A version of this article appeared at Inc.com
Last week I canceled my cable service (well, I initiated the process of canceling it – that’s a whole different story…). Why? Because I happened to purchase a new TV, and the remote has two big, colorful buttons, one that fires up my account at Netflix, and the other which does the same for Amazon Prime.
After just one week of use, I realized how frequently I went straight to one of those two options (or to Hulu, now just two button pushes away), and how little actual cable TV I watch – and that most of even that paltry amount was available through one of the streaming options.
Also in the last few months, the amount my company spends on a local car service for airport transfers has halved. Why? Because a shiny bright button on my cellphone (marked ‘Uber’) brings a car to me near-instantly, with real-time tracking, payment and gratuity all accounted for, and, more importantly, without having to laboriously enter a bunch of info on an online form or hang on the phone while someone writes it all down (I know, I know, #FirstWorldProblems, but you get the point).
In the middle of last year, I was so steamed with my bank I was prepared to go through the endless bureaucratic rigmarole of moving my banking to one of their competitors, when a shiny new button appeared on their mobile app marked ‘Deposit’. One scan of an endorsed check later, and I was completely won over. No more trips to the local branch to feed a small piece of dead tree into a machine – bliss.
None of this is exactly news – the app-ification of our lives has been in full flow for almost a decade – but what is new (and important) is the degree to which omnipresence and ubiquity is now impacting consumer choices. I decide I don’t need cable because I’m handed something that makes streaming so easy. I discover I don’t need an account with a ‘call-and-book-ahead’ car service because Uber (or Lyft, or whoever) is now pretty much ubiquitous. I don’t move to a competing bank because a (for me) tiresome task is turned into a finger-swipe.
Why has this shift happened from ‘Oh, look at the pretty app’ to true market disruption? Because of the compression that has occurred between contact and consumption. Blockbuster had a pretty app, but it only allowed you to order a DVD, which you then had to wait for. Netflix’s button starts the movie playing. My car service has an online app, but it only lets me enter data and make a reservation. Uber’s button sends the car. My bank’s competitor has a nice app, but it’s essentially an online statement. The ‘deposit’ app (together with online bill pay) lets me access and change my bank balance in real time.
Amazon is pursuing much the same strategy. Having just moved house, the one remarkable difference from when I did the same thing eight years ago is that this time, if I found I was short a set of towels, or a cheese grater, or a settee throw, I could spend literally five minutes online and have the missing item delivered, often the very next day. No schlepping to the mall, only to return and discover that I also needed new cushion covers – just flip up the clamshell and add it to the last order. And Jeff Bezos’ much-laughed at ‘drone’ announcement? That’s just the logical next step in Amazon’s (and Netflix’s, and Uber’s) ‘press the button and get it’ strategy. Contact and consumption, compressed as tightly as possible.
I’m not suggesting that we all need to app-ify our businesses – my local plumber, a splendid small, local company, performed wonderfully for me last week, and the fridge magnet Tyler gave me on the way out the door is probably all I need for when I next have a backed-up drain – but I do think we all must ask this question:
Is there any way your nightmare competitor can app-ify their business? Is there any way they can become ubiquitous, easily found when needed and right there when you’re not?
Put simply, is there any way your competitor can put a metaphorical remote in the hand of your customer with a ‘press for me’ button on it? If there is any way for them to do that, then they become Netflix, and you become cable.
The answer? Get there ahead of them. If you’re playing catch-up, it’s too late. You need to know answers to questions like these:
– What are our customers doing when they most have a need for what we offer?
– Where are they at that point, physically?
– What do they have access to that would enable them to communicate with us, simply and easily?
– What can we provide them with that will take the friction out of contacting us?
– How much can we connect the act of contacting us to the act of consuming our products or services?