Joint CEO of FutureWorld South Africa, partner in FutureWorld International, Anton Musgrave works as a futurist and a business strategist, helping businesses understand, analyze and ultimately meet the demands of tomorrow’s consumers.
Recently, post the Customer Experience World 2014 session, he gave an interview to My Customer answering questions on business change, consumer change and customer service. The idea was: to help business owners understand the importance of developing a futuristic business that enables them survive the onslaught of the fast and furious world.
Below stated are excerpts (paraphrased) from the interview:
Q1. What is a futurist and how can they help businesses?
Our role is changing the way leaders (business entrepreneurs) think. Leaders typically are showing interest in running their business now. They take considerably less time understanding what is coming up to them in the future. Majority of the time, they are more concerned about understanding now, yesterday, last week, last month, last year. For them – It’s all about business of today.
As a futurist, I see my role in:
- Engaging business leaders in debates that typically wouldn’t have
- Discussing the forces shaping the world in which businesses will operate tomorrow
- Discussing the indications of these forces on the businesses of tomorrow.
So mainly I understand research and analyze the present business and come out with a completely different context (in relation to the future scenario). And I help businesses around the world understand that context.
Q2. What has been the main driver of change for businesses in recent years?
There are a few forces to mention about.
- Connectivity: In the last 10-15 years, the big story has been connectivity. After more than 20 years of the internet we are finally approaching the stock line of the change that we will see – the connectivity.
- Shift of the corporate power: From institutions, governments, corporations, churches and World Bank – power has really shifted into the hands of the individuals. From individuals on the oxford street to the rural farmers in Kenya – they have the same power. They have the same smart device in their hand. They have the same access to everything in the world, all information. It’s all flat and open and transparent. It’s indeed the first time that every individual in the world has the same power – through connectivity.
- Rate of technological change: It’s so rampant and so profound that the need has become not to be fast but to be agile. It has created the imperativeness to be willing to unlearn. We take a lifetime to learn certain rules and experiences and then to replicate those. But the pace at which technological advancement is happening, it is changing the fundamentals. So the lessons of yesterday are becoming invalid.
Q3. How have customers changed, and how has this impacted the way brands serve them?
Consumers are brutal and there is no loyalty. Their loyalty depends on the very last experience they’ve had with you. And if it’s not good, it’s going to be the last one. And that’s very scary for businesses. How do you build loyalty? You can deliver good customer service consistently, however one really bad experience and it’s game over.
In short – customers are less loyal. They have the access to all information so they can compare – price, availability, quality. Hence it’s a global game.
Example – When Amazon started selling books, none of the electronic dealers saw it as a competitor. And suddenly Amazon has won the hearts of millions of customers because it is delivering in a certain way that talks to the customers of today and most importantly of tomorrow. Result: Large number of electronic dealers has closed up because they cannot compete with Amazon.
So customers give trust upfront and it’s up to the businesses to keep it or breach it. Also, it’s about how business owners structure their business which also plays an important role in maintaining the trust of the customers.
Q4. How do you see the consumer continuing to change in the future?
They are becoming faster, wiser and more demanding. Time is becoming critical for each one of them so time is incredibly precious.
Q5. How is this going to affect the way brands approach customer service?
We (business entrepreneurs) have to be really courageous and probably undo a lot of things we have been building in the last ten years in terms of process. And that’s very uncomfortable. We build processes to reduce risk, to be more compliant and to make it easy for us to manage. And we should be destroying all of that.
The idea should be: if the customer comes and designs the process (for our business), what shall it be?
As said, doing this is courageous for business leaders because it involves operational consequences, budget and capital investment. However, if we do not do it then the becoming an integrated business to engage tomorrow’s market will be difficult.
Q6. How far into the future businesses should be looking?
It’s no good talking to business owners about 3 or even 5 years after because:
- They think they have already thought about it
- The scenario might not be that different because business entrepreneurs extrapolate what they know today and it’s in a really narrow band of future possibility.
Hence, the best time zone to discuss about is somewhere between seven and ten years after. Because even the most powerful self-believers (the know it all types) will realize in the back of their minds that seven years after is beginning to get quite far and the rate at which things are changing, maybe they don’t have the answers.
And then you can have a debate about lots of possibilities. In the time zone, it doesn’t matter whether you are right or wrong. The important thing is what’s the conversation and how you allow people to have the other important things.
When you have a conversation with business leaders in the future five year time frame, everyone thinks in the back of their minds:
- What’s in it for me?
- Is my business at risk?
However, when you take the conversation to discuss seven to ten years after, everyone says, well I may not be here, I would be retired by the end or I would have moved on. It takes the political dimension out of the conversation. And this aspect is often the unwritten thing that holds the conversation back. So take it away.
Q7. As a futurist, what advice would you give to businesses of today?
Few things – Businesses should understand the future better than they understand the present and certainly the past.
SWOT analysis for example, is great to develop a tactical short-term advantage:
- To be better than the current competitors
- To fix the weaknesses
- To look into today’s opportunities.
However, they should not use the SWOT analysis when talking about the future strategy. Instead, they should understand the context of doing business in the world of tomorrow:
- Who will their customers be?
- How will the customers behave?
- Why will the customers behave in that way?
- What will the customers pay premium for?
- What will be abundant in the world of tomorrow? Because no one pays good money for abundance.
- What would be scarce?
They need to use this data intelligently to deliver customized bespoke solutions ethically and authentically in more symbiotic partnership and relationship with customers.
Also, they need to get their head around regarding –
- What brands will shape the marketplace in future?
- What would they choose to be in that?
And then build the capability to undo things that is inappropriate for their new role.
To listen to the recorded interview – http://www.mycustomer.com/feature/what-your-future-customers-wish-you-knew-now/167152