It’s not about technology – it’s about solving problems and understanding customers

posted in: PropTech | 0

If you’ve ever walked away from a conference, read an article or had a conversation with someone that left you feeling like you might be lagging behind from a technology standpoint then rest assured, you’re not alone. In business as much as our personal lives, FOMO (fear of missing out) is a real thing.

Every year or so there are big technology themes that run through our news feeds. Ten years ago we were all talking about big data, five years ago it was machine learning and now artificial intelligence and IoT dominate the airwaves. We fear that our competitors are harnessing these secret powers to their advantage and that there is a startup just around the corner about to eat our lunch.

We hear oversimplified examples of company failures such as Blockbuster and Kodak while seeing former hardware giants like fax machines and CD players adding to our landfill. Where is technology going? What is the future of real estate? Is a robot going to take my job?

Put the foil helmet down for a second as I’d like to offer a slightly different view that may help to reduce your technology anxiety (it’s a thing, google it).

“Great businesses are places where problems are solved and lives are improved.” – Sir Richard Branson.

Here’s a little framework for keeping technology in perspective and your head in the right space.

Understand your customer

Technology trends are a great way of understanding your customers and their changing expectations. Uber, airtasker and WhatsApp give us clues as to what problems our customers are trying to solve and how they’re willing to do it. For real estate, portals (whether for sales, renting or holiday letting) have changed the way people do business. Businesses that understand this trend have subsequently invested in photography, automated lead management and understanding customer search trends.

We all need to spend as much time as possible in the customer’s world so that we can understand the problems and friction points in the process that can give us the edge. This simply involves tuning into the latest technology trends and reflecting on what the underlying change might mean for the customer expectations of your business.

Define the problem

Understanding your customer will inevitably lead to identifying problems for them or for the future of your business. Once you have a general feel for the problem it’s important to then spend some time actually defining it. Take the time to think about the exact scope of the problem, as in, what element of the problem needs to be solved in order to have a meaningful impact. It’s a lot easier to solve a specific problem then a general one.

Size the problem

This is sometimes the step that people overlook. It forces people to quantify how much value can be created by solving this problem. I’ve seen massive projects kicked off to fix problems that in hindsight were probably not even worth solving.

Sizie up the problem in terms of dollar value (in savings or extra revenue), the impact on your brand or business perception and the level of frustration caused to customers. There’s no magic rules here but just considering the size of the problem will soon help form up the type of solutions that might be considered. Remember that sometimes, doing nothing could be the right thing to do.

Solve the problem

Despite being a passionate technologist, I am allergic to implementing new systems, applications or hardware as THE solution to a problem. Besides the proliferation of usernames and passwords, it is very rare that a system has been built specifically for your business and therefore, technology is more likely to form just one part of the solution.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo Da Vinci

Have a think about some of the outstandingly successful businesses of the past decade and you’ll start to see that at their core, it’s a really simple solution to a big problem. In fact, most of them are just marketplace websites or apps that connect people who have something with people who want something.

The solution to the problem should not only be simple but it should reflect the size of the problem.

Final thoughts

Technology has the potential to enable a business to grow or to grind it to a halt. Just as the internet simultaneously connects people and drives people deeper into their segregated groups. We should catch ourselves from being either overly optimistic or dismissive of technology and instead create a view point of technology that enables us to deal with our FOMO.

Ultimately, using technology as a lens to understand your customer will take out the need to jump from product to product and instead allow you to see the more important underlying shifts in consumer expectations and build your business around those insights.