It may be hard to believe, particularly for those under-30 years of age, but there was a time in the not-too-distant past, that we all lived in a world where the daily reality included:
- Only one phone company—not so affectionately known as ‘Ma Bell’; and a time when placing a long distance call was often an exceptionally expensive thing to do
- A grand total of three network choices proffered for TV viewing
- The need to be in front of your TV screen, at a designated time—or else risk missing a favorite program
- A world in which would-be photographers had to purchase a camera, then film, and then bring that film to a third party–and wait to get it developed
- And a world in which job seekers had to manually search through the “Help Wanted” ads in their local newspaper
There are many other illustrations of the changing times, but I think you get the point.
In ways almost too numerous to count, the business world of 2015 bares almost no similarity to the one that existed as recently as 20 years ago. Of course, technology is–and remains–the main driver for the majority of the changes in the way business is conducted today; however, technology has also resulted in one other significant trend within the business world.
The personalization of goods and services.
One of the most significant changes that technology has both caused–and enabled–has been demand for personalized products and services. Today, it is virtually impossible for any member of the ‘millennial generation’ to conceive of a time when it was the norm for everyone to have the same choices—or in some cases, no choices at all—in everything from telephones to televised entertainment.
In addition, in the era of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media, the ability to interchange ideas and images with anyone, anywhere at anytime is now a given. And implicit in that fact is the ability for consumers to create, share and enjoy personalized communication and entertainment on a 24/7 basis.
Many successful businesses—including our own Sackett National Holdings and its subsidiaries—have long touted a commitment to individualized customer service. We’ve long recognized that while a ‘one size fits all’ approach to servicing our clients might make our business model simpler and more uniform, it would also be tantamount to telling customers they’re just ‘another numerical file’; were we to be foolish enough to adapt such a view, the resulting loss of business would be both predictable, and appropriate.
For us, that was always the case.
However, halfway through the second decade of the new millennium, clients (be they consumers or businesses) now not only appreciate–but expect–to receive products and services designed to meet their individual needs. As I’ve noted in previous columns, the Internet means that customers have a wider array of choices than ever before, and easier access to that plethora of available choices.
Still, even at this late date, some industries are just now awakening to this new reality. Take, for example, the cable television industry.
It’s estimated that more that $70 billion is spent annually on TV advertising. That’s an impressive figure. However, it may also be deceptive.
One of the latest buzzwords within the business world is “cord-cutting”, which references a rapidly growing consumer willingness to walk away from ‘bundled’ programming packages offered by the cable TV industry in favor of, you guessed it, more personalized options.
For decades, cable companies—who have near complete domination of their assigned regions due to lack of competition—have been able to ‘bundle’ dozens of channels, and sell those packages to their customers. Other than opting for satellite television, consumers were left with little or no choice: pay for channels you have no intention of watching, in order to get access to those you will, or walk away from your favorite program or network.
That was then, this is now—and ‘now’ is the age of the Internet. As a result of new technology, a rapidly growing number of TV consumers are cutting their proverbial cable cords—ergo, the phrase ‘cord-cutting’–and seeking alternatives to the expensive cable option; after all, in any business other than cable television, the notion of customers paying for goods or services they know they will never use would be—correctly–seen as patently absurd.
And there is good reason for the cable companies growing concern over a diminishing customer base—as seen in the rapid growth of the alternative option to cable TV. Web video advertising is slated to grow by an impressive 30 percent this year, and while it is valued at about $8 billion dollar (a fraction of the giant cable market), unlike cable, all of the indicating arrows for web-based advertising point upward.
This new era of personalized consumer demand is, perhaps correctly, being seen in historical terms as one of great narcissism. From ‘selfie sticks’ to Twitter—and for better or worse–the primary focus of this era seems to be pleasing the face we see in our mirrors.
However, the bottom line is that businesses failing to provide the quality, personalized goods and services expected by today’s demanding consumers do so at their peril–and risk learning first-hand the economic consequences of customer ‘cord-cutting’.