Predictions for 2014: Computing Technologies In The Age Of The Customer

I've published a report for Forrester clients, "Predictions 2014: Mobility and Computing Technologies in the Age of the Customer." This blog post offers a sneak peak into the content.

With 2013 coming to an end, it’s time to bring out the crystal ball and make some predictions about 2014. Those who follow Forrester’s research will know that we’re living in the age of the customer, a period in which customer obsession will be the key to winning in all markets. Computing is a critical technology element in the age of the customer: The use of tablets by sales professionals creates richer experiences for prospects and customers, even as the use of wearable technologies by health professionals helps phlebotomists find the vein in a patient’s arm more quickly. Computing is a front-line, customer facing experience that helps companies win and serve customers more effectively.

With that context in mind, I present six meta-trends that will be critical for computing in 2014:

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Wearable Technology Is Breaking The Retail Distribution Model

Smart technology is becoming mainstream very quickly. Not a day goes by without hearing about some new piece of smart technology that can help you get fitter or smarter or improve your life in some other way. In the past week alone, I’ve heard about devices that can improve your tennis swing, improve your posture, sense your presence, and generate energy from walking — not to mention the new smart watches, handheld 3D printers that can draw bones, smart breathalyzers, and, of course (!) smart wigs!

These devices are starting to find their way into the hands of consumers, but much of the retail channel has yet to catch up. Smart locks, smart wearables, and smart fitness devices are all generally being sold through the traditional online and offline channels for electronics and devices; sports stores, clothing retailers, and home hardware stores have been slow on the uptake. In the US, we have already seen some electronics retailers (such as Best Buy) significantly expand their “smart wearables” section from a small pod to an entire aisle or even a dedicated corner or section of the store. At the same time, many sports stores have not even started carrying the latest fitness tracking devices — something that should be in their sweet spot.

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Predictions 2014: B2C CMOs Face Big Changes As Customers Adopt New Media, Social, And Mobile Behaviors

2014 is going to be a big year for B2C CMOs. We just published our "Predictions 2014: B2C CMOs Embrace The Post-Digital Landscape" report that predicts CMOs will: get creative with digital lifestyle media; get their hands dirty with customer experience; bring strategy to mobile; invest in marketing innovation; and reconsider their social networking priorities. Here are the five predictions:

  • Media decisions will focus on the intersection of audience and lifestyle targeting.  In 2014, CMOs will invest in branded content, product placement, and advertising on lifestyle-focused YouTube networks with large audiences like StyleHaul (shopping, beauty and style), Machinima (eSports and gamer), and Tastemade (food lovers) where they can reach millions of consumers. These networks having growing Millennial and Gen Z audiences that cannot be ignored.
  • Customer experience needs C-level ownership. C-level execs need to blend marketing and customer experience leadership to ensure that the brand's promise is expressed at all touchpoints.
  • Mobile will rise from project to primacy. CMOs will grab control of the mobile strategy, increase mobile budgets, and bring the broader perspective of mobile's impact to the executive table in 2014.
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What Indian CIOs Can Learn From The Delhi Assembly Elections

Disclaimer: I am not a political analyst, and this post is not intended to promote any political party.

December 8 was an historic day for Delhi: The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which arose from the anti-corruption movement of Anna Hazare a year ago, achieved a spectacular result in Delhi’s assembly elections — one far beyond anyone’s expectations. The party won 39% of the total assembly seats, sending Congress (which is India’s oldest party and had ruled Delhi for the past 15 years) plummeting to third place.

AAP’s rapid rise and strong showing highlight a fundamental shift in India’s political system toward citizen engagement and empowerment, especially in urban and semiurban areas. In particular, India’s youth are ready to take risks to realize their hopes and aspirations. About 350,000 18- and 19-year-olds have recently joined the voter rolls and saw in AAP the possibility to change the existing political system. And AAP was in tune with them, putting volunteers to work on social media platforms to connect with citizens on issues like corruption.

