You may have seen the ‘rate of technology adoption’ charts that show the number of people or percent of populations that take up different technologies over time. Taking out the variable that there are more people and households, with greater access to new technologies, it could be assumed that we are thirsty for the ‘next thing’, ready to buy at launch.

But are we really doing completely different things today that our relations of 100 years ago? At life’s most basic, we all do pretty much the same stuff; we sleep, get up, dress, eat, hydrate, communicate with other people, work to be able to house and feed ourselves and our families, gather ingredients to feed our families, prepare meals, socialise, seek downtime, and clean ourselves – among a range of daily activities. But HOW we do these things has, in many cases, changed dramatically.

To give an example, consider how we gather ingredients to prepare a meal. We used to forage and hunt; then we farmed; then we traded with and bought from farmers; then we went to the market; then the butcher, green grocer and pharmacist; then new shops popped up that combined these into ‘super’ markets; we started buying meals in shops such as cafes and restaurants; and then over the phone or the internet; and now we have the choice of all of these options. Same task, many different ways of getting it done.

As consumers, we are always looking for ways to get stuff done ‘better’; with ‘better’ meaning any or a combination of attributes such as easier or a ‘better’ experience, faster or more time effective, cheaper or more cost effective, ethically or more in line with our values, etc. As businesses it’s important to remember, then, that your existing customers buy from you because they’ve determined that you’re products and services serve them ‘better’ to get a particular task done than someone else. But if you don’t innovate HOW you help them get that task done, then someone else might come up with something ‘better’ for your customers.

So, how do you stay ahead in the game? There are around five areas of the customer’s purchase experience where you can add value, and that could be innovated (changed for the ‘better’ as required by your customers): how customers find and engage with your product – such as ‘research and test drive a car’; your actual offer that helps them get their task done; how they buy from you (your sales process); how you deliver your offer to them; and your after sales service and feedback process.

In looking at how you can help your customers get each of these areas done ‘better’, consider the following process.

  1. What task are your customers currently getting done now? Often businesses get caught up in the product they offer rather than the problem they solve. In many cases, customers don’t actually want to buy what you offer at all – but they want the solution it provides. “I’m so excited that today’s the day I get a mortgage” said no person, ever. But we do get excited when we buy a house.
  2. Have a look at each of the areas of the customer’s purchase journey and find out; what aspects of this task are important to the customer; and are there any that are currently harder to get done than others? Innovation is best focused on what’s actually important. When smart phones were introduced, many older people bought the second hand ‘not so smart’ phones – all they wanted to be able to do was make and receive calls. Online booking portals have innovated how we find and engage with accommodation providers. We can now compare actual locations, standards, features and prices, as well as ‘see’ our options before we buy – all in the matter of minutes. This used to take hours using paper accommodation guides and the telephone.
  3. What trends and technologies exist today or are on the horizon that could change the way your customers get the important things done ‘better’? The internet provided the technology for innovations in many industries, particularly in the areas of how customers find and engage with your product, the sales process, and after sales process. There are new products also being created using the internet – websites and social media are the marketer’s new tools. And product delivery can be facilitated online for products such as documents and how-to guides. What’s next? Mega trends such as ‘personalisation’ have provided opportunities for ‘design your own’ products – solving the problem of ‘looking like everyone else’. New technologies and trends may also threaten your business. Just as email, SMS and then social media completely changed our preferences for how we communicate with friends and family, the trend to ‘share resources’ behind companies such as AirBnB and Uber have transformed how we think about accommodation and travel options. The introduction of driverless cars and drones have potential to completely change how we send physical things (as well as people). Many threats may provide an opportunity for your business.
  1. Finally, test your innovation before your implement across all customers. Has anyone else done what you’re proposing and what can you learn from their experience? Are your customers ready for change and what can you do to prepare them? When online bill payment was first introduced, take-up was slow mostly due to lack of trust and online know-how. Now, many of us would feel affronted if sending a cheque in the mail or paying in person were our only options.

Business needs to evolve to stay ahead of the game. But change for change sake is not the aim. Know your customers, know the tasks they need to get done, and continue to help them get these done ‘better’.

First published in Business Life, Vol 1 No 2, March 2016

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