A couple of years ago I saw Adam Morgan talk at the APG conference about 'Strategy in the Age of the Unreasonable Consumer', a keynote in which he described how rapidly consumer expectations are shifting for digital-based services. As soon as we're spoilt by a seamlessly intuitive, smartly designed, on-demand customer experience like Amazon one-click, we want and expect everything to be like that (Adam talked about 'Uber's Children' - and thinking about how quickly consumer expectation can change I'm reminded of that 'Everything is amazing and no-one's happy' Louis CK clip).
And seeing as how just about everything now is becoming a service, that changes the rules for who we're benchmarked against in customer's minds. If I can renew my car tax online so easily, why is it so cumbersome to change a standing order online with my bank? If I can see realtime how far my taxi driver is away from me, why am I waiting in at home not knowing when my package will arrive? So whilst service design has become a real differentiator and driver of advantage, the competitive context for brands has also become far broader and consumer expectations far more challenging to address.
At the time, Tim Malbon wrote a follow up to Adam's talk in which he also talked about the effect that even small irritations can have on our perception of an entire service or a brand, meaning that '...innovation now needs to be continuous, and the only game in town is transformational...there’s no point in being second any more'. As Russell Davies has put it, usability trumps persuasion - parity products with marketing just don't cut it anymore.
But whilst digital-native businesses long schooled in great service design more naturally put usability first, I think we're about to enter a whole new era of challenge for brands and businesses that are still playing catch up. One of the six accelerants of the AI boom that Azeem Azhar describes (and which I came across in the pre-reading to the Google Firestarters on AI - originally an observation from Barney Pell) is AI lock-in - the idea that once AI starts to confer an advantage to a particular business and becomes central to product and commercial success in an increasing number of categories, investment in AI increases further and creates lock-in. Soon, you simply cannot compete without world-class AI. With GAFA investing so heavily in AI driven services right now (Facebook M, Google Now, Siri, Amazon Alexa and Echo), even with opening up to third party developers, the prospect of AI lock-in and further disintermediation is all too real.