By Dennis K. Bergman, Linkedin
Americans increasingly are becoming their own bank tellers, loan officers, insurance adjusters, checkout clerks, restaurant order takers, citrus-crop inspectors and mall concierges."
The wonders (or perils) of the modern smartphone app mean that work -- from the menial to the substantive -- can be distributed without regard to time, location, or any other host of barriers. Remember those days when you would have to have a camera in your car to get a photograph of an accident scene? Well, we all have cameras in our cars now. They're actually in our pockets.
Simply put: Our perception of what it means to be a customer is changing. It's not just about being served, in the old-fashioned way of the chirpy, white-capped gas-station attendant, but rather being part of a process, in which company and customer take on tasks together.
Customers care less about structure and titles, and more about results, provided there is some real or perceived benefit in the exchange. Consider it a benign jujitsu, using my customer's energy for my own benefit.
Here is another line from the WSJ story:
"First Financial Credit Union, in Chicago, recently added a feature to its app that lets customers sign loan documents via a phone or tablet's touch screen, eliminating the need to go into a branch to close a loan. Chief Executive Patrick Bassler said the credit union wrote 287 loans in November, the month the feature was introduced. That was more than double the monthly average, and the bank didn't have to add a single temporary or permanent employee."
What a bounty, indeed. Can you imagine the cost savings of reducing, say, 25% of your insurance adjusters or waiters? And what if customers also got more accurate orders, or more timely insurance checks in the bargain?
Of course, it's never that simple. Perhaps an iPad is not as good at selling the $3.00 soft dring as the warm and welcoming waiter. And maybe customers make crummy workers when the incentives start to decay.
But the arc of history teaches us that the company-customer pas de deux has only just begun to change. As it begins, it seems worth thinking about three things:
1. How can I use app technology to make things better for my customers first — and my business second.
2. Can I afford not to play in this game? What expectations are my competitors creating?
3. Am I ready to be in the "technology business" -- willing to invest to continually adapt their content and platform? (In the faded days of...six months ago, it was easy to design for the iPad only. That's rapidly changing as alternatives proliferate.)
Apps really are reordering the jobs landscape in so many ways.