The key to a life well lived, many say, is in managing your expectations. But in business, great expectations have become the newest existential threat. The rapid emergence of user-friendly smart phone apps has changed the way we expect to get things done. That fact must change the way businesses provide products and services or they risk leaving customers frustrated, disappointed and perhaps even angry. If you don’t make your B2B as easy as B2C has become, someone else will, and you’ll be left wondering what happened to your life being well lived.
The obvious examples are music and video entertainment – industries that have been completely reinvented by new technologies. Likewise travel, car rentals, taxi services, and retail of every stripe, along with ancillary services like delivery and supply chain management are undergoing fundamental, technology-based changes. Banks have closed thousands of branches because people expect to be able to do all their banking from the sofa. Even the business model for restaurants is changing, as many now sell more food through home delivery services than in their dining rooms. Given the billions being invested by major auto companies and non-auto companies, autonomous vehicles are a near certainty within a few years, which will change fundamentals of vehicle ownership, traffic patterns, street design, insurance and more. Personal auto ownership (with big monthly payments, insurance and maintenance costs for an asset that sits idle 90 per cent of the time) will eventually be limited to hobbyists and collectors.
These are just a few of the most evident examples of consumer technology disrupting traditional industries by changing consumer expectations. If you think your sector is safe, consider that the pace of technological development and disruption has never slowed. It only accelerates. You can be certain that no matter what your industry, the expectations of your employees and customers are being dramatically reset by their experiences with consumer tech.
If they can put a man on the moon …
That used to be the lament of the consumer frustrated by some unmet expectation. If they can put a man on the moon, why can’t they (build a road without shutting down the city; run a proper election; make a tire that doesn’t go flat; make it easy to file my taxes; keep my brand of bread in stock … etc.)
And remember, they put a man on the moon 50 years ago when NASA’s combined computational power was millions of times less that what we have in a smart phone today. Everyone sees the accelerating pace of technological advancement all around us, yet few industries are preparing for it. We tend to react to it, often when it is too late.
This point was driven home for me recently when I bought a new house. I hate moving — physically relocating our family and our lives from one house to another. I hate that with the passion of a thousand suns. But earlier this year we decided to move. It was months of disruption, stress, uncertainty and financial risk, not to mention the discomfort it caused our family. First, we put the house up for sale. That was a process that took more than a month and required us to keep the house in a constant state of readiness to be viewed, which is a special challenge with two young children. We had to be ready to leave the house at a moment’s notice so perspective buyers could drop in. We had to repair any little problems, and hide any evidence that we existed. Then there’s the 4-5 per cent commission to hate, as well.
Once the house finally sold, we had to find our new dream house, within the closing time. We had to organize the move, arrange bridge financing and manage a thousand other annoying details. Compared to other consumer experiences to which I am accustomed, it was a barbaric nightmare.
I have come to expect consumer experiences to be fast and easy. If they can put a man on the moon, why can’t they make it easier for a family of four to move from one house to another. It’s not like we are trying to escape Earth’s gravity and survive in airless isolation on a rock 384,000 kilometres away. I should be able to buy and sell a house with a few clicks of my smart phone while sitting on the sofa watching Netflix.
As it turns out, I can. There’s a company in the U.S, called OpenDoor that has created the smartphone-Netflix-on-the-sofa model. Download the app, punch in your address, add a few pictures and get a valuation. You can agree or disagree with the valuation. When you agree, click the button and OpenDoor buys your house. They send a team the next day to confirm the valuation. Meanwhile, you can begin browsing their inventory of homes. Find something you like, click on it and it’s yours. If it’s not everything they say it is, you simply turn it back.
The implications of this model for the real estate sector are staggering. There may always be people who want the personal attention of a real estate agent and – near impossible to imagine – who like the conventional process. And in hot real estate markets sellers might be hopeful of a lucrative bidding war. But if you’re selling a house in a normal or slow market, rather than wait a year or more to sell, you would probably be delighted to have an immediate option.
The same kind of app is available if you are selling a car. Click, click, click, car sold, new car bought. No muss, no fuss. That is the level of expectation all industries must deal with today.
Rather than wait for the disruptive change to reinvent your sector, it’s more useful to acknowledge the continuously accelerating pace of technological advancement and to anticipate how that change will affect the way your employees expect to work and the way your customers expect to do business with you.