The full-length title of this article should be 10 ways the Internet and the smartphone have changed the way we live - as humans and customers - and how businesses must evolve to improve their customer experience and survive the digital transformation.
We all recognize mobile technology as the real game-changer in the creation of the world as we experience it today. The hidden truth, though, is that there would be no smartphone without the Internet revolution. We are the result of this revolution.
We can start with one simple question: Can you imagine your life without the Internet? Just close your eyes for a moment and think about what life was before the web. You can barely remember that time if you were born and grew up before the Internet. If you are a digital native, this task is simply impossible.
Millennials - also known as digital customers - will never experience a world with no connectivity and mobile devices. Yes, there are still (small) areas of our planet not wired and cabled but - at least for us living in developed countries - it is hard to imagine a life before Google, Amazon, Apple or Facebook.
If you search on Google (where else!), you will find tons of experiments or researches about life without the Internet. They all come down to one single definitive truth: "I cannot even imagine my life without the Internet or the smartphone. It is an integral part of who I am." (Gallup)
The Internet is still relatively young (it just celebrated its 26th birthday in 2015) and yet the connectivity has already produced long-lasting effects. It all started with a cable plugged into the phone line, and now we possess the entire world in the palm of our hand.
There is one exact moment that changed things forever, and that was when the Internet came out of our home, held inside a small box called smartphone.
According to the Internet Trends Report 2015 by Mary Meeker, we have reached 2.8 billion connected people in the world. In other words, almost 40% of the worldwide population is now online, at home and on mobile devices.
Every single activity of our daily life is influenced by connected existence:
- More than 27 million pieces of content are shared every day;
- More than 600 million websites are online;
- More than 500 million Tweets are sent every day,
- More than 30 billion pieces of content are shared on Facebook each month;
- More than 5 billion items have been sold on Amazon in 2014, with 40% of those sold by third-party sellers.
What is true for people is, even more, true for organizations. The way you do business today is completely different from the best practices taken for granted only a decade ago. All certainties suddenly disappeared, washed away from a stream of connectivity. The Internet has brought treats but also huge opportunities, for those able to respond timely and unlock the power of emerging technologies.
The years pass by, but the rules of the competition remain the same: you succeed only if you can understand what is going on, if you adapt to the evolution of technology and behaviors, and if you answer to the unprecedented demands of new customers. Business and technology go hand in hand, and so does the customer experience.
Any analysis of how life has changed may look like a trip down memory lane, but it also helps you understand where we are all headed for as human beings, customers, and organizations. So, here are the 10 ways the Internet has changed (and will keep changing) the way we live.
Where do you go when you are collecting information about a product or looking for an answer? Google, of course. The Internet has become the primary source of information, and search engines the main door to access it. Thanks to the smartphone, you have the complete knowledge in your pocket. Education, essays, product comparison, self-improvement tips, technical details, diets, do it yourself, lolcats, the Internet has it all. If you are a brand, you need to be there with meaningful contents.
Do you still remember phone calls and letters? We have witnessed a complex evolution in the way we connect with other people and with companies. First came the chat rooms and forums, then - especially after the spread of smartphones - social networks and online communities. Face to face communication is still important but we increasingly rely on wide circles of strangers to decide what to do and what to buy. In the mobile era, communication is about building networks.
The success of Amazon, eBay, and online marketplaces says that visiting the physical location of a store is no longer mandatory if you want to make a purchase. Shopping for a particular item looks like a journey across channels: you can see a product in the store, search for information online, compare prices between retailers, make the purchase in-app and pick it up at the store. The disruption of the retail industry always implies the renovation of the retail customer experience.
Not so long ago, the essence of travel was the idea of discovery. Is it still? Today, you can know everything about a place even before leaving home. And planning has never been so easy and cheap: You have websites for information, mobile apps for real-time discount and offers, virtual reality for a full 3D immersion. Even when you are there, mobile technology is there for you: Uber for affordable transfers, Airbnb for cheap stays, Google Maps to find the way, TripAdvisors for gourmet restaurants. Who needs travel agencies anymore?
Remember when you had to visit the video store to rent a VHS, hoping that the movie you were looking for was not taken already? That is the past. With the Internet, you have everything you need in one place, and rarely you need something physical (i.e. a Dvd) to enjoy it. With the emergence of smart TVs and the new generation of gaming consoles, all you need is a connection, be it movie streaming (Netflix), music (Spotify), the sports experience or on-demand personalized contents.
Once upon a time, people had to visit the bank to check the most basic financial operations. That was before the dawn of online banking, before the disintermediation. Before the ‘Uberization’ of retail banking. Technology trends have forced traditional institutions to face the challenge of evolution, transforming generic accounts into actual human beings. What they must do now is to stop focusing on products and money and start caring about the retail banking customer experience. In the name of innovation (mobile wallets, one-touch payments) and personalization.
You do not need to know someone to love him/her. You do not need to feel the pressure of playing all your cards in a few minutes while waiting for the bus. Now you can find the love your life - or at least meet new friends - by simply downloading an app and filling out a profile. Be it dating or building professional relationships, there is a place for you online. This evolution has consequences for businesses: people now rely on a wider circle of trust, other people they barely know that can influence their decisions, one way or another.
In the Internet age, everyone is a doctor. While you should not trust what you read online, when you feel symptoms of some sort, it is undeniable that technology has changed the medical experience and the relationship between doctors and patients. On the one hand we have the risk of misleading information; on the other hand, the emerging awareness that mobile devices can improve the quality of life and help prevent diseases. Wearables technology is the main driver of the self-tracking obsession; connected with health platforms (HealthKit), they will shape the future of healthcare.
When the way we communicate changes, marketing techniques change accordingly. If you try to employ traditional marketing ideas to today’s world, you will soon recognize they are outdated and inefficient. The reason is simple: customers have changed, their purchase behavior have changed. Even when they are in the store, they go online to compare products. The success of proximity marketing is due to the need (for companies) to engage customers with context aware contents, and delight them with meaningful and personalized experiences.
Do you really need to spend eight hours a day in the office to be productive? Twenty years ago, this questions made no sense at all. Of course, you needed to be there. Today things are different, and it is all about the Internet. The evolution of web-based tools and the growth of cloud services have made the physical co-presence unnecessary. We live and work in an ecosystem of constant connectivity, and this is bringing employers and governments to a complete change of perspective, in the name of flexibility. To improve quality of life and cut inefficiency.
Now it is your turn. Tell us how the Internet has changed the way you live and do business.
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