As we all know – and experience on a daily basis – our world is constantly changing and disruption may very well be regarded as the new constant.
In order to be “fit” for the future then, we need to maintain a clear overview of the trends developing around us. In a business context this means being able to anticipate upcoming changes as well as what customers will want next. This helps us to better evaluate relevant technologies and business models, and manage the connected implications.
Understanding trends helps us to predict associated shifts in consumer expectations and optimize our services to match these. Experiences form expectations and expectations can be seen as one answer to anticipating future customer needs. These expectations may be set outside of our industry, by the best in class in regards to quality, service, customer experience, or price. Everyone competes with this idea of “the best” whether across countries, industries or throughout the value chain, and staying on top of the game is essential.
Below, we take you on a quick tour of the four most hard-hitting trends of 2018. At the heart of every trend lies digitalization – this goes hand in hand with change, presenting both opportunities and challenges along the way. And while no one can be certain what 2019 holds in store, digitalization is definitely here to stay.
Trend #1: A is for Automation
Consumers have become accustomed to e-commerce and m-commerce (mobile commerce) and are standing by for the next big thing in commerce – automation. They are starting to explore outsourcing selected buying and retail experiences to algorithms and smart devices/CEDs. After all, they’re busy with more important things and welcome any time savers: services that help to meet needs in advance, outsource boring chores, or simply enable frictionless trade.
Drivers for this trend are consumers’ familiarity with subscription services and smart home device penetration. This goes hand-in-hand with the increased use of digital virtual assistants, as well as the growing power of artificial intelligence and automation.
When analyzing the links between the customer, your product and our raw materials, automated commerce is expected to impact every link along this value chain. The former differentiators for in-store retail experiences – such as assistance or advice from experts – are shifting quickly: today we see multiple smart home devices guiding users, providing advice online and being coupled with (automated) online shopping. This automation brings heightened expectations of convenience for every customer, in B2C and B2B alike.
At Covestro, we’ve already begun adapting our sales platforms to meet these expectations and will continue to implement features that bring added value when buying and selling chemicals in a faster-moving, more flexible and personalized commerce environment.
Trend #2: Digital companions
The above-mentioned increased use of digital virtual assistants also powers our second highlighted trend: virtual objects surging from assistants to ‘true’ companions. Consumers are showing signs of having meaningful conversation with virtual objects, and are looking for digital services that deliver assistance, compassion, companionship and self-insight. Gartner predicts that by 2020, an average person will have more conversations with bots than their spouse. The stronger these digital companions become in people’s personal lives, the higher the expectation for tailored digital services in business interactions. With solutions like Order@Covestro 2.0, we’re providing customers with tailored information to accompany them throughout their supply chain management journey and create a seamless, personalized experience.
Trend #3: Think post-purchase
As consumers grow ever more accustomed to convenience and speed, they expect brands to become increasingly imaginative when designing customer experiences that meet unpredictable needs. Consumers expect products and services to adapt around changing needs post-purchase. This requires taking individualization into account, to ensure flexibility in product development and allow for post-purchase adaptation. Feedback is key here: with programs like our Customer Experience Factory, we’re partnering with customers to hear about their experiences and questions and ensure that we can meet their needs both post-purchase and in future interactions.
Trend #4: Inside meets outside
Today business is becoming increasingly transparent and it’s easier to look inside organizations: something that initially seems accessible and relevant only to insiders becomes visible for those on the outside – and it’s made possible by connectivity. This has big implications: internal culture is now part of how a brand is perceived from the outside. The culture and values that accompany this need to be positive and to resonate with consumers’ interests and priorities.
For consumers, brand values that align with their own values (such as diversity and sustainability) are becoming ever more important when interacting with a business. And those businesses need to make sure they back up their messaging with meaningful actions.