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How to meet your future customer?

How will the future customers behave and how will you attract them? Nobody has a crystal ball, but with strategic foresight and trends research we can assess likely scenarios and prepare our organizations to meet future demands. Here are a few thoughts on the changing consumer behavior, innovation and how to meet your future customer.

1. ABUNDANCE OF INFORMATION

Consider for a moment, what a world where information and knowledge have become commoditized would look like? The amount of research and analysis you could carry out before taking a decision would be almost indefinite. In short, there would be an abundance of information. Today, this is reality. Today, there is no scarcity of neither information nor knowledge. During the industrial era, labor and capital were the scarce resources needed to succeed in business. By the time we reached the knowledge era, labor and capital had become commoditized and information and knowledge were key. The companies that managed to create information and knowledge were the winners. Today, and especially tomorrow, information and knowledge have become commoditized and I would argue that the ability to take decisions and action has become the scarcity. Companies that realize this will have a lot to gain when thinking about how to meet current and future customer demand.

DECISION FATIGUE

This abundance will only get ‘worse’. 90% of all data created globally was created in the last two years.Internet is becoming an extension of our brains and we are constantly multi-tasking and dividing our attention. There is extensive neuroscience research saying that our brains are adapting to the excess of information and that the excessive use of technology, overload of information and multitasking impact our ability to remember things, to store information and to pay attention. Too much information creates a decision fatigue and we need to help our customers make decisions for them.

We need to gather data to understand our customers, to create personalized experiences and to anticipate customer behavior, but we also need to make sure we respect the data customers give us and use it to help our customers make choices and eliminate complexity.

IKIGAI AND SENSORY EXPERIENCES

There is no doubt that technology will continue to be an integrated part of our lives, but people also increasingly feel the need to disconnect. Mindfulness, yoga and ikigai, the Japanese concept of finding your inner purpose, are becoming widely popular. Wifi-detox retreats are opening up around the world. Minds are overused and people start looking for more and more balance in life, and for experiences that cannot be replicated.

In Japan you can for example find certain fruits, like the yubari melon, carefully cultivated, perfectly shaped and with an exceptional sweetness. These melons can sell for hundreds of euros and while it may seem outrageous to spend such an amount on a melon, these type of sensory and immediate experience may be what we will see more of in the future: truly unique and activating all senses. They offer a balance to our digital society.

2. EXPECTATIONS RISE, BUT HUMAN NEEDS REMAIN CONSTANT

Secondly, although the world is changing at an unseen speed, human needs tend to remain constant. People will always strive to make life easier and better. Fatalists may argue that we destroy the world, but figures show that poverty, famine and life expectancy have improved immensely over the last centuries, because humans strive for improvement. What happens though, is that once we know something is possible, we do not want to go back. We raise our expectations.

Companies tend to benchmark themselves with other companies within their industries, but customersdon’t. Customer expectations are set by all the encounters they have in life. Amazon Go, Uber, Careem and the likes are setting the bar for everything else and this is why no industry is immune to disruptors. Companies with a legacy will naturally have a tendency to do things the way they always have, but taking a white sheet of paper and asking yourself, what is the underlaying need of the customers and how can we deliver on this, really puts the human at the center.

Technology will enable things to be done differently, faster, better, more personalized, but technology needs to be the enabler. Service design, or design thinking, can be a very good way to understand the drivers and to create innovations that are human centered.

3. CUSTOMERS WANT TO BE BETTER CITIZENS

Thirdly, if we look at most part of the world, basic needs are fulfilled today. We have gone from a commodity economy via product and service to an experience economy, and we are already stepping into the next phase, the fulfillment economy. People will continue to look for experiences, but more and more, people want to feel good about themselves. Brands that help customers feel good about themselves will be the winners of tomorrow

Consumers tend to be increasingly sensitive to overconsumption and look for purpose and they buy into brands rather than products. Brands that share the same value and purpose as their customers can attract them with storytelling, transparency and ingenuity. They will create much stronger loyalty with their customers. It demands a high level of responsibility, but it is also an opportunity.

CSR AND MANUFACTURING PART OF OVERALL EXPERIENCE

When customers have more consciousness they will see the manufacturing process itself as part of the customer experience. An example of this is the Swedish clothing brand Filippa K where the whole supply chain and production process for each article they sell is visible on their website. CSR is becoming more and more important and a pull from consumers, rather than a push. As such it can really become an attraction point for companies, sharing the same values as their customers and building a better world at the same time. Companies will no longer be able to hide, they need to create value for the customer, but also for the world.

CO-CREATION AND HUMAN CENTRIC ECOSYSTEMS

With this type of engaged customers that buy into brands and brand values, we are likely to see more networks between brands and customers to co-create and also networks where innovation happens in ecosystems. Boundaries between customers and companies may actually be erased. Would it not be ideal if your customers would do the innovation for you? This already happens in some companies; Lego and DHL are examples where co-creation has been successful. Crowdsourcing and crowdfunding are other examples of testing and engaging consumers. This type of collectiveness may spill into society in general and create a citizen centric society. In Japan they call this Society 5.0, referring to understanding the impact industry 4.0 will have on the population in general.

4. INNOVATE YOUR ORGANIZATION

Finally, innovation often looks at how products and services meet customer outspoken or innate needs. But what about the organizations themselves, how do we innovate here and are they fit to deal with these changes?

In order to prepare for the future, companies need to turn the legacy around and enable quick decision making. They need to become truly customer centric, not meaning going from one system to another,but rather to a ‘non-system’.

Being customer centric is not static, it means being in a state of constant change where you are able to respond to the constant change of customers. This involves product development and innovation, delivery in seamless physical and digital customer journey and a leadership commitment allowing and rewarding a customer centric culture.

HOW TO MEET YOUR FUTURE CUSTOMER – FOUR POINTS TO REMEMBER

  1. Help your customer take decisions in the information abundance, and help them disconnect

  2. Make life easier for your customers, design around human needs, let technology be the enabler

  3. Help your customers become better citizens, give them value and purpose, engage and co-create

  4. Make sure your organization is future proof and truly customer centric

What will happen in the future, nobody can say with absolute certainty. The only thing we do know is that the future is constant and that we are creating it right now.