turning to online stores for their retail therapy. Today the emerging baseline expectation from customers is that they will interact with a company and its products on their own terms.
An inflection point
In 2014 there was a crossover between people using desktops to access the internet and people using mobile devices, according to a recent report by comScore. Some of this can be attributed to growth in application downloads via smartphones. However, it can also be attributed to the 'second screen' phenomenon. Where people are sitting in front of a television or another screen, possibly their desktop, but using a smartphone or tablet to access online content at the same time. As a result consumers are interacting with content in a different and less passive way. They may be watching a television program or streaming content and simultaneously searching via their mobile device for an online shopping opportunity in relation to that program. Here the interactivity and the interplay between consumers and those two media are now merged into a single consumer experience. And this inflection point, with the crossover between mobile and desktop computing, is an important signifier of the increased focus that businesses must have for social, mobile, and local, providing a seamless customer experience.
This strongly emerging mobile phenomenon is reinforced by search engine providers realising that mobile is the emerging reality. If customers do not already punish a business for not being mobile-optimized, then Google will, because they have just updated their algorithm to downgrade web sites that do not have mobile-friendly versions available.
Social media has retrained people
Another factor that is driving this evolution in consumer expectation is social media. Social media platforms, like Facebook, have retrained our users, and this has reshaped what they expect from a business and from an application. It is society that has been changed. We used to be the kind of people who would wait until Tuesday night at 7:30 to watch a program on Channel 7. Now we are likely to say, "No, I want that show now, while I’m on the go. I want it while I'm on the bus. I want it on my tablet, on my mobile." We want access to the content the way that we want it, and kids are worse than us. They just cannot see why they can't have access to what they want when and where they want it. And, while this shift to on-demand media consumption is driving consumer behaviour; it is also driving staff behaviour. As a test of this just try to take their smartphones away from your staff and see how that goes.
Democratisation of communications
Another shift that is occurring is a democratisation of communications. In the past, to get access to the media, you had to buy it via advertising. Anyone who has ever paid money for an advertisement in a major newspaper or on a television channel knows that it can be a really expensive option. But now any person or their dog can have a website, social media, or digital presence and reach millions of people if their message is interesting enough. Grumpy Cat is an excellent example of this phenomenon.
Because of this democratisation of the communications as part of the digital revolution there has been an inversion of power relations. Once businesses were the ones who had the power to access media, and now that access is available to anyone with an internet connection. This shift needs be factored into business thinking, because customers can now answer back. What we are seeing, according to Kevin Kelly, is “…a shift towards the individual as the centre of a network of relationships mediated and enabled by technology...”
This idea that we have reached a stage where mobile technology is so deeply integrated into our lives that they really are mediated by technology. A UK survey from 2013 showed that “86% [of respondents] felt they ‘couldn’t live without’ their mobile phone”.
Application ecosystem driving change
Another part of the landscape that is changing consumer expectations and behaviour is the rapidly evolving application ecosystem. Applications are available for many things now, and expecting that an application will be available is becoming the norm. The growth in applications is estimated:
“Between 2008 and 2017, Google Play and Apple’s App Store will be responsible for a mind-blowing number of mobile app downloads: 350 billion.”
And the quality of an application is important for a business. If users have a bad application experience they can start to associate bad experience with the brand. And so businesses need to be thinking about that from a content management point of view.
Breaking down business silos
The digital trends that have been outlined here all have implications for the way that businesses need to coordinate resources to support customers in an omnichannel environment. The old notion of neatly separated customer channels that were supported by neat silos in the business no longer exists. Instead the customer exists in a continuum and is trying to deal with businesses in various ways that make sense to the individual customer.
Customers are becoming increasingly intolerant of the friction that arises when silos within the business are unable to effectively meet customer needs. This means that organisations need to address this shift in customer expectations. Therefore, in future successful businesses will be those who are able to deliver consistent customer experiences across all channels.
New approaches supporting customers
In an omnichannel world it is necessary to consider how best to manage and structure teams to deliver this consistency of customer experience. Organisations have faced this challenge for many years, however, now the changed customer landscape and growth of the omnichannel challenge makes addressing this issue increasingly important. To support business at internet speed the big challenge is how to break down the internal organisational silos and get people working effectively across the organisation.
The answer to this challenge will be different for each organisation. However, there have been a number of approaches have been developed in an attempt to address this challenge. In the technology startup and IT worlds, approaches like DevOps where cross-functional teams are created and the traditional separation between the development, maintenance, and support teams is removed. Another technique is Agile software development, and this approach seeks to reduce the internal friction between users and the software developers. The agile approach brings together the business users, subject matter experts, and technical people to design and create the product. Another approach from the startup world is called holacracy, where power is removed from the management hierarchy and is distributed across clear roles, which can then be executed autonomously.
These are the different types of approaches that business must look at to reduce internal friction to support customers more effectively. New ways of organising businesses will be necessary because of the changing operational tempo arising from always connected consumers with ubiquitous mobile connections.
Shifts in operational tempo
The old 9 to 5 way of doing business is over now, as people demand 24 x 7 access to goods and services. The demands of running a modern business also means that the operational support tempo has increased – responses are now often demanded within minutes. Some Edison research indicated that: “24% of American Internet Users 12+ Who Have Contacted a Brand in Social Media, Expect a Reply Within 30 Minutes, Regardless of When the Contact Was Made.”
And Bain and Company reported that: “When companies engage and respond to customer service requests over social media, those customers end up spending 20% to 40% more with the company.”
This shift in service expectation is impacting on business and we need to find ways to provide it in cost effective and efficient ways.
Tools to deliver realtime sales and service
The tools to deliver service and sales in a realtime context are not necessarily technology-based tools. They can be things like business processes, operational efficiency, and internal organisational structure. If a business remains in the structural model that was effective for the 19th and 20th centuries it is unlikely to be able to adapt to the realities of the digital age.
The way that a company is organised internally can be a key area for competitive advantage. This means that companies can focus on breaking down traditional internal silos, develop integrated teams, and reshape how the organisation is structured in order to respond to customer demands.
The corollary to the people and process side of optimising a business for the digital age is the integration between the various systems used to support customers. For many companies now the challenge is compounded by the increased use of Software-as-a-Service applications. Thus companies now face the problem of integrating both internal and external systems, and sometimes companies are connecting out to many other services and many other organisations. Companies need to be considering how best to seamlessly connect out from internal systems out to these external applications and services. The goal of technology and systems ought to be to reduce friction for customers and staff, and it is important not to lose sight of this goal.
Organisations that can align their technology systems, people, structures and processes to enable seamless customer experience at digital speed will be better placed for survival. Organisations that can structure themselves, as loosely coupled teams with agile processes will be better positioned to respond quickly to changes in the business landscape.
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Read the rest of the blog series