The tech market: Moving from ‘tell’ to ‘listen’

The technology market is going through an amazing and unanticipated change as it adapts AI to its own needs. It’s moving from a model that favors lock-in to one in which the vendor preserves and drives choice, and where the customer strategy moves from take-it or leave-it to listening to what the customer wants and crafting custom products that the customer define.

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[Disclosure: Companies listed in this article are clients of the author.]

At Cisco’s big event this week, they launched a new processor (which I’m sure excited the chip companies), a nice new line of hardware and a new OS. But the biggest announcement – and the one least talked about – was their strategic change allowing customers to mix and match these components and create their own solutions.

They weren’t the first, on the processor side. AMD’s differentiator, for instance, was to offer semi-custom parts. They were followed by both Qualcomm and Intel, who created custom parts for Microsoft and their latest Surface X product, as well as their coming dual-screen Surface Neo offering.

Cloud providers like Amazon, Google and Microsoft have been the most aggressive in terms of providing choices that now range from a variety of platforms to a wide variety of hardware, including, recently, Quantum platforms. Choice, to a large extent, is now used by this class of company as a major competitive differentiator.

As we look across the ecosystem, this represents a major strategy change, one that moves companies from telling customers what they want to one where companies ask what their customers want and allow them to choose from alternatives.

This is potentially a much better world, but only if the customers know what they want. That’s where I think the problem and opportunity reside, because, right now, customers often don’t know what they want…and aren’t used to being asked.

Choice can be a good or a bad thing

Have you ever gone to a new restaurant that had a ton of dishes you didn’t recognize? If you’re like most folks, you’ll try to find something that looks familiar, spending extra time trying to make sure you don’t end up with something you don’t like. This is often why we go to familiar places. We already know what we want to eat, and most of us, particularly as we get older, stop experimenting because it’s ended badly in the past.

If only there was an app that knew what we liked and could scan the menu to make a recommendation!

If you provide choice but don’t provide help in making that choice, you are creating a new problem, not a new solution. The result will be more customer aggravation, not less…because customers generally aren’t skilled enough to make new choices that have historically been made for them.

The next step

That means the next step needs to be tools to help customers make these choices. Up until recently, this kind of tool would generally be a team of tech experts that would come in as part of a service and tell the customer what they needed. But this neither scaled down nor up well. Small companies couldn’t fund the effort, and large companies were so complex the effort was excessively costly and complex.

But we now have tons of data on these firms we’ve been capturing for years, and the firms have even more information on themselves. This is an ideal problem for AI because it involves lots of data, a massive variety of company sizes and industries, and lots of information on both successes and failures.

From this, a vendor could create a tool that allowed a customer to reduce significantly the number of choices they have and provide direction as to which ones best fit their industry and company. The vendor that wins on this current trend is the one that figures out how to deliver that tool along with the solution so that the customer sees the result as an advantage and not just another task they have no time for.

The complete solution

As the various technology companies begin competing to provide the greatest number of choices, it is critical that they simultaneously develop tools to simplify those choices. Humans don’t scale up or down well enough to do this, but machines can.

I believe the next big trend and technology battlefield will be supplying AI-driven solutions to help customers simplify difficult choices. The winning formula isn’t just choice. It’s choice coupled with the tools needed to optimize that choice.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
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