As I write this nearly a full month into 2015, I can't help but reflect on our progression from a business-first to a customer-centric society. In today's world where tweeting good and bad customer service seems to be a treasured national pastime now, every consumer is aware of the power they hold and every company is now a customer-focused business. It's nearly impossible to remember a time when someone would contact a business and not receive an answer for days, if not weeks or months. That just doesn't happen anymore, and as a consumer, I have to say I enjoy that transformation.
There is no denying that social media and advances in mobile technology have been the main contributors to this phenomenon, and it would be easy to just leave it there. However, I think there's actually more to it: I believe that start-ups and the rise of small business culture have also had an important, and often ignored, role in our customer-first psyche.
There's some good support for this thesis. We have recently witnessed unprecedented levels of growth among start-ups as the sector became a major contributor to the economy. In November, Vince Cable announced £50m funding for start-ups with innovative science and technology ideas, which is further boosting a sector that already has several high-profile growth enhancement programmes like TechCity's Future Fifty and Salesforce's Innovation Challenge.
StartUp Britain reported a record 581,173 new businesses for 2014, markedly higher than 2013 and 2012, and there's every chance that number will grow in 2015. They're rapidly hiring people who are choosing these exciting companies over traditional blue-chip corporates as their employers of choice, creating continued buzz and momentum around this sector - and bringing their ideals for great products and great service to life.
Start-ups succeed not just because they are based on a good idea, but also because the entrepreneurs behind them are passionate about delivering excellent customer service and driving unparalleled customer loyalty. Word-of-mouth is still the best way to grow a business, and with social media, there's never been a better time to encourage people to share their strongly positive experiences widely. Each customer can influence tens, even hundreds of people nearly effortlessly. So startups, and smaller businesses, put customer service as their priority - and the result is positive both for the business and for the customer.
What's more, for many start-ups as they grow the customer experience they provide becomes their main differentiator, setting them apart from larger companies who are later to the customer-first focus. For this reason customer service often matters more to small businesses than it does to their enterprise cousins. Even for businesses that are larger and more embedded, the prevalence of "watchers" makes it a lot harder to hide behind bad service. No one wants to be on a "shame" list. And that's driving more customer focus into larger enterprises too.
As customers of start-ups and small companies, we all benefit hugely from this customer service focus. Isn't one of the reasons we buy from these small and even tiny companies precisely because we like the personalised service we receive? With such a large and fast growing small business sector, it is likely that this customer-first attitude will rub off on large enterprises and consumers alike, contributing to our customer centric psyche.
Our focus on the customer is not waning; I believe that new technologies like analytics, wearables and mobility are making customer centricity even more central to our society. Combine that with the strong start-up growth that's been predicted and as consumers, we'll have a very positive customer experience this year.