Why people say “we didn’t see it coming.”
Technological and digital innovations have changed many industries beyond recognition. From retail with its wide adoption of e-commerce, financial services and its increasing digitization, to traditionally offline industries such as agriculture—it seems no sector has escaped the rise of technology.
For established firms and sectors, this disruption often comes as a shock. Even firms with an apparent stranglehold on their sector have crumbled as new upstarts have emerged. For instance, Blockbuster has gone bankrupt, while Netflix has gone global.
Missing the warning signs
A common lament among these businesses is “we didn’t see it coming.” But the signs are normally there. Netflix actually approached Blockbuster just to be rebuffed.
Firms often miss these signs because they’re looking in the wrong places. Many expect mega-disruptors such as an Uber, an Airbnb or an Amazon. The reality is often less dramatic.
In recent years, the most interesting and successful innovations have come not from exciting new product developments, but from business models and customer experience. More commonly, a firm has simply listened to what its customers need and taken steps to meet their expectations. Uber, for instance, recognized that consumers wanted a cheaper, on-demand taxi service—and delivered it.
What could work better?
The secret is not to try and pre-empt what you think customers will want, but to listen to what they actually want. Once you’ve identified unmet needs, you can start to plug these gaps. This is a strategy firms of all sizes can follow.
Organizations tend to think that withstanding disruption means large investment in the latest tech. But often small changes can make a big difference to overcoming customer frustrations and keeping their business.
You need to talk to customer to understand their pain points. These could be anything from having a generic website contact form that makes it difficult for customers to reach relevant people within the firm, to a physical store that’s open when customers are at work. Just adding a contact name or an “about us” section on your website could reduce customer frustration and improve lead generation. Small changes can have a big impact.
Managers and other decision makers spend much of their time focused on achieving their immediate targets, whether that’s scouring sales reports or haggling with suppliers. They can get caught up with the daily grind and along the way miss what customers really want. This can lead to services or products that are good enough, but not exceptional.
People will often put up with products that are clunky simply because no one has suggested a better one. Exploring these areas can transform customer experience. Until Heinz developed easy squeeze ketchup bottles in the 1980s, customers had long put up with coaxing the condiment out of unyielding glass bottles by either bashing the top or inserting a knife into the bottle. Consider whether you’re really addressing the underlying problem, or simply alleviating the symptoms. If someone else does come up with a product that genuinely solves a problem, the chances are your customers will opt for that.
Look around and listen
If you’re going to avoid disruption, really listening to customers can prove more important than examining what regional sales reports say. You should also keep track of what your competitors are doing. What improvements are they making that you might be able to follow? You could look outside your industry for inspiration too.
Uber wasn’t invented by a taxi driver, or Airbnb by a hotelier. These companies were able to look at the respective industries from a detached vantage point and apply best practice from tech to transform customer experience.
Last, but not least, pay attention to your employees. They’re often the first point of contact with the outside world and can provide invaluable feedback about how seemingly mundane processes can be streamlined for the ultimate benefit of the customer.
If you actively listen to those around you, you’re more likely to see what’s coming.
How tech is improving children’s prospects
by Martin Burvill, Group President at Verizon Business Markets
Twitter | @burvill_martin
Think back 10 years. If I’d told you then that by 2017 most video content would be watched on a small screen that people carried in their pocket, you’d never have believed me. But it’s true. What if I’d said that many of us would have a little box in our houses that we talked to and it answered our questions, could turn our heating and household devices on and off, and could DJ your music library? You might have actually thought that was more likely, after all it’s the sort of thing that science fiction has been promising us for decades. You might have been less likely to believe that the box would cost less than a pair of brand jeans.
Technology has vastly changed the way we do everything. It’s making life easier in ways that we could never have imagined. I’ve always thought that futurologist sounded like an amazing job, spending your time imagining what might come next. Working at Verizon I get to rub shoulders with many of the people that are building the next generation of networks and making the next wave of technology possible. I recently visited the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh for an event and watching the children there made me think about how all this new technology will affect their lives.
From education to learning
Whether you’re from iPod generation, or like me the Walkman one, a lot has changed in the classroom since you went to school. It’s vital that schools keep up to date with technology as everything is changing rapidly and kids need to be prepared for that world when they graduate.
Back when I was in school I don’t think that the job of data scientist existed—I know that social media specialists didn’t. Most of the children entering pre-school this year probably won’t enter the workforce until the mid-2030s. How can we prepare them for jobs that we don’t even know about yet? We need to teach them problem solving skills and encourage and empower them to innovate. And technology has a huge role to play in that.
