An Amazon Alexa-enabled microwave, smart refrigerators, smart cars – behold the Internet of Things(IoT) and the many promises of “5G.” The common cynic asks, “Are we really getting so lazy we have to speak at our microwave instead of pressing a button?” The deep cynic says, “Once Amazon knows my popcorn consuming habits, what are they going to do with that information? Automatic grocery delivery sounds OK, but will they tell my insurance company about my love for movie theater butter?” In our good/bad/cool/terrifying/1984/Brave New World future, things are going to look different. For now, professional services seem fairly well removed, but what should we be doing to prepare for when they’re not?
The “smarter” our stuff gets, the more our collective expectations will shift in that direction. Just think of the “magic” that happens when we start up our car or unlock our phones with our thumbprint. These shortcuts end up being taken for granted almost as fast as the first time we say, “Wow! That’s pretty cool.” Convenience is a force of nature. We can call this rising waterline the smartline. It’s where smart technology bumps into something only an expert can do.
WebMD, Turbo Tax, Betterment, and countless other software versions of professional services are currently straddling the smartline. They’re magically convenient, but they still choke on complexity. In time, they threaten to keep getting smarter. The smartline is rising. Below it is the table stakes for professionals – where we had better be able to do basic diagnostics, accounting, and account rebalancing, respectively, at a very low cost. Above it are the opportunities where our expert services are the drivers of our perceived value creation.
Staying above the smartline is step one. Staying above the rest of our competition is step two. This requires we shift our mindset from just doing to understanding how people feel. Amazon may understand our transactional consumption habits regarding popcorn, but our relationship with the buttery stuff is much more complex. We have to understand what aspects of value are transactional (because these can be automated) vs. those that relational (because these still require a human).
Thinking relationally about what we’re doing is the successful professional’s future. Let microwaves be smart about transactions, professionals need to be smart at understanding the underlying emotions of our client’s wants, needs, and desires. With this information in hand, we can incorporate our story seamlessly into how they feel. To have a seat at the table we have to be able to compete, but not define, our value on transactional terms. To win, we’ll need to play our game relationally, and that takes deeply understanding the roles we play in the stories our clients tell themselves. The stories determine the outcomes.
All jobs are marketing jobs, now more than ever. Stay above the smartline.
ps. this exists in every industry and the opportunities are HUGE. Check this article on IoT in healthcare out as an example (“IoT use in healthcare grows but has some pitfalls“). Seeing the rising smartline between transactional services and relational experiences means seeing where and how to create value.