The Rise of Superhuman Customers

by Bruce Kasanoff on December 21, 2010

The WSJ chronicled how last weekend Tri Tang spotted a Garmin GPS unit while visiting his local Best Buy store in Sunnyvale, California. He took out his Android phone, and checked the price. The unit was $184.85 in the store, but $106.75 on Amazon, with no shipping or tax. Still standing in the store, he bought the GPS from Amazon.

I hope he doesn’t mind my saying so, but Tri is an early example of a new breed of customers. We call them superhuman customers, because they possess powers previously found only in comic books.

There’s another reason I use this term. Business executives get numb to the flood of buzzwords that proliferate these days, and as a result many tend to discount predictions. But the scope of powers now being handed to customers is unprecedented.

Look out your window. Nearly anything you see – cars, office buildings, people, the weather, birds, restaurants or billions of other possibilities – can and will be identified and differentiated on your behalf by applications that are already flooding onto the market at the rates of over 10,000 per month. You can then experience the results in a rapidly growing variety of fashions.

At home in your garden, you can learn whether your tomato plants are as tall as they should be 10 weeks after you planted them. Shopping for a gift, you can analyze whether the product recommended by the salesperson really is the best choice for your aunt, whether the store really does offer the lowest prices on that item, and whether a better-priced item is available within ten miles. At work, you can explore potential solutions to a technical problem, comparing how each has worked in your industry and in industries similar to yours.

Three capabilities – when combined – empower individuals to experience a dramatically higher level of insight than possible previously.

Identify: literally identify anything in existence. It could be another person, a hotel room or flight, a trustworthy opinion, part number, the name of a song you just heard, or even an entrée the waiter just brought o the table next to your.

Differentiate: set anything apart from other options. Is it better priced, more convenient, less reliable, louder or softer, faster or slower, more or less to your liking or just plain better for you than other choices? This can also address practical realities such as you want the best possible price, but you need a gift today.

Experience: use digital tools to take the information and allow you to experience the results in the manner most useful to you. This could mean listening to a computerized voice, watching an interactive demo, manipulating charts and blocks of text, exploring visual images, or simply being connected with another person or a group of people.

This adds up to a nearly unlimited number of possible combinations, especially when you consider that applications will be released that target countless customer niches, industries and special interests. Why is this happening now? Computers are finally small enough, powerful enough and pervasive enough to literally be our constant companion. For most of us, they are always connected. Finally, the smart phone – thanks in large measure to Apple’s lead – opened the floodgates of innovation by independent developers who now have the hope of selling anything they can build.

All of these factors combine to let people behave in a far smarter and better-informed manner. (Yes, I know that lots of time is wasted watching dumb videos, making dumb videos, and texting your friends about dumb videos.) But when it comes to money, to actual transactions, companies have to face a new reality.

Yes, it’s the rise of superhuman customers — and they won’t settle for feeble service from puny companies who can’t remember their account number, continue to close customer service at 7 p.m., or generally provide customer experience that is so – like – 2004.

When he became Spiderman, Peter Parker discovered that with great powers comes great responsibility. Companies are about to discover that with great customer powers come much greater responsibility for the customer experience.

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