Technology will soon bring magical things our way. They are right around the corner. Problem is, much of this magic has been right around the corner for years. And if we don’t start doing things differently, it always will be.
To be fair, we are making some progress. To use the old “Jetsons” examples, flying cars (or at least automated ones) and personalized robot servants are more or less here. But it feels like we should have had those things 20 years ago. Despite having all kinds of great new technology at our fingertips, we’re not even scratching the surface on what it makes possible.
That’s partly because so much of our technology is in the hands of companies driven by quarterly profit targets, which stifles innovation and encourages incremental, conservative business strategies. Technology is just a vehicle to move goods and services off the shelf and into someone’s life. Instead of designing elegant, simple technology that works for customers, we focus on immediately monetizing it, often with ads that clutter and degrade the customer experience. Even when some companies do get it right — whether it’s Google or Twitter or any of the big platforms – they screw up the user experience by slowing page load times with unwanted content in your news feed and inbox, or videos that play with sound that doesn’t work.
Virtual reality is a good example of an underwhelming new technology. If it was elegantly designed and very user-friendly we’d all be using it — but it’s not. It holds this amazing promise for story-telling and immersive experiences, but it’s still a big bulky thing that’s really expensive to use. As a result, not many people have experienced it. Yet, we see progress every day. Case in point: The recent news about the Oculus augmented reality glasses.
One reason we aren’t fully focused on simple, elegant design is that so many companies are busy sifting through the rivers of digital data flowing past them each day. This is understandable. We are just now figuring out how to analyze that rich trove of information and use it to influence people to buy things. But data alone doesn’t drive results – it mostly lets us know if we’re talking to the right audience.
I’ll give you an example — my minivan. It’s a great vehicle. And data probably had a lot to do with how I found it – or how the dealer found me. But the dashboard and the sound system were designed terribly. I can do 50 different things at the touch of a button, but it’s really complicated and still doesn’t make much sense to me. What parent driving their kids around wants a really complicated dashboard to deal with? No parent. At some point, people just want simple interfaces to access whatever it is they’re accessing. Cool new technology isn’t much good if we can’t figure out how to use it. Most people prefer things that just work right.
This is why we need to invest a lot more in understanding what actually makes our customers say “wow.” Instead of choosing one creative idea and rolling it out to millions of customers, we should be looking at hundreds of ideas that help us identify customer micro-segments and different combinations that regular everyday people actually want. How many times in your life have you interacted with technology and said, “Hey, they got that right?” Far more often, its: “Hey, this is really good. But if they would have just done these other two things, it’d be awesome.”
Data can certainly help, especially when we use it to examine customer preferences and refine products accordingly. But we still miss a lot of opportunities, because the labs where we develop products aren’t always connected with the real world. Take Uber, for example. It’s one of the most highly valued start-ups ever. They have amazing amounts of data and they do some magical things with it. I can use their app to summon a car to my location very quickly. And while they struggle at times with basic problems, the amount of data they possess allows them to eventually solve issues. For example: In the past, I could be standing on a particular street corner, but the driver might show up across the street. No longer is this a problem because Uber’s access to all my data helps them get my location right.
Maybe this kind of underachievement is no big deal. Everyday people may be satisfied with incremental innovation, with “good enough.” But consider the market opportunities for the companies that go the extra mile and leap ahead of their competitors. Today’s disruptors might be ripe for disruption themselves. What if people realized they could get more value for all the personal data they share?
Or consider the opportunity cost of settling for small, uninspiring innovations in technology. Are you willing to wait 10 years for fully functional and affordable virtual reality? Are you happy to carry that overheating phone in your pocket, and staring at it while you type text messages?
What delights your customers, and turns them into enthusiastic supporters of your brand, is the creative designs that show them you’re listening to them. That’s where the magic comes from. When we fully commit to that philosophy, we are going to see some incredible new things.
At FullContact, we are very familiar with the challenge Tod outlines above. It’s similar to one we covered in another recent article which looked at how can companies need to make sense of the ever-growing supply of customer data and use it to deliver simpler, more valuable user experiences. To succeed, companies need tools to sort through that data so they can focus on only the most relevant data points needed to create great experiences and solve their customers’ problems. Our goal is to empower other tech sector innovators — in both hardware and software — with a deeper understanding of their customers and how best to serve them.
— Scott Axcell, Vice President Marketing, FullContact