On my radio program, beginning in 1998, I started interviewing telecom experts on something called broadband Internet connection. It would be the replacement for dialup over POTS – plain old telephone service. At that point, like the Internet itself, the “big pipe” was so new that less than 4% of households and almost no businesses had broadband Internet connection.
Reporting on this emerging capability, I made the easy prediction that the world would change when broadband became ubiquitous and broadly adopted – which it did. But the harder prediction – which I didn’t make – would have been that the real game-changer would take the form of mobile computing on the tiny screens of magic wands we call smartphones. Today, with mobile networks delivering fourth generation connectivity – 4G – almost everywhere, and 5G on the way, mobile computing has disrupted the marketplace in unprecedented ways by giving consumers exciting new expectations.
But perhaps what caused mobile computing to make a quantum leap is found in this slogan: “There’s an app for that.” Anyone with access to paved roads and/or electricity knows this refers to an application that converts content otherwise consumed with a browser on a PC, to a hand-held devices, like a smartphone or tablet. Mobile apps have proliferated because they’re almost always handier – and sexier – than their website counterparts.
A generation before my broadband prognostication, a real prophet, John Naisbitt, published his landmark book, Megatrends (Warner Books, 1982), in which he prophesied, “The more high tech we have, the more high touch we will want.” I’ve termed that quote, “Naisbitt’s Razor,” and it foresaw a kind of unlikely equilibrium between digital technology and analog humanity. This will be on the test: For a small business to find success in The Age of the Customer, Naisbitt’s Razor must be at the heart of your business strategy.
The bad news is there’s that tension from the unlikely equilibrium between tech and touch – read: difficult to maintain. The good news is, Naisbitt’s Razor is never more elegant than when delivered by a small business. So, how do you maintain that balance in the face of pressure from a marketplace that seems to be in love with tech, like sexier mobile apps? The answer is, not either/or, but both/and.
If you want customers to keep your business at their fingertips wherever they are, there’s an app for that you can buy or build. You must at least have a mobile site. But when a customer relationship calls for a welcoming smile, or prior knowledge, or hands-on expertise, there’s no app for that. Nothing’s more high touch than a smile, which can only be delivered by an analog human, and whenever possible, face-to-face.
If a product tutorial video would help a customer in the field, there’s an app for that. To be able to interpret the troubled look on the face of a customer as a clue that you’ve yet to heal their pain, there’s no app for that.
If customers want to check an order status, whenever and wherever they are, you have to deliver that information in the tiny screen of their smartphone. When customers return over and over because you add so much value when they’re physically in front of you, or your employees, there’s no app for that.
Naisbitt’s Razor – high tech AND high touch – makes it imperative that you blend the sexy digital power of mobile computing, with the compelling humanity of a handshake. The good news is that no one can deliver and maintain that equilibrium as powerfully as a small business. Congratulations.
Write this on a rock … There’s an app for high tech, but there isn’t one for high touch. You have to deliver both.