Sunday 13 January 2019



An old quote attributed to several North-American tribes recommends one never judge others until one understands their circumstances.

This call for empathy is as relevant to business in the 21st century: the age of the customer. The only way to ensure success in years to come is to constantly judge our own business while walking in the moccasins of our customers.

Continuing with the analysis of megatrends for the next decade, let’s explore the most important ones, which are those related  to customer expectations and experiences.

Frictionless Customer Experience (FCX)

We live in an era of abundant services and products. Our customers have more choices than ever and our competitors are only a click away from them. In addition, customers get accustomed to premium experience so quickly: their best recent experience immediately becomes the minimum expectation for their next.

We also live in an era of impatience: customers are increasingly intolerant of bad performance and complicated, slow services.  We now crave simplicity, efficiency and beauty. We are emotional beings; we look for connections and fulfilling experiences.

In this context there is no future for organisations delivering poorly. The ideal customer experience should be frictionless, requiring no unnecessary effort, repetition or sorting obstacles from their perspective. It is a sequence of positive, smooth interactions across all touchpoints and throughout the whole customer cycle. For that, we must identify and remove all disturbances and pain points that customers experience in engaging with our organisation, to save them time, effort, and irritation.


In the hit period drama Mad Men, creative director Don Draper enjoys huge success advertising generic products to the mass market of 1960s America.

Today, no such mass market exists. Taking its place are innumerable micro markets, each catering to different subcultures and individual preferences. The age of the passive consumer, happy with a generic product for the masses, is over. Instead, one customer purchases a leather wallet because natural materials are best for the environment. Another purchases a wallet made with synthetic materials, because he believes using animals is morally wrong. Both customers are right, according to their own internal narratives. We must have the empathy and humility to recognise that we all have our individual worldviews, and stop treating customers as interchangeable buyers within a mass market.

Fortunately, technology has evolved to a point where we can easily collate information on customers, in order to supply them with personalised products and services. This enables organisations to move from digital transactions to digital relationships.

Online interactions can provide deep insights into our customers’ personal preferences. Paradoxically we can know and treat our customers, on a massive scale, as unique individuals again. We can respond to customers based on their preferences, life circumstances, location, personality traits, family situation, behavioural patterns and many other factors. This is an impressive advantage. According to a recent Epsilon study, 80% of consumers are more likely to patronise a business if it offers a personalised experience.

This new opportunity is a double-edged sword: it is also changing consumer expectations; customers now expect companies to fulfil or even predict their individual needs. A simple principle is behind this demand for customisation: research suggests that while of course we enjoy being personally considered in the creation a product or service, this enjoyment also increases our perceived value of such products.

As humans, we create an emotional connection with things we help to create. This is sparking another trend towards consumers as co-creators, having earned a strong voice in the product design process.

This new level of emotional intimacy represents an immense competitive advantage, but challenges organisations to pioneer new, interactive customer engagement strategies.

Crowdsourced co-creation

Building on the concept of co-creation, crowdsourcing is taking the customer experience to the next level. Crowdsourcing is a strong trend in relation to product ideas, product design and product names, and will continue evolving.

Crowdsourcing touches a customer’s emotional fibres, creating higher customer engagement and loyalty, while providing multiple advantages to the design process.

Market research is fundamental to increase the probabilities of success of any new product. Crowdsourcing provides a valuable perspective from the market, validating the demand and improving the quality of the final design, and reducing time and cost in the process. During the design process, enthusiastic participants can also become strong brand ambassadors from the beginning, having been involved in the creation.

A number of successful examples illustrate this point:

On multiple occasions PepsiCo has sought input from their customer base  for new potato chip flavour ideas for their Lay's brand. Their first 'Do us a Flavor' campaign, in response to a declining market, received 14 million submissions. 'Cheesy Garlic Bread' was the winning flavour, generating an 8% increase in Lay’s sales in the months following its launch.

Through the 'Lego ideas' platform, users can submit ideas for new LEGO sets, and vote for ideas submitted by others. Any idea with more than 10,000 votes is reviewed by LEGO, and if selected, the inventor works with the LEGO team and receives royalties on the sales.

In the UK in 2014, McDonald’s allowed customers to design burgers they would love to see in store . Like LEGO, this platform also allowed customers to vote for others’ ideas. The top five designs were sold in stores across UK.

Amazon Studios, the film and television arm of Amazon, is becoming a disruptive force, largely thanks to their open approach. They invite open submission of scripts and concept videos. Then, through Amazon Preview, an invitation-only community provides feedback on the concepts, storyboards and test footage. Finally, users can watch pilots and vote on which should have a full season produced. Some of Amazon biggest hits have emerged via this process.

Changing styles of communication

Emojis. I’m going to guess that you use them, even if you were averse to them when they first appeared in their earlier form, the “smiley”. John Sutherland, professor of English from University College London, suggests that people are moving to a more pictographic form of communication, in which pictures convey a full range of messages and emotions. “In the future less words and letters will be used in messaging as pictures and icons take over the text speak language”, says Sutherland. (An interesting prospect, considering we progressed to using words from hieroglyphics!)

The boom of digital technologies and channels has remarkably changed the way we express ourselves and interpret the surrounding world. Our preference for visual communication is much stronger than in the past. Fast growing social media platforms including  Instagram, Flickr, Pinterest and Snapchat, are essentially visually-based.

The high quality, ever-available cameras in our smartphones present a vast array of opportunities to be creative in visual communication, but it is much more than that. Several disciplines have shifted the role of information technology from a transactional platform to a powerful engagement platform. Visual storytelling is becoming mainstream. Through technology channels, we have the opportunity to deliver non-verbal experiences that can touch the heart and win the mind of our customers.

Responding to these megatrends.

In previous posts I have referred to 'Customer Centricity', however I am not listing it as a megatrend in its own right. I consider Customer Centricity as a response - a philosophical approach from organisations - to deal with these customer megatrends.

In the same category falls the concept of 'Organisational Horizontality'. To be able to deliver a premium, consistent, frictionless experience to customers, organisations need to respond with a  horizontal coordination of channels and service points.

Unfortunately, the still-dominant industrial model designs organisations vertically, with a functional approach rather than a holistic stakeholder one. Governance arrangements, KPIs, bonuses, recognition, auditing processes among other organisational controls and incentives are centred on these vertical structures. They prioritise functional delivery, without observing how the customer experience is fragmented, or how the smoothness of the touchpoint transitions is affected.

This problem is usually resolved artificially, reinforcing some horizontal activities on top of a vertical structure:  an unsustainable approach in my view. A complete rethinking of how to design organisations is mandatory in the face of these new challenges.


Summary of Chapter 5

  • Continuing our exploration of megatrends, in this chapter we look at those relating to the customer.
  • Frictionless Customer Experience (FCX), hyper-personalisation, co-creation and visual engagement are core customer trends in fast evolution.
  • Customer centricity and horizontal organisational design are essential initiatives if we are to be able to respond to this new type of market.

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