If you are really lucky, you work for a company that has both these things going for it: Your customers are embracing their new superpowers, and your company is responding with a growing collection of smart touchpoints.
Let's break down what we mean by each.
The rise of super-powered customers
Although a radioactive spider has not bitten your customers, many now have superpowers.
At this moment, some are learning how to order a bottle of perfume at 60 miles an hour, without taking their eyes off the road. Some can look at the face of a person they've never met, and know her identity. They can tell the difference between a company that lies, and one that is trustworthy.
Never before have people been able to see in such detail how our world changes from one day to the other, or one year to the next—and it’s just begun. As a result, customers are becoming something very like:
•All-knowing, with near-instant access to nearly all of collected human knowledge, as well as facts about pricing, product specifications, and social opinion;
•Multilingual, able to communicate in any language;
•Omnipresent, able to "see" across time and space, using applications with pre-set triggers to instantly respond as products and opportunities become available;
•Insightful, spotting patterns in data and emerging trends with the immense computing power at their fingertips;
•Ultra-aware, deepening their experiences by augmenting what they see, hear and smell—interacting with the "real world" much as they interact with the web;
•Supersensitive, noticing sights, sounds, and changes happening far away—on larger (and smaller) scales than before, thanks to billions of sensors around the world embedded in everything from medical devices, automobiles, and grocery stores to backyard gardens.
The comic book readers among us realize that gaining superhuman powers will change a person's life. Peter Parker didn’t come home with new spider powers and go on with life as usual. These powers changed the way he thought and acted. The same will be true for your customers.
The rise of smart touchpoints
All the places your company touches its customers are called touchpoints, and they come in three forms: human, dumb, and smart. Human touchpoints are your fellow employees, your distributors' and your vendors' employees. Everything else is either a dumb or smart touchpoint.
Dumb touchpoints don't allow customers to give you feedback; they just sit there. Think of a cardboard box or a newspaper ad, and you get the idea.
Smart touchpoints let a customer act or respond. Think of a website or app, or a car equipped with OnStar. Think also of the trillions of sensors already deployed around the world... in smartphones, vehicles, buildings, factories, and satellites. All have the potential to be leveraged as smart touchpoints.
Smart touchpoints are what give customers their superpowers. They are also what separate leading companies from lame ones.
Websites and search engines can be smart touchpoints, too. Tracking searches shows the path of a virus much more quickly, and with more accuracy, than any current medical technology or information system.
Is your firm racing ahead, or falling behind?
Many companies haven't kept up with these changes; we hope yours has.
As smart touchpoints continue to extend our senses in ways that are difficult to imagine, entrepreneurs and innovators will launch a huge variety of new services and companies.
Today, most refrigerators are stupid. They just keep food cold. Soon, refrigerators will have the ability to know how much milk is left, how close it is to going bad, and when each customer wants their refrigerator to order more.
Smart touchpoints create new revenue streams. Instead of just selling you an appliance every 10 years, a refrigerator company now has the opportunity to sell a service that ensures you always have fresh food.
As even refrigerators start to act smart, do you really think that companies will be able to get away with lame practices such as running customer service centers that require customers to enter their account numbers three times in a row?
Remember Peter Parker. Superpowered customers think differently. (Some are even prone to sudden emotional shifts; don't count on customer loyalty protecting slow-to-react companies.)
Pretty much everything—including appliances, machines, gardens, and companies—will adopt a sense and respond way of functioning. Smart touchpoints make this possible.
The good news is that the same disruptive forces and digital devices driving superhuman capabilities for customers can do the same for any company. Just take a step back, and look at yourself and your industry through the lens of smart touchpoints.
—Michael Hinshaw and Bruce Kasanoff are co-authors of Smart Customers, Stupid Companies: Why Only Intelligent Companies Will Thrive, And How To Be One Of Them (Business Strategy Press, 2012). Follow Michael and Bruce on Twitter.
[Image: Flickr user Amanda Tipton]