Forrester’s “Age of the Customer”

October 28, 2014

Forrester Research, which keeps tabs on roughly 85% of the global GDP, thinks we’re at the beginning of a new 20-year business cycle that they call “The Age of the Customer.” CEO George Colony presented their findings at a compelling keynote at the DreamForce Conference in San Francisco this month.

Forrester sees a broad, systemic shift in capital models pivoting towards serving a newly empowered generation of customers that have the ability to price, critique and purchase anytime, anywhere. Much of this has to do with the explosion of mobile subscriptions, whose number is set to outpace the actual global population by the end of the year. But there are a number of generational trends to consider as well.

These include some obvious ones:

Generation Y spends 14% more time on the Internet than Generation X, as well as 114% more time gaming (games are set to become a dominant platform for all sorts of related industries including advertising and education).

And some that are not so obvious:

Generation Y spends 30% more time listening to the radio (online & off) than Generation X, and 38% more time reading newspapers (online & off). Engaged content consumption isn’t lagging by any means, it’s just shifting to on-demand digital platforms.

Here’s how Forrester defines the new customer mindset:

‘The expectation that any desired information or service is available, on any appropriate device, in context, at your moment of need.”

Forrester’s shorthand for this is the Mobile Moment. We call it the Subscription Experience.

Companies that can orient themselves quickly towards this mindset – particularly in fields like connected devices, digital media and cloud-based enterprise solutions – will succeed. Look at the recent news from HBO,  Autodesk and YouTube. Companies that can’t make the pivot in time (and we’re already seeing this in a lot of legacy tech companies right now) will have problems.

Forrester sees a shift in priorities and resources from traditional IT systems of record towards more marketing-oriented systems of engagement, or what we like to call Relationship Business Management. We’ve written an extensive Academy Guide on this topic, but it’s predicated on the ability to acquire and nurture new customers that favor ongoing services over product ownership.

Of course, every company considers themselves to be customer-centric. No one knows who coined the phrase “the customer is always right,” but it dates to the late 19th century department-store pioneers like Harry Gordon Selfridge and Marshall Field. It was a novel concept at the time (displacing a prevailing general retail attitude of caveat emptor), but today it’s self-evident to the point of sounding trite.

Prescriptive strategies built around customer focus are pointless if they don’t incorporate a descriptive understanding of the mindset of the customer herself. We think that we’re at the beginning of a broad, sweeping shift in commercial and enterprise consumption habits. Forrester seems to agree.