The year 2005 ended not with a whisper but a bang. Twelve tumultuous months of natural disasters, corporate missteps, war, partisan politics and product recalls have left in their wake a sea of consumers and employees who are drowning in information overload. Heads are spinning with the constant influx of information from print media, television, the Internet, telephone, radio and non-traditional forms of advertising. Taxis, elevators, movie theaters and the like have all become fair game as vehicles for blasting messages at the masses.
Never in my 18 years of consumer products management consulting and training has there been a time when capturing the hearts and minds of consumers has been more challenging. At the same time that messages are bombarding consumers, corporations are, by virtue of their CRM capabilities, receiving an onslaught of data about who is listening and responding to their messages. Nevertheless, managing the data using current practices is about as successful as trying to herd cats.
As we roll forward into 2006, Wayne Hodgins, a preeminent authority in the converging space of technology, standards, knowledge creation and director of Worldwide Learning Strategies at Autodesk, the world’s leading supplier of advanced PC design tools, proclaims that attention will be the commodity of the future.
Choices, choices, choices
Faced with increasing product choices, service choices, vendor choices and even voice mail menu choices, consumers are overwhelmed in trying to focus their attention. Research by Malcolm Gladwell, author of the bestselling books
The Tipping Point
, shows that when given vast amounts of choice, people literally max out and do not make decisions at all. However, his research further shows that people do not want decisions to be made for them but rather want to receive support for their decisions. For example, there are hundreds of digital cameras on the market. Do I want you to tell me which to buy? No. Rather, I need your help to help me reach the right decision.
Elliott Masie, head of Masie Center, the learning think tank, introduces Hodgins’ view points by stating, “Wayne Hodgins has long said that the ability to learn and apply the right stuff faster is the only sustainable competitive advantage there is for any of us.” In response, producers of CRM software, as well as CRM client managers, need to provide opportunities for companies to provide little bits of information to their prospects and customers. On the front line, rather than relying upon hours of classroom and/or online training in situationally deprived “training days,” companies need to deliver to their employees little bits of learning, at the moment they need it and want it to capture customers’ attention. This moment in time, or Nano Learning, as coined by Masie, may be product related, emotionally (attitudinally) related or any number of other quantifiable means of information delivery.
A moment of time is far different in a face-to-face customer interaction. There, opportunity to shape the outcome of a situation by using time-tested sales and service skills is a real possibility. In the largely virtual world of contact centers, online purchases and information gathering, providers of goods and services no longer have control of where people gather information—or what they will pay attention to.
The force of the new Attention Economy has been emerging for years. In 2006, it will be felt like never before. In a mirror image of consumer behavior, information delivery to employees whose job it is to sell and service attention-overloaded consumers will have to do an about-face.
Wayne Hodgins provides a potent example of what needs to happen:
For years, people tried to fly by emulating birds. Hundreds of people died along the way. The way to fly was thought to duplicate the flapping of bird wings. It was only then when people began to examine the elements of flight did they discover the critical element of lift, the same thing that lets a 747 fly today. The analogy to learning and providing information is this: People are using learning as a way to duplicate the traditional methods of training. The issue is not to do that (and figuratively die trying) but instead define the design, and then use technology as a way to ensure that people are getting the right stuff when they need it.
To paraphrase the well-known branding phrase, “What’s in Your Wallet?” the answer will be simple. The companies who understand and bank profitable Customer Attention as the new economic measure of success in 2006 will undeniably be the leaders of the pack as we barrel into 2007.