Devices and apps are giving us new levels of information about ourselves and the world around us; expanding from traditional (e.g. financial), through to the familiar (e.g. social networks), and the new (e.g. biological). In tandem with the proliferation of choice, that allows every individual nuance of preference to be supported, and increased sophistication of tools, that help administer and interpret this data, means the consumer is progressively managing their own experience rather than relying on enterprises to do it for them. If consumers control their experience then what does this mean for the role of business?
During the past week I’ve used apps and devices to help manage multiple social networks and communities, checked the carbon footprint of my travel for the past year, and tracked a hike and compared it to others who have done the route in the past. All the while my exact location has been available to those I chose to share this with.
This is just a small sample of how, as consumers, we're increasingly able to generate data about ourselves and what we do, and use quite advanced tools to analyze, gain insights and manage our experience to a level that's highly specific to our interests and needs. Moreover, the sophistication of what's available is expanding with a new vantage point, biological data. For example, SceneTap uses facial recognition technology to determine the gender mix, average age and number of people in a series of bars across Chicago. It aggregates this in an app along with deals and events in these venues, to help you make choices about where to go to.
Whilst this is based on automatic data about "us", gender and age, this is progressing further with devices and apps reaching the market that are about "us" at an even deeper biological level, gathering information about our bodies that we can use to manage our experience to a new level of personalization. Whilst the concept of this isn't that new, heart rate monitors such as the Polar range have been around for a while, they have largely been the realm the prosumer or the highly enthusiastic athlete; either expensive or requiring a degree of technical knowledge or understanding to interpret the output (e.g. heart rate zones, intervals etc.).
These new devices and apps are designed for the mass market, do a lot of the work for you, and are social. Nike+ Fuelband, for example, tracks any activity you do via a wristband using an algorithm to convert this into a normalized activity value so that you can compete and compare with others, regardless of what sport they do.
JawBone have a new device, called "Jawbone UP" that, coupled with an app, measures your activity levels, sleep patterns and what you eat, and pushes you to get active if you've been immobile for too long so you can better manage your general well being and health.
And Lumoback, which is currently in production, links a device you attach to your lower back to an app. that manages and improves your posture. Together these apps form part of an emerging class of technology that help you manage your experience at a very individual level.
As consumers gain an even greater understanding of their needs and the level of personalisation they can achieve increases, even down to the biological level, this changes the way we need to think about managing and designing customer experience. Some key approaches to consider;
(1) Think “outside-in”; define the experience completely from a customer's perspective, looking at the business from outside the organisation, in, and covering the full breadth of needs that might even span products and services that don't generate direct revenue but do make the experience more captive. For example, Barclay's in the UK and Commonwealth Bank in Australia have created apps that fulfil a broader need in a customer’s banking experience, to be able to make payments on the move to others, despite it not being something generates revenue.
(2) Simplify value propositions; as the desire for personalisation increases the degree to which consumers expect niche, clearly defined products or services will rise. This is not about customisation, however, but defining simple, clear products and services that consumers can clearly fit to a need with little effort on their part. Jawbone Up, Nike+Fuelband, and Lumoback are all examples.
(3) Focus on need, not technology; with so many exciting and interesting new technologies available it's easy to get distracted by this and lose sight of the customer need you're looking to fulfil (i.e. "we need an app for that"). This risks an approach of thinking technology, then business value, and finally customer value, rather than the reverse, where customer need comes first. Which technology will fulfil the need is the last question that’s asked, rather than the first.
Our definition of, and how we use data, has fundamentally changed as internet access, social networking, and digital devices become further integrated into our daily lives. And as this increases and we seek to use it to manage our own experience more specifically the question might be less about what business does about it but whether we are becoming our own customer.