How Executives Can Navigate the ‘Old Meets New’ Mindset of Tech Disruption

07/26/2016 02:40 pm ET
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Tech, as we know, is changing the world. For the past decade, all we’ve heard about is how tech is disrupting industries and Millennials are transforming our culture. These aren’t novel concepts, yet they bear repeating.

I’ve written more than 33 books on this topic since 1997, and I’m convinced that most people still aren’t embracing change. In many regards, the workforce experience barely changed during the 40 years between 1956 and 1996.

Then the internet exploded, and we’ve seen more innovation in 20 years than in the preceding four decades. A decade from now, every industry will have been disrupted again in fundamental ways. Companies must prepare themselves now if they want to continue to succeed.

How Millennials Changed the Game

The digital revolution is reframing the way businesses operate, from real estate to hospitality to transportation. Millennials are leaving their marks as well, thanks to their unique consumption patterns and demands for transparency.

Hanover Research recently found that Millennials shop with a “buy now, deal with it later” mentality. One survey indicated that Millennials were 52 percent more likely to make an impulse buy than any other generation. That need for instant acquisition may explain why half of Millennials use mobile devices to research products. They want on-demand access to goods and information, and businesses must be prepared to deliver.

But don’t let those spur-of-the-moment purchases fool you. This demographic is also keenly aware of pricing changes and will jump on a good deal if presented with one. In one survey, 95 percent of Millennial respondents said they have more or the same sensitivity to price as last year. Cost plays the strongest role in their purchase decisions, even more so than brand, quality, and availability.

Millennials also insist on transparency. Gone are the days when middlemen such as real estate agents were the gatekeepers to information. Now consumers want to conduct enormous amount of property research themselves before hiring a real estate professional.

Where real estate agents used to hold the literal and figurative keys to properties, companies such as Move and Zillow have responded to the demand for “home and lifestyle surfing.” Zillow uses Snapchat to engage its young audience with its “Snaphouse” series of life hacks for homeowners. This strategy speaks to the shifting relationship between brands and consumers.

When your audience demands instant gratification, mobile accessibility, engagement, and transparency, you need to think differently about the customer experience to meet the changing demand.

The Future of Customer Experience

Advancements in technology mean that everyone — employees, independent contractors, and consumers — knows more about more topics than before. Consumers are more curious than ever about products and services, and companies must address their questions quickly and efficiently, without necessarily expecting a sale.

This also means that everyone at a company, including C-level executives, must ingrain themselves more deeply in day-to-day activities and adopt more open communication styles. Senior executives, too, must be visible and accessible to their tech-savvy (and potentially global) audiences.

Millennials opened the door to many of the tech-based business practices we see today, but in a few short decades, they will become the older generation. Then Generation Z, those born in the mid-’90s and later, will control the next wave of innovation. This up-and-coming demographic never knew a world without smartphones and the internet.

We’ve already seen a shift away from PC advertising toward mobile marketing and customer service. Now we’re moving into an age dominated by SMS, video, and even greater expediency.

Just look at the fast food industry. For decades, restaurants ran on a tried-and-true business model: Customers would approach the register or drive-thru, order and pay for their food, wait for their meals to be handed to them, and then drive home.

But chains such as Domino’s and Taco Bell are refining that system by allowing people to order ahead from a variety of mobile platforms. More than half of Domino’s U.S. sales now come through text, smartwatch, and its “zero clicks required” mobile app. Similarly, Starbucks’ mobile app orders accounted for 21 percent of the company’s U.S. transactions in the first quarter of 2016. Use of the coffee chain’s mobile order-and-pay feature — which represents more than 10 percent of total transactions at high-volume Starbucks stores — directly contributed to increased sales across the board.

These brands are deftly navigating the “old meets new” mindset that’s needed during times of transition and innovation. Executives must sow the seeds of tomorrow while maintaining the trees that protect them from the blistering sun.

You can’t abandon all your old platforms for the sake of attracting new customers. But you do need to ramp up digital engagement if you want to stay relevant.

Consumer experiences will always be changing because people — and therefore their buying habits — are constantly evolving. As a leader, you must anticipate the trends by tuning into each new generation’s preferences without alienating all the previous audiences.

Technology has disrupted the business landscape to make it more complex, but it’s also richer. Multiple generations of consumers now have access to more information, greater product selections, and competitive prices. Meanwhile, brands have unprecedented opportunities to connect with audiences via mobile platforms, social media, and email as well as traditional platforms. These benefits will outweigh the growing pains as younger generations force companies to mature into the digital era. 

Technology’s forward movement is nothing new. It’s simply a question of whether you will allow it to disrupt you or whether you can ride the wave and make it work for your company.

Stefan Swanepoel is the chairman and CEO of the Swanepoel T3 Group. Swanepoel is a The New York Times bestselling author; a business, leadership, and motivational speaker; and a real estate trends strategist. The T3 Group operates T3 Sixty, a management consulting company that provides extensive research, strategic analysis, and business innovation to facilitate better management decisions in the real estate industry.

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