Business success has always been built on relationships. Just a few generations ago, consumers were often friends, or at least neighbors, of the local grocer or pharmacist. But that model changed, first with large-scale industrialization and then with the introduction of IT. Over the last few decades, consumers in general have been treated with greater indifference and far less personal attention.
But the pendulum is swinging back. Technology is finally at a point where buyers can be treated like individuals again. Consumers are more than faceless transactions, more than a cookie file or a demographic profile; they’re real people with real differences. Digital transactions are giving way to digital relationships.
The ability to build, maintain and scale digital customer relationships is one of the emerging IT trends in our recently released Accenture Technology Vision 2013 report, which outlines our predictions on which technology trends and innovations will have a significant impact on organizations—for both their IT departments and their businesses overall—in the next few years.
Digital relationships are at the top of the list of emerging IT trends for good reason. Technology innovation has given companies ways to communicate with consumers in a much more personal way through mobile, social media, and context-based services. Individually, these IT innovations represent new types of user experiences, even new sets of sales channels—but that’s not the real opportunity.
Taken in aggregate, digital relationships represent a key new approach to consumer engagement and loyalty, because it enables companies to manage relationships with consumers at scale. The goal is “mass personalization”—and no, that’s no longer an oxymoron. Mass personalization is about using what you know about a consumer from the communications channels he uses to better understand his behavior and needs. Think of it as providing resort service at a motel cost.
Digital consumers have ratcheted up their expectations about how businesses will communicate and respond. Companies that hope to remain competitive need to find new ways to use these technology innovations to make the consumer feel special as never before, to increase engagement and develop intimacy.
Mass personalization can deliver a variety of new benefits. Because shoppers can move—quickly and entirely digitally—from awareness to recommendation to purchase after interacting on blogs, Twitter, Yelp, and other social sources, it’s actually possible to compress the sales cycle. Offering on-the-spot promotions through digital channels also potentially increases impulse purchases. Providers that are better at controlling that experience will benefit by lowering the costs of sales and marketing and generating greater sales volumes.
Personalization also creates a virtuous loop. The more you personalize the experience, the richer the data you’re collecting becomes. Companies can boost the quality of data in much the same way that night-vision goggles amplify available vision: to shine a light on data and behaviors, already present, but previously undetected.
A new level of intimacy with consumers is now possible. But effectively scaling meaningful digital relationships represents a real change in the way companies need to approach their consumer strategies. This shift is being enabled by technology; however, implementing it will require a new, unified approach across IT and the business.
Now is the time to act. The customers are out there; it’s time for businesses to get to know them better than they ever have before.
To learn more about digital relationships and other 2013 tech trends, download the Accenture Technology Vision report.