Tomorrow’s customer is already here.

You just have to think about yourself; when was the last time you wrote a personal cheque or used the home phone. It is hard to believe that the iPhone is only 10 years old when you consider how the smart phone has taken over many of our lives. New business models are challenging the established norm. Uber, Airbnb and Amazon are changing the way we travel, holiday and shop. In the news, we hear driverless cars are being tested in Singapore, and next year Audi launches the new A8 with driverless technology already installed. It will not be long before it happens. What does this mean for taxi businesses, insurance companies, garages and bodyshops, public transport providers, less able people, pubs and restaurants? So many questions and not enough answers.

The future has always been uncertain and unpredictable (with nothing certain, except death and taxes). However, it is the pace of change and movement that seems to have speeded up and taken people by surprise. With ever changing and developing customer expectations how do you really know what they think, want and need. Everything you buy or any service you experience, the companies want your feedback which in the main ends up in massive Powerpoint slide presentations that raise more questions than answers. The key to success in management speak is to turn data into information, information into knowledge and finally into wisdom. When data becomes wisdom that is when true competitive advantage emerges. Tesco’s early use of their club card data was a very good example of this. However, this only tells you what your customer wants from your present offer, what items they buy and whether a promotion is working. It doesn’t necessarily help predict the future.

Every successful business leader I know, has an intimate first hand knowledge and understanding of their customers and what they want and need. They do this not by reading PowerPoint presentations or looking at customer feedback reports. They get out there and meet them first hand, talk to them and ask what is working well and not so well. They understand the customer more than the customer understands themselves. I could never have articulated that I needed or knew the advantages of having a navigation app called Google maps on my mobile phone. However, some clever person ‘clocked’ that people all over the world were wasting time and energy trying to fine places and route options of how to get there. You need to talk to your customers to understand what their frustrations are, what would make their lives easier, better or more informed. Remember that what most of us want is more ‘discretionary time’. Next time a family member or friend says they have booked an Uber taxi don’t dismiss it but find out why. When you see someone use their phone as contactless payment do not dismiss it as unsafe but think why are they doing it and when you talk about Trump’s election win don’t belittle or celebrate it but ask yourself why did people vote for him, what is happening in their lives?

The secret to meeting the needs of tomorrow’s customer is to get curious. Ask more questions and give less answers, open your mind to what you are seeing, feeling and thinking. In other words, you need to stand in their shoes and look at your business/ organisation from their perspective. Remember we don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.  We look at situations, feedback and events and interpret what other people are saying to us according to our own past experiences, culture, values and beliefs, all of which help us inform our beliefs about ourselves, about others and about the world in general. The meaning we give events, the way we make sense of our world, is based upon our own set of core beliefs.

That is what went wrong with Nokia, Kodak, Blockbuster and Tesco. Their internal view of the world was different to that of their customers. They didn’t see the trend, they did not understand what their competitors were offering that made their customers lives better. They had closed their minds and weren’t curious enough. So I make no apologies for saying again get curious, don’t right things off, ask more questions and give less answers and get over the fact that there is a world out there that doesn’t make sense. Yes it is scary, uncertain and unpredictable but that is the roller coaster of life. The problem is not the problem; the problem is your attitude to the problem. Captain Jack Sparrow Pirates Of the Caribbean.