“We see a shift from flashy status symbols (watches, handbags, etc.) to practical expressions of self (hybrids, startup t-shirts). At the same time, younger generations’ discretionary spending is fueling a transition from an economy based on ownership of goods to one of experiences via services.
We see a shift from flashy status symbols (watches, handbags, etc.) to practical expressions of self (hybrids, startup t-shirts). There’s a new breed of affluence born from the entrepreneurial culture that is redefining luxury.
An underlying theme in both of these transitions is the redefining of value: a perception of prestige that is not solely focused monetary worth, but is instead based on time, durability, origin, and environmental impact. This prioritizes the meaning behind a product or service.
When buyers come to resent the constant nag inherent to conventional, in-your-face technology, they seek out products that operate discreetly, valuing our time and integrating seamlessly with the activities they’re enhancing. Invisible technology is our new luxury.
There is a tremendous opportunity for companies to take advantage of this by rethinking products. Rather than sticking another screen into our environment, embed technology into devices, vehicles, and environments.
What Does This “Invisible Technology” Look Like?
It’s hidden behind physical buttons and controls, or buried deep inside products and services, working behind-the-scenes to enhance our lives, subtly. It doesn’t demand our attention except when absolutely necessary. It aspires to consistently and reliably deliver value without seeking praise. Think of Google search or Nest.
As technology enters our homes we expect it to feel more personalized, evolving its role from a standalone product into a service mentality. This not only manifests through the customer-facing touch points but also drastically affects an organization and its strategic considerations. Take the connected home for example; an increasing number of automated solutions are available, yet many are destined to become obsolete (eventually residing in the drawer next to last year’s wearable wristband) due to a narrow product lens. The few living up to the hype, such as Nest, create value by modernizing a household while providing services that reinvent our relationship with temperature control. A strategic objective of their thermostat is to actually play a less noticeable role in our lives. While the intelligence baked in the app and hardware is busy gathering insights and predictively responding to emergent needs, it’s regarded as more useful the less we need to adjust it. Conserving energy and saving a few bucks each month are pleasant byproducts, but the service doesn’t inherently burden us with these incentives and instead silently controls temperature. Less really is more when it comes to invisible technology.
It’s often more challenging to take this humble approach toward customer engagement; companies instead try to inject themselves into our lives with tireless push notifications, alerts, or promotional emails. A more enlightened organization aspires to integrate technology organically, by creating an environment that compliments our everyday experiences in a seemingly transparent manner.
How does one create an environment of “invisible technology”? Start by gaining a more complete understanding of all the facets that enable a product or service to operate. Break down any complexity by mapping each conversation that needs to take place between people and machines for the service to work well. This often exposes overlooked transactions and opportunities for technology to bridge disjointed moments. In order to craft the illusion of transparency, it’s essential that the underlying infrastructure function smoothly and efficiently. It’s Google’s robust search engine, server capabilities, and years of aggregating data that enables a graceful omni-channel digital experience we’ve come to expect from their services. Having a holistic perspective of the many instances that we could engage with a product naturally lends itself towards designing a more cohesive service, shifting the customer relationship from siloed interactions to a seamless dialogue.
The Value of Neglect: The Humble Crockpot
Thinking about connected objects as services not only increases the likelihood of superior experiences, it can also uncovers overlooked scenarios where creative technology solutions can differentiate. For instance, what do our connected home products do when we’re not at home? Maybe they should take a cue from the humble crockpot: it’s in a league of its own by consistently delivering upon the promise of a flavor-fused, ready to eat meal when you walk in the door. Beyond initially adding the ingredients, it expects no involvement and performs its labor of love in solidarity. This no-frills function is further enhanced with newer models that turn themselves off automatically, and in a not-so-distant future when they’re connected, might even adapt their temperature based on how close you are to home. Addressing the empty house situation encourages a fresh perspective, creating experiences that bring value in unique ways.
Similarly, products that manage themselves independently also should become the norm. Truly intelligent products will remove the IT admin burden from the user altogether. They should identify useful tasks such as updating firmware that might be disruptive or hinder performance and plan for those to occur during ‘off-hours’.
Although counterintuitive, organizations can extend their longevity by creating products that can be neglected. Contrary to metrics that quantify success by tracking the amount of time engaged with a product, the future of connectivity demands integrated solutions that deliver sustainable value rather than short-lived wins. What if success was measured as a reduction of users’ stress? Or a decrease of time engaged? Companies shouldn’t just ask how their products can be more efficient for customers; they should champion solutions that save customers’ time without the need to engage with the product at all.
Finally, while it’s unrealistic for technology to disappear all together, we can ensure the critical moments when interaction becomes necessary are concise and pleasant. This means not nagging for surveys, barraging users with alerts, or self-promotional emails. It can be as simple as 24/7 help chat and understandable feedback to recover from errors.
The key for some tech players to stand out from the competition ironically lies within the ability to blend in with their surroundings, to become invisible.”