The way in which we interact with technology has changed dramatically over the past few years. The era of light computing has begun, and social media is big enough that the average person can shape perceptions. A Web site is no longer the most meaningful way for us to interact to tell companies about their products or to use online services.
Smartphones are selling in droves, and people are using apps rather than visiting Web sites for everything from buying movie tickets to checking stocks. At any given time, it is likely that conversations about big businesses are happening on Facebook, Twitter and other social media, and those conversations can be initiated by anyone from anywhere.
What’s more, smartphones have become more affordable, as economies are scale are reached and competition heats up among platforms.
Developers are focusing on Android and the iPhone, which provide excellent tools for writing apps. Microsoft is reinvesting in Windows Mobile in a big way, Symbian has become open source, and an industry effort has begun to deliver standardized Web apps that work across platforms.
The momentum of smartphones has become irreversible, and so has the resulting change in consumer behavior. I use a Twitter app to tweet on my iPhone instead of logging into the Twitter Web site. If I’m in a rush, I’ll buy movie tickets with Fandango’s app– it’s a lot easier than zooming in to see the tiny buttons and fields on its Web site.
Web sites don’t cut it functionally, nor are they longer the best way for businesses to reach people on the Web. A mobile Web site is not the answer either, and here’s why –they limit imagination, and hence the potential to interact with customers.
One of the top selling iPhone apps is “I Am T-Pain.” T-Pain is a musician who is famous for using the auto-tune to distort his voice. The app lets people sing into their iPhones so that their voice sounds like his. A Web site gives T-Pain a presence on the Internet, but it couldn’t offer T-Pain the same recognition that his app provides.
It is also shortsighted for businesses to assume that a Web site will offer a clear picture of customers’ desires, or that the world’s greatest experts on your products are working for it. Sometimes we know better as consumers. Businesses can’t and should not prevent it from happening, but they can join the dialog.
Social CRM is an emerging discipline that recognizes that the traditional two-way channel of communication between business and customer should include interactions among customers themselves. Numerous start ups including Bantam Live and established vendors such as Salesforce offer solutions to make that possible.
Good luck having that same interaction on a company’s Web site. It likely won’t happen in corporate-run forums. Companies including Comcast recognize this, and have begun to address customers through Twitter. We can only hope that they are really listening.
How people access information is changing. It’s time for businesses to think big while thinking small to provide us with the best possible service.