I hate the term ‘future-proofed’. There, I said it. I’ll admit, as the sentiment is widely understood, I’ll freely use the term with clients along with ‘digital transformation’ (that’s one for another day), but as we start H2, my mid-year resolution is to stop using this, quite frankly, ridiculous concept.
Unless you can look into a crystal ball and tell me you can see the advances of digital technology, the deep implications of Generative AI - or even more simply - the channels your customers are going to want to engage with you on, how can it be possible to fully predict the future needs of the business and your customers to truly make ‘future-proofed’ decisions?
Instead, we need to reframe how we make technology decisions and strive to become ‘future-ready’ and more adaptive organisations.
When I’m talking to clients, we often discuss solutions that are going to be in place for several years to come. Quite often these businesses have a limited understanding of their customers’ needs and I say this with the greatest sincerity, but if your digital product isn’t driving genuine one-to-one experiences informed by quality data, and you aren’t conducting regular user testing to gain qualitative feedback or running experimentation at scale, then you don’t fully know what your customers want and how their needs are ever evolving, and you’re not in the best position to rapidly adapt to their changing needs.
There are five things I think are really smart that I consistently see the highest performing businesses prioritise:
They embody a culture of experimentation
Venturebeat note that businesses who conduct CRO experience a 223% uplift in business performance. They’re not governed by hierarchy or the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion - the ‘HIPPO’ in the room. They embrace change.
Adopting experimentation is a risk. It can feel uncomfortable at first, be unpredictable at times and challenges any preconceived understanding of customer needs and product design which can be unsettling for teams. But we’ve seen this shift in mindset is possible even at more established and traditional businesses. We recently supported Mazda to embed a culture of experimentation, improving conversion rate by over 20%.
They adopt advancing technologies that can anticipate future needs
From robotics to IoT, there are many rapidly advancing technologies that are already in wide use or are on the cusp of being adopted by the mainstream. Let’s take generative AI for instance: Gartner reported that using AI to improve customer experience is the primary focus for 38% of executive leaders when it comes to investment in AI.
While it’s good to keep a pulse on new technologies, there are many proven AI tools that are evolving and are set to have an increased impact on transforming customer experience. Interestingly, a recent study from Vonage found that many customers experience frustration when interacting with brands. With customers still preferring mobile phone calls above all other engagement channels, they want these digital interactions to feel more like personal conversations but there’s still a huge technology gap in the practical implementation of conversational and voice AI.
For content heavy digital products, we’ve seen the impact content intelligence platforms such as Optimizely can deliver for our clients. Through identifying gaps in your current digital content strategy, digital teams are more empowered to make greater informed decisions to create content that delivers impact and leverage smart recommendations to deliver the next best piece of content in real-time to maximise conversion.
They make technology decisions that prioritise flexibility and connectivity
Forward-thinking organisations are opening up their tech stacks to favour headless or composable platforms such as Contentful that increase performance and agility.
There are many benefits of adopting a composable tech stack from speed and performance benefits and overcoming legacy technology issues to attracting and retaining quality developers - and not to mention the cost savings for just using the platforms, systems and infrastructure your business currently needs.
Simply, in the context of becoming a future-ready business, adopting a microservice approach and selecting an ecosystem of API-first platforms, allows for interconnectivity and importantly the ability to swap in and out various services as and when technology advances and the needs of your business and customers evolve.
They don’t get lost in the numbers
While quantitative data, AI and other forms of business intelligence are paramount in delivering a future-ready digital experience, when was the last time you consulted your customers to understand how they’re actually using your products?
It’s important to gain qualitative feedback from your users, be it testing and validating new features and interfaces throughout the development process to ensure you’re prioritising building the right things for the right reasons. We’re strong believers in regularly interviewing your customers post-launch and love using customer testing and analytics tools like UserZoom and Contentsquare to gain a deeper understanding of how users are interacting with a product and see where their frustration points are to fuel how we can overcome these blockers.
They move quickly with decisions
Products can and should evolve and improve over time. There’s an argument to launch a new product as soon as it is viable to do so; create an MVP of sorts (another term that’s up there with my list of pet peeves).
However, the premise of creating a product that serves at least 80% of the needs of your customer and your business objectives - especially when your competitors are hot on your heels - isn’t a bad idea. Look at platforms like LinkedIn. The product launched 20 years ago with a mission to connect with new, like-minded professionals. Fast forward a year, and new functionality to connect with existing contacts through a new feature to upload your address book was added. By 2012, LinkedIn’s focus was on simplifying the interface and feature set of the platform to make the product better suited to everyday use.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen businesses delay making decisions or spent too long worrying about small details that have impacted their speed to market and effectiveness. Inactivity can be one of the greatest barriers to success.
Now, I’m not suggesting the successful launch of a new product doesn’t have to be well considered and I do truly understand the importance the impact of an initial product launch has, but launching a new or updated product should be the first step in the evolution of a fresh product, not the end game.
So let’s make a pact going forward to strive to make future-ready not future-proofed decisions - be open to testing and experimentation and aim to create products that are flexible and open so that when we are clearer on exactly what the future holds, we’re in the best possible position to pivot and adapt.