Any customer with a portable digital device and the right combination of free or low-priced applications can now be something close to:
having instant access not just to facts, figures, prices and product specifications, but also trillions of sensors around the world that help us understand better everything that happens in our lives.
able to communicate in any language.
able to respond instantly as products and opportunities become available that match pre-set triggers we have instructed our applications to watch for.
spotting patterns in data and emerging trends because we have immense computing power at our fingertips and because we can literally immerse ourselves in this data in dozens of different ways.
using devices to augment what we see, hear and smell so that we can deepen our experiences and better pursue our goals.
noticing sights, sounds and changes that happen far away – on far larger and far smaller scales than customers could ever have noticed before, thanks to the sensors we described above.
Smart customers are here right now
We’re not talking about sometime in 2018. Smart customers are here right now. They can “see” traffic jams two miles ahead – and avoid them. They can “sniff out” delicious food being prepared 5.4 miles away – and reserve a table at that top-ranked restaurant in an instant. They can “hear” the falsehoods in the voice of a pushy, unethical salesperson and recognize the precise factual errors he has stated – and locate elsewhere exactly the price, features and delivery we require.
You haven’t seen anything yet
At present, most customers are content to leave a trail of personal data behind them. They give Facebook permission to not only store but also broadcast vast amounts of data in their personal profiles. They give online merchants permission to remember their credit card number, transactions and web browsing activity. They don’t remove cookies from their browsers, making it possible for advertisers to track their moments online and target them with specific advertisements.
But what happens when customers take control of their data? This is inevitable, because there is a huge (Google/Amazon huge) opportunity for a new entity to be 100% on the side of customers, making it possible for them to share – and take back – all of the data related to their activities.
Imagine selling a $100 item to a customer online, but being prohibited by both the customer and the law from storing any information about that transaction. Your firm will be flying in the dark, having to start each quarter from scratch, not remembering to whom you sold products last quarter.
A perfect storm is approaching. The technology exists to make data portable. The profit incentive exists for venture capitalists to fund aggressive start-ups who see the immense potential of giving customers full control over their data. Most importantly, the majority of established companies don’t use customer data to benefit their customers. They sell instead of serve.
When this storm hits, numerous companies will be disintermediated. Entire industries will be transformed. Some companies will go from having superficial relationships with their customers to having no relationships. For them, loyalty will be a thing of the past. Since it is easier to establish a culture from scratch than reinvent the culture of a large organization, new competitors will surface that possess cultures that are truly customer-focused. These cultures will invent new services that no inward facing, self-absorbed, siloed enterprise could imagine.