We’re living in an age of constant connection, often overwhelmed by choices and easily distracted from our mission. Just as businesses everywhere that were founded long before the internet age are at different stages of grappling with digital transformation, so too are their customers. Non-digitally native consumers – anyone born before the mid-eighties - are at various stages of shifting from often long-established analogue habits to digital.
Smart businesses are evolving from merely offering up their products and services only when customers seek them, to developing strategies for maintaining an ongoing connection and the capabilities for proactively or predictively supporting them with support and solutions appropriate to their every contextual requirement.
Together with worrying about what they might lose, the most important consideration for customers contemplating a change is often the amount of energy (their time and resources beyond financial outlay) they need to expend on the job to be done. Making a switch friction-less and the experience delightful and useful are critical drivers of acquisition and adoption.
But in today's digital era, changes are also significantly tempered by a further concern: increasing anxiety about data privacy, and who to trust with its safekeeping.
This tension between the possibilities of hyper-personalisation and the preservation of privacy is an important determinant of consumer choice. For some, the possibilities of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to enable the complete outsourcing of timely product and service provision, freeing their brains from dealing with much of the minutiae of modern living will be readily embraced. Others will want to retain full control. Most today fall somewhere between these two extremes, and of course their position is contextual: they might be tempted, but can you be trusted?
Wharton professors Nicolaj Siggelkow and Christian Terwiesch advocate that businesses consider the following when developing customer strategies for the connected era:
- where knowledge is high, customers will be unwilling to share more than essential information required for seamless provision
- where choice is overwhelming, customers can be encouraged to share just enough data to enable curation and proactive support
- where inertia or biases keep them from achieving their goals, customers can be encouraged to share more personal data to predictively nudge (bio-hacking here we come...)
- where behaviour is very predictable, and the cost of mistakes small, customers will freely share the data necessary for automatic execution
Well designed and executed, connected strategies can deliver better customer experience, boost operational efficiencies and lower costs, whilst research has established that higher digital trust correlates with higher revenue.Businesses must both understand the extent to which constant connection and the possibilities it enables is desired, and enhance their digital trust credentials.
Design thinking is a powerful approach to developing a nuanced understanding of different customers’ mindsets but, as recent Frost and Sullivan research identified, businesses must recognise that transitioning them does not happen quickly. It will require organisations to be concise and candid about how they protect data, share or sell data, and how - or if - consumers who pay for products and services online can permanently opt out from data sharing.
We all exist along a continuum between trust and distrust in a business’s ability to interrogate our data for our benefit. With implicit trust, consumer facing brands and businesses may be granted access to our personal data with which to support our goals over the journey of a lifetime; without it they may be relegated to an occasional, episodic provider.