Indian CIOs should sit up and take heed, because just as empowered citizens can disrupt traditional politics, digitally empowered customers will disrupt businesses in every industry. Forrester calls this the age of the customer, and we define it as:

A 20-year business cycle in which the most successful enterprises will reinvent themselves to systematically understand and serve increasingly powerful customers.

You must prepare to deal with this disruption and understand what you must do to make your organization customer-obsessed:

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LeWeb: The Next 10 Years

What do all of these players have in common?

Most of them are US startups initially backed by venture capital (VC). Some of them are now worth more than $1 billion; others are planning for an IPO; and a couple of them have been acquired for a lot of money while generating little (if any) revenue. Most originated in social media, in the collaborative economy, and pretty much all of them depend on mobile as a significant and growing part of their business. They represent the typical attendees at the LeWeb conference in Paris, looking to become the next Facebook or Amazon in the next 10 years. Some other smaller and less well-known startups competing in LeWeb's startup competition this year may join this list: http://paris.leweb.co/programme/startup-competition

In fact, what they really have in common is that they are all digital disruptors leveraging digital platforms to create new experiences on top of connected devices. They are taking advantage of open development tools and free infrastructure resources to overhaul products, invert category economics, and redefine customer relationships. They are more agile than traditional companies. As my colleague James L. McQuivey stated recently, digital disruption requires an organizational fix if you don’t want your company to be disrupted.

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Your Opportunity in the Age of the Customer

The age of the customer is a 20-year business cycle in which the most successful companies will reinvent themselves to systematically understand and serve increasingly powerful customers. Re-engineering your company to become customer-obsessed will be hard work, but savvy C-level executives I’ve been speaking with about this tectonic shift immediately grasp the opportunity. 

I spoke about the age of the customer today at LeWeb Paris (you can see the video here, and my slides here) where I focused on one early element of customer empowerment - the mobile mind shift. Your customers expect any information or service they desire be available to them on any device, in context, at their moment of need. Forrester’s global Mobile Mind Shift Index measures how far along a group of consumers are in this change in attitude and behavior.

To serve these customers, you will have to move from systems of record to systems of engagement. Apps are just a small part of that equation. Instead, we’re talking about re-engineering your entire company to deliver great digital experiences. Your brands will compete against Google, Microsoft, Oracle, and Amazon for setting the bar for great customer experiences. What It Means: In the future, every company will be a software company. Software is the new business currency more important than financial capital.

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A New Generation of Clienteling

As we ramp up our coverage of the digital store, we recently researched the role of retail sales associates to understand their impact in the age of the customer. There’s no doubt that technology has dramatically impacted the way in which consumers discover, explore, buy, and engage with brands, products, and services. However, the impact of technology on sales associates is unclear, as is the degree to which the role of the sales associate needs to evolve to leverage these new capabilities.

In the new report A New Generation Of Clienteling, we tackle the role of sales associates and their use of technology in the digital store. In the report, we note a number of trends, including the following:

  • The role of the associate will change from an information provider to a facilitator of engagement. The sales associate is no longer the sole provider of information in stores: Customers can now find product information via their mobile device without the help of an associate. This scenario provides an opportunity for the sales associate to pivot and drive increased engagement with the customer.
  • Digitally connected sales associates are trusted. Less than a quarter of US online adult today state that sales associates are the best source for product information. However, when armed with mobile devices, the associate is seen as a trusted advisor. The breadth of information available to sales associates via mobile devices allows them to consider a broader array of information when making product recommendations to customers in the store. 
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For Australian IT Shops, 2014 Is About Customer Obsession

I regularly hear CIOs and IT suppliers discussing the “four pillars” of cloud, social, mobile, and big data as if they’re an end in themselves, creating plenty of buzz around all four. But really, they’re just a means to an end: Cloud, social, mobile, and big data are the tools we use to reach the ultimate goal of providing a great customer experience. Most CIOs in Australia do understand that digital disruption and customer obsession are the factors that are changing their world, and that the only way to succeed is to embrace this change.

We recently published our predictions for CIOs in Asia Pacific in 2014 (see blog post here). Our entire analyst team in region was involved in the process — all submitting their thoughts and feedback. Here are some of our thoughts about Australia in 2014:

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