Who do you trust these days? Your holiday company or TripAdvisor? Your PC provider or a user forum? Your mates for an introduction to a new partner or an online dating service? I could go on, but you’ve probably caught my drift. The world has changed. Whether it’s automation or crowdsourcing, there are now better ways to achieve the results you want.
What does this mean for suppliers of goods and services? Once upon a time, they were the source of information and knowledge about their products. And, yes, they were trusted. Many of them did apparently sensible things like outsourcing crucial elements of their operation to low-paid people in far-flung lands who did the minimum they could get away with. This worked for the accountants but not for the customer. Producer-efficient but not customer-effective. No wonder trust and respect evaporated.
We’re waking up. We inhabit a world where we expect the right answers, where we demand high levels of service, where we switch on and get everything we need and, crucially, where we’re used to transferring our business to somewhere more amenable if we feel let down by a supplier.
We don’t actually care much whether we get our answers from an automaton or from a human as long as they’re the right answers. My car tells me when it thinks I’m tired. I don’t mind. It’s usually right. It knows because it looks at time behind the wheel and my driving pattern. I love it (the car that is) so much that I’ve not so much bought a car as bought a driving experience. My every need – service, insurance, monitoring for advance warning of problems en route – is taken care of by the manufacturer’s IT service network, in which the car is a wifi node.
If trust is at the heart of business these days (as it always should have been) then it’s clear that many companies have taken their eye off the trust trajectory. They simply don’t ‘get it’ and continue with their traditional behaviours. They worked in the past, why shouldn’t they continue? Because their customers are different, their expectations have changed and this can only accelerate as the good companies show up the bad. Switching, in most cases, is a button press away. And that button press might dissuade many other people not to use your services too. That press, and all the others, could add up to a massive thumbs down for you.
The good companies, the ones that do ‘get it’, use smart humans and automation driven by data patterns to achieve a positive effect, with the traditional middle bits – outsourcing and out-tasking – being disintermediated. Companies are taking back control and protecting their reputations. At one extreme is the expert interpretation of context, and at the other lies self–service, augmented by knowledge and data. Each aims to completely satisfy the needs and desires of the customer. The boot is now well and truly on the other foot. The customer’s, that is. And we like it. We use this approach to learn where to go on holiday, where to eat, what to watch, who to date, what jobs exist, how to travel to work, how to lose weight, how much my house is worth, and so on.
If your business is unaware of this polarity, then I have bad news for you. You won’t last. If you’re a personal services company – hairdresser, window cleaner, housekeeper – you’ll probably last longer than most. But even your lives will change as people increasingly find you, and drop you, by what they read online.
You are increasingly, not who you think you are, but what others think of you. Collectively. Get it or die.