Written by Simon Rogerson
Capitalising on these five key trends will separate the best companies from the also-rans.
Trend #1: The balance of power will keep shifting towards the consumer
Until about ten years ago, a lot of companies had it easy. They controlled the flow of information to their customers and, because knowledge is power, they were able to treat them like children. That’s no longer possible. Consumers now have access to all of the information they need, and they have the ability to wield this knowledge like a weapon.
So, those companies that leave themselves exposed, either through poor business practices, lack of transparency, or failing to deliver on their promises will only have themselves to blame when customers see through them and not only start voting with their feet, but use social media to take others with them.
Trend #2: Companies will have to have an authentic conscience
In some industries, especially financial services, companies have been able to ‘outsource’ their conscience to the regulator. Any fines for poor behaviour are seen simply as the cost of doing business. This corporate mind-set of ‘try not to get caught’ will no longer be tolerated.
The same goes for those businesses that use their Corporate Social Responsibility policy as a shield to hide behind. Customers will expect the companies they interact with to do the right thing – first time, every time. Whether that’s paying their fair share of tax, using renewable energy, embracing diversity in all its forms, or acting in the best interests of their customers even when no one is watching.
Trend #3: Fast will beat slow
Start-ups used to struggle to be taken seriously. Large companies had a stranglehold over their markets that was incredibly tough for smaller companies to break. It made them cosy and complacent. But that’s no longer true. The world is changing more quickly than ever before. And larger companies are trying to learn from their smaller counterparts, with mixed results. The companies that win today will be able to react most quickly. Large will no longer always beat small, but fast will definitely always beat slow.
Trend #4: Employee well-being will no longer be an afterthought
We usually reserve our deepest affections for companies that make interactions simple and pleasurable. But companies that want happy customers need a happy workforce. I think 2018 will be the year when well-being makes it onto the agenda of every forward-thinking organisation.
The ‘always on’ world in which we live, coupled with the speed of change going on around us, means that mental health is one of the biggest issues facing society today. Companies have a responsibility to recognise this and to be part of the solution. The best ones are already recognising that the mental health of their employees is a priority, and are making themselves part of the support framework. Employees (and ultimately customers) will end up happier as a result.
Trend #5: Technology will be the beating heart of every business
Any company that doesn’t have technology at its core will be inherently less efficient and will be quickly left behind. Large companies, weighed down by legacy systems, practices and culture, will find it hugely difficult to compete in the new world.
Take the energy industry. The ‘Big Six’ operate huge call centres with thousands of people trying to resolve billing errors or meter issues. Most of the time this results in a frustrating customer experience, as a survey from Which recently discovered. If you contact the Big Six, be prepared to have to wait an average of seven and a half minutes before you get to talk to a human. At the other end of the spectrum, there’s Octopus Energy. It’s a digital-first business, where 99% of our customers interact digitally. However, on those occasions when they need to talk to a human, they get straight through. On average, our energy customers get to talk to a human being after just over a minute (1:06 to be precise). It’s just one of the reasons why Octopus was voted Energy Supplier of the Year at the 2017 Energy Awards.
So, as more and more customers of large companies drift away to smaller suppliers who take better care of them, those big names will be forced to change. They’ll have no option but to become digital or risk being left behind (in the case of energy supply it’s already happening).
How can companies stay relevant?
One of the problems larger companies face is that it becomes harder to adapt or to change course. It’s tempting to think that what’s worked before will continue. But at Octopus we’re obsessed with making sure that we never stand still or grow complacent. That takes a lot of effort, from everyone within the business. And it’s a relentless and never-ending process.
We work hard to ensure that everyone understands these trends, and embraces them, because we owe it to our customers to make sure we never fall short. We do this through all-company meetings, weekly updates and strategy sessions. We use these as opportunities to question what we do and to ask of ourselves what we could or should be doing in the future. It’s not about chasing short-cuts to success, but working out what we need to do now to make our business successful in 20 years’ time. As Wayne Gretzky noted: A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.