I wonder what today’s kids would make of it if their teachers pulled out an overhead projector in class? It was a default in my childhood, but would probably look like an ancient relic to them. And the next generation of kids will probably think the same about tablets and 2D video calls. Virtual reality is already starting to appear in the classroom, and that’s opening up incredible new ways to learn.
But that’s not all, technology is also improving access to education. There are apps for just about everything and an amazing range of online learning resources. You can now take an MIT course whether you live in Cambridge, UK or Cambridge, Australia. Billions of people now have the opportunity to try new things and learn new skills: from basket weaving to advanced math. This is helping children find what Sir Ken Robinson calls their “element”—the thing that they love and are great at—and achieve their full potential.
From health to wellbeing
My reason for attending the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh event was to donate two more VGos on behalf of Verizon. These are remote-presence remote-controlled robots with cameras, microphones and video screens connected over the Verizon network. They enable the children who are patients there to attend classes or visit places virtually, while physically in the hospital or house-bound. The feedback on our previous donation was that this can make a world of difference for children with serious health conditions. It can help them to stay connected to their friends, family, classmates and others, which is great for their development and their self-confidence.
Technology can also help kids with chronic conditions. Children with diabetes can now have an insulin pump fitted that tracks their sugar level automatically, and warns them and their parents if it reaches a defined threshold. There are also intelligent teddy bears that can teach children how to manage this and other long term conditions. This can help children lead a more normal life and achieve more.
Of course, it’s not just about when things go wrong. There are also many ways that technology can benefit everyday wellbeing, including tracking fitness and monitoring vital statistics like heart rate and blood pressure. There’s even an artificial intelligence app that can help detect when a child is stressed and notify their parents that they need attention.
Equal education opportunities
There are over 4 million jobs in science and tech and that number is growing. But our youth needs access to education and resources to develop the skills needed to get these jobs and reach their potential. We need to make education, particularly in STEM subjects, better and more readily available to children regardless of their background or physical abilities.
While plenty of excellent online learning tools already exist — many of which are free, like Khan Academy — we need to do more to help give children access to them. Because how can a child take a free online course to improve their math skills if they don’t have a computer or a network connection?
At Verizon, we’re doing our part to give more children from all backgrounds, abilities, and physical abilities access to what they need to succeed. The Verizon Innovative Learning program provides free technology and immersive, hands-on learning experiences to students and teachers from disadvantaged communities across the US. This is giving children who otherwise wouldn’t have access a better chance of getting the challenging, well-paid jobs of tomorrow. I’m looking forward to seeing what they can achieve: from amazing medical advances to visiting another planet, even the sky isn’t a limit.
Collaboration, but not as you know it
by Jacob Heinz, Executive Marketing Director at Verizon Business Markets
Twitter | @jlheinz
Working with people in other offices—whether that’s the other side of the country or the other side of the world—is a reality for most of us now. It might be a distant branch, a home worker, corporate headquarters, or an overseas supplier. The pace of modern business means that we can’t wait to see people face-to-face—that would be massively expensive too—and sometimes email just doesn’t cut it.
94% say video collaboration increases productivity.
But we’ve all suffered bad online meetings, right? People scrabbling around under the table for the right cable, noisy mobile connections, the list goes on and on. Only the other day a friend was telling me how the post-merger integration project she’s been working on has been held up by problems doing something as simple as sharing a large file. She reckoned that close to half of each meeting has been wasted. It’s such a common experience that it’s been parodied many times—like in this great video.
But it doesn’t have to be like that.
Good technology isn’t a “nice to have”
We all have fantastic communication tools at our fingertips these days. Smartphone messaging and videocalling apps are now incredibly powerful and easy to use. That’s why when we—especially the millennials among us—come across outdated collaboration tools we find it so shocking.
So why are business collaboration tools still such a laughing stock? The answer is that they’re not—at least not all of them. If you’re still suffering from a bad user-experience then it’s time to upgrade. The days of hunting around for dial-in numbers, poor-quality audio or video, and cumbersome reservation systems are gone.
By 2020, the majority of the workforce will be millennials.
It’s not only staff productivity and morale that can be affected by not keeping up. If your technology is out of date then you’re going to struggle to recruit the best new talent. These days candidates aren’t just looking at your latest earnings figures, they want to know about your culture too. And if you haven’t invested in the technology that they expect, then it might be them sending the “thanks, but no thanks” email.
