The last decade has seen plenty of change, with the advent of products and services such as smartphones, tablets, social media and widespread wireless Internet accessibility. These technologies have changed the way we lead our lives and the way we do business. Today, we are more likely to be always connected, buying and selling online and booking our own flights and hotels.
Customers are more in control and more social. At the same time, companies are more closely observing and quantifying customer behavior than ever before.
The technology-driven changes over the next ten years will be much bigger and the impact on your life, the lives of your friends and colleagues, and on society will be immense. Here are five changes that will shape customer behaviour and what they mean for companies.
- Completing the smartphone revolution
In the next decade, more than 90 percent of the population in developed countries will own a smartphone, and over 80 percent of the world’s economically active adults will have a smartphone connected to the Internet with affordable data charges. An even more connected world has far-reaching implications in commerce, law enforcement, politics, social behaviour and much more. The smartphone is going to be the default device for social networks, online commerce, email, messaging and for most of the non-work uses of computers.
For companies, the pervasiveness of smartphones provides an opportunity to get a more accurate understanding of customer behavior. Smartphones allow companies to engage more frequently and while the customers are still doing the behavior in question.
- The end of local storage, the ubiquity of the cloud
Large parts of our data are already in the cloud: our social media, our music collections, and bank records are just a few examples. For businesses this extends to software as a service options such as Salesforce and market research platforms.
The ubiquity of cloud technologies means the devices people carry will not need much local storage. Phones, tablets, laptops, video players and wearables will function by connecting to the cloud.
Also, the companies controlling the centralized data will increasingly be able to track and correlate what people do, including where they are, what they view, who they speak to, what they buy, and how they spend their time. The scale of data will make today’s big data look very small.
Cloud technologies already make it easier for companies to understand customer behavior within a short amount of time by making data more easily accessible. As more things connect to the cloud, the time it takes to do customer research will continue to shrink, allowing companies to more quickly act on insight.
- Better wearables
Google Glass, Apple Watch, devices such as Fitbit, and apps like MyFitnessPal are just a pale reflection of what’s coming in the wearable marketplace. Companies will push the boundaries of what wearables can do. With greater functionality, wearables will have a wide range of purposes: paying for things by just using them or by just taking them out of the store, tracking employees, and monitoring food and exercise (which will be used by insurance companies to vary premiums and assess claims).
More wearables means more data for companies to sift through. But as customers share their data with customers, privacy and security will become top of mind for more people.
- Internet of Things
The Internet of Things is currently one of the most over-hyped technologies, though its long-term promise shouldn’t be underestimated. The IoT refers to most consumer devices being connected to the Internet, including our cars fridges, heating, electricity, etc. (For a great example of an IoT dashboard, visit this one from the Sid Lee offices in Paris.) The rise of the smart home, smart office, and smart car will optimize the way customers consume utilities, change the way they purchase things, and massively extend the amount of customer data created.
- Personalized predictive analytics
The future of marketing and service provision is going to be mass customization, delivering the right message, package, and service to each person. Utilizing all the data sources mentioned above services will be able to better target advertising and supply services. Companies will be able to predict customer needs and determine what is suitable for each individual.
Ad re-targeting is already at the point where ads follow you around the Internet. For example, a customer might visit a sports website, browse some products, and then move on to other sites. Ad re-targeting allows companies to serve ads to the customer from the sports site. In the future re-targeting will be expanded to include shops you browse in, billboards you stop and read, and even products you look at.
Personalized predictive analytics is the natural extension of the sort of big data analytics that seek to work out if you are pregnant or in the market for a wedding photographer, but at a much more comprehensive level. With all the data we will be supplying to the cloud, including biometrics, the options for estimating what we will be doing in the future, what we need in the future and what we can be persuaded to buy, will increase massively.
The impact of these changes to the customer research practice
These changes mean more automation of simple tasks in customer research and a massive increase in the amount of customer data available. So where does that leave professionals working in customer intelligence?
The secret to being valued is to contribute something that others can’t. Competing with algorithms and automated processes is not going to generate value or a satisfactory experience. Finding patterns, optimizing products, allocating advertising dollars will all become tasks for software, platforms and systems.
The four key areas where insight professionals can and should deliver value are:
- Focusing on the issues that big data and automation can’t deliver. Questions that require interpretation will require the expertise of customer intelligence professionals. Some of these questions include: Why? What if? How should we change it? How does it make you feel? What do you want instead? What do you want next? These question-answering roles will be combined with customer engagement to help co-create the future.
- Creating a customer intelligence approach that blends big data and automation with human-to-human connections to provide complete answers. Big data and automation tend to provide more of the same, not the big innovations and not the human angle.
- Becoming advocates for the customer. Ensuring that the views, wishes, thoughts, preferences and aspirations of customers are embedded in every decision. This role focuses on customers as people, as opposed to them being the data points that big data and automation assumes them to be.
- Linking business needs to research questions, looking for causality rather correlation, and identifying which patterns are insight and which are simply spurious or bogus. Insight professional understand people in a way that data scientists don’t. They understand research processes in the ways that most marketers don’t, and they bring the objectivity that senior management require.
As technology continues to shape new customer behaviour, the role of customer intelligence will evolve. While machines and software will take over manual and tactical tasks, the customer research professionals of tomorrow will elevate their role by providing strategic insight to companies. The need to forge stronger relationships with customers means insight professionals won’t be obsolete in the next decade. Indeed, the value that they provide will be more critical than ever as more companies recognize the need to forge stronger relationships with customers.