Specialized Systems for Non-Specialist Users

What Is It?

Consumerization is the adaptation of specialized systems to meet the needs of casual users. As consumers, we can appreciate how computers, mobile phones, and countless other innovations have evolved from their early heavy-duty forms into the familiar tools we rely upon every day. As customer experience leaders, it’s important that we understand the mechanics of the consumerization process and apply it in satisfying customers’ needs.

Consumerization has been at work for decades, shaping our digital age by upending traditional value chains and facilitating the transfer of capabilities from one market to another. Sociologist E.M. Rogers gave voice to this phenomenon in his book “Diffusion of Innovations,” published in 1962. In his view, innovations were carried across a community based on several factors – the disruptiveness of the innovation, available means of communication, time, and other social and cultural conditions.1 In 1994, Geoffrey Moore built upon Rogers’ ideas in his marketing classic “Crossing the Chasm.” Moore explored the role of visionaries and early adopters in promoting product adoption among the more pragmatic and skeptical (yet potentially lucrative) majority.2

This innovation conveyor is alive and well. Today’s consumerized digital experiences often achieve success by incorporating social, mobile, and cloud technologies to appeal to consumers’ increasingly heightened expectations. Such features help to humanize and simplify complex capabilities, making them more accessible and marketable.

Why Is Consumerization so Essential Now?

With the widespread saturation of digital, consumerization has reached critical mass. Consumers expect technology to work intuitively, regardless of its underlying complexity. Hard-to-use or irrelevant technologies are rejected quickly, so today’s innovators borrow freely from predecessors and reach across boundaries to apply ingrained consumer habits and industry standards to shape new solutions. So do consumers, as they exploit the replaceable nature of digital and port their expectations from brand to brand, unaware or unconcerned with industry boundaries.

In 2005, Gartner pronounced it “the most significant trend affecting IT in the next 10 years,” and thus consumerization went on to spur the broad adoption of consumer devices and software in the workplace.3 Today, entire industries such as healthcare, banking, insurance, and business-to-business (B2B) sales are being rewired around customers and end users. Experiences in these sectors are becoming more consumer-like: channelless, mobile, more visually oriented, and replete with easy-to-use features that maximize personalization, touch interactivity, and natural language search.

For digital laggards in more naturally customer-centric industries like retail, consumerization has shifted the power of choice to consumers decisively and completely, bringing a disruptive brand of innovation that’s rewriting the rules. But now leaders in every industry must decide how they will invest in the consumerizing capabilities that customers demand.

B2B consumers expect that the brand experiences they encounter in their professional lives will have the same sophistication and consistency as those they experience in their personal lives.⁴

How Does It Work?

Savvy innovators leverage the power of consumerization by first observing what works in domains outside of their own, then adapting those successes to address their own challenges. They look for adjacent innovations with the potential for broader application, adopting features from one market to create a new product or improve an existing one.

We often talk with clients about the distinctions between disruptive innovation (revolutionary) and sustaining innovation (evolutionary). Both are necessary. The key is to strike a balance in developing a portfolio of innovations that span the spectrum. That balance depends on many factors, including the rate of change in your industry, your competitive position and your customers’ desire and ability to adopt new ways of engaging with your brand.

Who's Done It Well?

Oregon-based Umpqua Bank recently incorporated a concept from well outside its industry into its new Go-To app. Borrowing the familiar directional-swipe interaction from dating app Tinder, Go-To allows customers to browse Umpqua banker profiles and review professional backgrounds, expertise, locations and personal interests. Then they can choose the dedicated personal banker they like the best.5

Umpqua could have solved this problem in a more conventional way, but the bank understood the impact that the Tinder swipe could have on its audiences. Adopting a function that has achieved acceptance among its target audiences was, for Umpqua, a way to reduce the cognitive burden that often accompanies newly introduced capabilities.

Where Can You Start?

Knowing your customers’ wants and needs is a must in the search for consumerization opportunities.

To get started:

1. Create journey maps to identify customer pain points

2. Scan the landscape to identify analogous solutions that could be adapted and applied to your customers’ challenges (B2B leaders should steal liberally from the B2C playbook)

3. Use these same precursors to inspire ideation, tell stories about your own future, and appeal to early adopters

Begin by mapping the customer journey, uncovering pain points and opportunities across their interactions with your brand. Then widen your inquiry to learn from your customers as they interact with brands well outside your industry. How do they address problems similar to the ones you’re attempting to solve? How do they interact with those to which they are the most loyal? Say you’re in the medical device leasing business. What might you learn from studying emerging innovations in online car rental? Or from Airbnb, or even Rent the Runway?

We facilitate this process for clients using our Now/New/Next model. Now/New/Next reveals how other brands address user needs and provides guidance for how you can do the same. The framework categorizes features based on prevalence (a proxy for customer expectation) and suggests the level of priority leadership should commit in developing comparable capabilities for you brand. 

Once you have an idea for the consumerized experiences you want to create, it’s time to get the rest of your organization on board. Use precursors, analogies, and success stories to prove how adjacent solutions might be adapted. Identify early adopters who can help secure early wins and gain a foothold among broader audiences. These steps are key to socializing your vision and paving the way for investment and adoption. By understanding the drivers of consumerization, switched-on innovation leaders can more fully reap the benefits of today’s customer era.

Ready to Begin Your Story?