The answer is out there
There’s no need to put up with technology that wastes your time and gets in the way of you achieving great things. There’s no need to leave your desk, the tools available on the desktop are now pretty impressive. And it’s not just the big screen, you can do a lot on your smartphone—including sharing applications.
Services like video conferencing have become much better as connectivity and network management have improved, but some of the biggest improvements have been in the user experience:
- “Call me” services eliminate the need to scrabble around for dial-in numbers.
- Screen sharing and whiteboarding are now easier to setup and more intuitive to use.
- Instant meetings and personal meeting rooms make it a piece of cake to start an impromptu meeting.
- And capabilities are expanding all the time. Products like Microsoft Surface Hub and Google Jamboard mean that conferencing can be almost like being in the room.
So what’s holding you back?
The technology is there, but implementing it well takes skills that many businesses don’t have. And no matter how good the technology, a bad implemention can damage return on investment. That’s where a specialist IT services provider, like a Verizon partner, can add tremendous value. Their experience can help you accelerate deployment, avoid common problems and build better a better user experience.
How our use of tech is impacting learning
by Jay Coblentz, Executive Marketing Director at Verizon Business Markets
Twitter | @strategyJC
There’s rarely been a day in the last few months when I haven’t seen an article about how many jobs will be impacted or replaced by robots in the coming years. Some of the predictions may sound far-fetched, but the kids entering education now won’t be joining the workforce until approximately 2030. Think about that. By that time, I’m expecting autonomous flying cars and home 3-D printers to be widely available. We’re educating kids for a world that we can barely imagine.
But change can also bring opportunity. Technology is already transforming where, when and how we learn.
Making learning part of our daily routine
The internet has totally changed education. When I think back to how I researched projects and papers in college it seems positively antiquated. The volume of information that we all have at our fingertips now would have been mind-boggling not very long ago.
It’s not just academic information. Now when faced with a new challenge—like fixing a broken faucet or setting up a home security system (IoT, anyone?) —my first instinct is to look for an online video tutorial. Within seconds I can have the guidance I need right in the palm of my hand, almost anywhere I am.
The smartphone is also bringing learning into our everyday lives through gamification—the application of game-like ideas, like awarding points and achieving rewards, to increase motivation. It used to be that you’d have to pay a tutor or attend night school to learn a new language. Today, we’re spoiled with the range of apps available to learn this and other life skills at the pace we prefer and the location of our choosing. I can brush up on my Italian while waiting in line for my espresso fix. And because I can choose to compete with family and friends, I’m more likely to complete the course. Not that I’m competitive or anything.
Giving everybody access to greater quality education
Most of us have had at least one great teacher that inspired us. But unfortunately, not every learning experience is like that. What if every student could go to one of the greatest universities and learn from the best teachers? Many of the things that used to be a barrier in the past—like distance or money —are no longer as much of an obstacle.
Many educational institutions, including some of the best universities in the world, are already making many courses available online. This is enabling them to reach significantly more students. Online learning isn’t new, but the richness of the experience that’s now possible is incredible. Immersive video-conferencing services mean that attending online is a lot more like being there in-person, and is becoming more interactive every year. You won’t be safe from a cold call on your tablet for long.
And this is enriching peoples’ lives. Take a boy with spina bifida, for example. Attending school in the traditional sense would be impossible, but if he were home-schooled, he’d miss out on many of the important social aspects of education. With the help of technology, he is able to overcome many of those challenges by attending school virtually. Using a special robot, he can follow lessons, answer questions in class, and even chat with his friends.
In a year or two this experience could be even more immersive, as mixed reality becomes commonplace. Imagine being able to put on a headset and instantly be transported to a class given by a world-class educator. You might be in a class of thousands, but everybody could have a front-row seat. And why limit yourself to a classroom at all? There’s no reason why your class on gas giants couldn’t be held on Jupiter—virtually at least.
Of course, that means that education providers are going to have to invest in IT and recruiting technology savvy employees. In the marketplace of ideas, if they don’t embrace digital education, they risk falling behind and becoming obsolete.
Turning learning into a life-long experience
To keep pace with the changing world we’re all going to have to keep learning throughout our lives. In the past, that might have meant going on the occasional training course or being forced to sit through a tiresome computer-based training session. The compromise between quality and cost for continuing education is being reduced through technology.
