2014 has been the first full year of my current job. It's been a time of rapid change, not just for me, but for the tech industry as a whole. Wearable technology, for example, started to make its mark, cloud computing became the norm and software defined became a hot-topic. Most of these trends were driven by consumer behaviour and the enormous changes that have occurred in the relationship between customers and organisations over the past few years. The impact of these changes will become unavoidable in 2015, making it - I believe - the year of the customer. Consumers will continue to gain power, forcing companies that haven't caught on yet to adapt rapidly. Here are a few examples:
In the past couple of years, consumers have become accustomed to watching and communicating via video. The annual Ofcom Communications Report showed that for the first time, parents are watching more TV than their children, as younger generations switch to YouTube and catch-up services. When it comes to engaging with brands, research shows that Generation Y typically prefer not to use the phone, while Generation Z shies away from email too, making video often Millennials' first-choice communication method. With every passing year more Millennials are joining the workforce and I believe that in 2015, their growing spending power will continue to fuel this trend and companies will respond by offering more video chat to their customers. A new technology called WebRTC is making it possible for consumers to use video directly through a web or mobile browser, without the need to download video-conferencing software. For example, imagine how easy it would be if when you had a question during the check-out process about delivery costs, you could just click a button and be instantly connected to a video call with a customer service rep, instead of abandoning your basket, having to go back to a different page to find a FAQ section or waiting for a webchat question to be answered. Innovations like this, coupled with consumer demand, will really drive the use of video in customer service next year.
As we approach the end of 2014, there are more than 1.3 billion active Facebook users and 280 million Twitter accounts, creating billions of conversations daily. Reflecting this, social media engagement between companies and their customers seems to have become a numbers game as businesses have focused on growing the size of their following. However for consumers, just following a company or being 'friends' with it, does not mean they necessarily feel strong loyalty or will make a purchase. Consumer-brand social media engagement is likely to shift to a quality first approach, as companies try to woo us consumers into not just 'liking' them, but making actual purchases. For customers this should also mean a better overall experience when they deal with these organisations as social media should feed seamlessly into other methods of company-customer communication.
This year wearable device launches have continued to gain momentum, from the hype around the iWatch announcement to test-case uses in healthcare. Wearables provide a fresh means for consumers to interface with brands who, in turn, can offer a whole new level of customer engagement. I believe we will start to see an increasing number of organisations offering customers the ability to interact with them via their wearable devices. For example, banks might offer video chat via Google Glass or another wearable device to customers who are having trouble using an ATM.
Moving into 2015, as customers continue to take centre stage they will be able to engage with brands in myriad ways, from video and social media to wearables and good old phone and email. The companies that are able to do this in the most unified, yet interesting way, will be the ones that consumers purchase from next year.