As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos recently realized, customers always call the shots – that too in their own unique ways. And while such unique acts by consumers might seem unusual to the businesses involved, they are most reasonable in the former’s eyes in terms of the rightful services they deserve. As digital technologies permeate the consumer world in bigger and better ways, there remains some uncertainty about the new challenges that might be in store for businesses, as manifested in the example above.
With the internet expanding into the internet of things (IoT), tacit human understanding shifting to artificial intelligence, virtual assistants in place of manned services and individual arrangements to broker trust replaced by blockchain, digital technologies are connecting consumers instantly with massive supply ecosystems. At the same time, these technologies are offering businesses agile methods to test newer concepts and value propositions.
Let the consumer be the epicenter of innovation
Of late, I have been using a home visit service to tackle household chores such as plumbing and air-conditioner servicing. My service provider offers a simple yet unique feature, wherein customers are allowed to select the same expert who rendered services to them in the past, as compared to random allocation by the system.
This is a good example of consumer-focused innovation, as it not only provides customers greater flexibility, but also motivates service experts to achieve preferred status. Essentially, the latter are also treated as consumers in this ecosystem, in recognition of their need to pursue the ‘preferred’ status.
As organizations the world over get ambitious about their digital journeys, it is quite easy to get overwhelmed by the plethora of technology options and nuances available. It is only going to get harder for businesses to prioritize various possible buyer journeys that technology may have to offer. Against this backdrop, a strong consumer focus provides businesses the best and strongest compass to stay on course.
The digital age is about an outside-in view of services
Often, services are created with a limited or biased view of the end consumers, which disregards factors that may have a greater bearing on the success of the service. A case in point is optical character recognition (OCR) technology, which reads document images much like the human eye, and converts the data points of interest into machine-readable format. However, the jury is still out on how well it does the job – how much of the data captured and converted can be used as-is, and how much needs to be corrected through human intervention.
While there are a lot of claims and counterclaims about this, it is possible that OCR technology has been designed with an inside-out perspective. So long as the inputs to OCR can be limited to finite patterns and predictable formats, the technology can be trained to read with acceptable accuracy, with some human effort invested in correcting exceptions.
This means that designers have ended up disregarding the reality of an infinitely high number of inputs formats (for example, invoices from millions of small and big suppliers across the world). In the digital age, businesses need to work with an outside-in view, treating, for instance, suppliers (the providers of invoices) as the consumers of the OCR service, and not the other way round.
Consumer precedence leads to process excellence
As I browsed through my inbox at the beginning of a regular day at work recently, the first email that caught my eye was from the bank, announcing that ‘Your 60 reward points have expired’. This leading bank with the best of digital technology at its disposal could not figure out the small truth that the last thing any consumer would want is a morning announcement about expiry of reward points that are neither embraced (by the consumer) nor are worth petty cash (by value).
In an urge to lead and embrace digital technology, businesses run the risk of getting there in the wrong order of importance. While there is no denying the role of standards, processes and policies in creating a consistent experience for various stakeholders, the problem really is in precedence. Interventions such as the Gartner Peer Insights indicate how the digital economy is helping businesses put consumer needs and nuances first.
The digital age has allowed enterprises to offer services across business categories at a very granular level (for instance, hourly usage charges) using contextually rich non-intrusive communication (app-based alerts and notifications with geospatial aids). Now, they need to push through and reimagine strategies by indulging in digital play the consumer’s way