Whether it’s an ad hoc team meeting or a planned training session, you can now get together with colleagues around the world without the inconvenience or expense of travel. As well as audio and video conferencing, there’s a growing range of ways to collaborate using the web. The miniaturization of devices and near ubiquity of high-quality connectivity means that an expert need never be far away.
Many manufacturers and utilities have experimented using headsets to provide workers with instant access to technical information. Some solutions even allow you to contact a fellow employee with just a tap or two. Imagine being able to have an expert right next to you, whether you’re atop a jumbo jet or servicing a pipeline a hundred miles from anywhere. That’s possible right now.
It’s a brave new world
As I think about my 5-year-old heading off to kindergarten, I’m truly excited about the future of education and learning. I’m looking forward to working with educators to discover new ways that technology, and particularly connectivity, can create better learning opportunities for everyone.
Weekly Roundup – Cloud Is Hot, Price It Right, and Find Help Online
Happy reading! How is your summer going? Do you shut down your business for a few days so everyone can take a little vacation? Or perhaps your business is at its height during the summer so your doors are opened 7 days a week?
No matter the business you are in; are your products and/or services priced right? I referenced an article not too long ago on pricing and here’s a new one.
I know in this blog we’ve talked about cloud computing or cloud services – how it can help your business. Check out this article by InformationWeek SMB that focuses on how one company is leveraging cloud computing to run its business better.
If you are looking for a money, check out this video which gives you some tips to better position yourself and your company for a loan.
Click here for a shortlist of online resources that can help your business… also check out this site from Alltop -- it has quite an extensive list of online magazines and blogs that focus on topics relevant to SMBs.
This month, our featured author is Jennifer Prosek, who will share tips on how to motivate your employees – turn them into entrepreneurs. We’ll be giving away copies of her book all this month so read our blog, follow us on Twitter or fan us on Facebook for more information.
Have a great weekend!
Weekly Roundup – New Technology To Connect With Customers and Small Biz Dad Can Win $5,000
It’s Father’s Day Weekend! I bet some businesses like restaurants probably get a nice boost in traffic during these celebrated days. Let us know if your business gets a boost at certain times throughout the year.
The big news in my book this week is the Verizon Hardest Working Small Biz Dad contest. There is still time for Verizon’s customers who are dads and run their own business to enter for the chance to win $5,000. All that is required of the entrant is the completion of the entry form and either uploading a video sharing how you manage running a business and a family or a link to a blog post describing it.
Check out these articles I found of interest this week:
Read this New York Times article about how some businesses are turning to new technology to connect with their clients. If you missed our last blog post we highlight real Verizon Wireless small business customers and how they are using technology to run their business more productively and efficiently.
This blog post doesn’t give you any tips to do anything, but it does highlight the results of a recent study with small business owners and their view on whether they are prepared for retirement. I just thought it was an interesting read and wanted to share.
Here’s a quick read (slideshow) offering six reasons why you need a mobile strategy for your business.
As online videos are on the rise learn how to create them which may help lead to more sales. P.S. I did see that Jennifer Aniston “sex tape.”
Lastly, small businesses in the LA, Orange, Ventura, San Bernandino, and Riverside counties in CA can enter the 2011 Fan’s Choice Awards for the chance to win $5,000 if your website gets the most votes. Although many small businesses have a website, there are others – like nearly 40% of small businesses – do not have a website for their business. Verizon hopes to help with this contest and to remind small businesses that there are many easy do-it-yourself website building software like Verizon Websites powered by Intuit that can help get your site up in no time.
Until next time, have a great weekend!
Are You Resolved To Step Up Tech in 2011?
We tend to talk a lot about technology, websites and social media here because you can’t get away from it in business or anywhere else it seems. But, for a small business, all the posts and webinars we’ve offered are reinforced. Take a look at this story on the 2011 tech resolutions some small businesses have made.
No secret that mobile advertising can be as important as online advertising because mobile shopping has taken off. So, you also may need to rethink your website in a way that it’s easily viewable on smartphones for your existing and potential customers. Be sure you use an easy DIY product like Verizon Websites and WebListings to get yourself online, found and to easily integrate your website into Facebook and Twitter pages.
Of course all this connectedness anywhere, anytime means you need a good social media strategy. Why are Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Yelp and their kin important? They are the new word-of-mouth. Here are 101 head-spinning statistics for you to mull over. And remember there are many social media geolocation services that can help you do some targeted advertising for your business.
So whatever you’re doing with your business this year, technology is the only way to grow!
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