Customers are instantly informed about themselves and the world around them.
They are using smartphones, mobile computing, and even powerful wearable devices.
They accept powerful shopping agents that aggregate and compare prices as routine, and express immediate dissatisfaction on the social web.
All of this is making once-stable consumer markets stormy and unpredictable. Now, some people say a company is only as good as its last product.
But to my mind, this doesn’t go far enough. It’s a much harsher judgement that brands face: you are also only as good as the last two-way interaction with your customer.
These brand 'life or death' interactions are increasingly virtual, designed and delivered by software. Before even looking at your products, your customers will judge you first by this virtual software interaction.
And making this virtual software level come alive is hard to do. When we should be investing more of ourselves in our software, the technology providers seem to be encouraging us to abdicate what software can do for us.
The tragic flaw of software is rooted in the deep rabbit-hole the software programming fraternity has dug for itself over the past 40 years: a zombie-like perpetuation of manual coding instead of abstract modelling and declarative thinking.
But we can make computers exciting, and we can capture our unique cultural personalities and manifest it in the always-on interactive software layer.
Think like a human
The first step is to think like a human again, galvanise your best people to focus on your customers, say no to manual coding and yes to computational thinking, and not get distracted on bright, shiny technologies that are not 100% aligned with your core values and strategies.
Secondly, exit the comfort zone of thinking inside-out and think outside-in. Organisations of all kinds must discover how best to represent what is unique about them – their authenticity, their promise, the collective strength of their culture – to a wider world using an immediately accessible software layer. Otherwise their revenue and relevancy will plummet.
The new software layer that will take you out of the twilight of the brand and into a dawn of continuous engagement must be your software. It must demonstrate your values, your commitment, and an authentic empathy for your customers and how they interact with you. It must encompass nothing less than the best of your people, policies and methods.
The risk of Customerpocalypse?
Click here to download a chapter of Alan Trefler’s book, Build for Change.
And it must be good enough and strong enough that you can give it to your customers, software personalised for them and adaptive to whatever context they find themselves in. Your customers will make it their own, use it to interact, and come to that point of trust where they opt in to an always-on, always-learning, always-adapting relationship with you. That means the software, like your relationships with your customers, will always be changing.
Constant change is the new normal
Once you get it right, this constant changing becomes your new normal. You will come to find it energising. The stress is replaced with the reward of knowing that with each moment of truth, you are earning and renewing customer trust and engagement. You are only as good as your next interaction or engagement.
Static brand (fat, dumb and deluded) has gone into its twilight. Thanks to the software layer of engagement you share with your customers, a new always-on and always-adapting brand is emerging.
Alan Trefler is author of Build for Change, and founder and CEO of Pegasystems
This was first published in August 2014