There are three important underlying shifts to consider when discussing consumer trends this year: most of the trends now involve the internet, early adopters are less important and consumers have more influence than ever.
The shift from cords to mobile broadband and Wi-Fi has caused many aspects of our physical lives to intersect with our online behaviors in shopping, gaming, social, television and film, and even wellness. As a result, our online activities are far less restricted by our physical surroundings than ever before.
Because new products and services reach the mass market much faster, the time period for early adopter influence is shorter. Since new products and services are increasingly internet-based, they are faster and more influenced by consumers themselves. In fact, the consumer voice is louder than ever. Today, online user reviews, user sharing, petitions and instant crowd sourcing are quickly becoming the norm, rather than the exception. Consumers are using the internet to influence what goes on around them like never before.
With these three drivers in mind, here are five hot consumer technology trends for 2016, and how they shape the way you practice accounting:
- The lifestyle network effect. We are increasingly interconnected with others. The lifestyle network effect occurs when the individual benefits we receive from a range of services increase as more people use them. Crowd intelligence is a great example – according to Ericsson, 38 percent consider user reviews to be better than expert reviews. What would your customers say about you? Are you maximizing user reviews and customer testimonials to acquire new clients?
- The rise of identity theft and fraud. The majority of online users believe that a range of organizations, products and services could be hacked, or become infected, by a virus. This is now the norm. Based on the same report from Ericsson, six in 10 users say their trust in an organization, product or service isn’t affected much by hacks and virus attacks, and even more think these will become part of their daily life in the next three years. But, just because it may be inevitable doesn’t mean that service providers shouldn’t constantly work to improve security and data integrity. In fact, learning from these kinds of attacks is the best way to prevent them. Ericsson also reports that trust in an organization goes up as much as 21 percent after successfully solving for any issues. Ensuring the products you use maximize the most current security features is an important part of your digital strategy.
- Put it in the cloud. The era of local storage for a server to run your small business is over. This convenience makes it easier than ever to access and connect to your data. Cloud-based technology and collaborative workflows transform accounting, enabling the creation and advent of new business models.
- A picture is worth a thousand words. Or, rather, a picture is worth a thousand fields of data. Optical character recognition (OCR) is changing the way we manage data input so that there is no more manual entry, or a need for printed receipts. Snap a picture or scan an image, and OCR allows that data to populate the forms and fields you need. While it isn’t perfect, and you’ll still need to verify the input, the overall accuracy is pretty great. Error rates should drop over the course of the year. This means you’ll have more time to really add value for your clients, instead of spending your time inputting data. Instead, you can spend it assessing the data and making meaningful suggestions to your clients. This will transform your role as a manager, or reporter, of financial information to a member of your client’s strategic team, whether it’s for business owners or families.
- Take your relationships to the next level. You already have great relationships with your clients, but it is likely entirely professional. Today’s consumers want a personal connection with brands and providers and, in fact, they expect it. Social media platforms can help transform your transactional relationship with clients into a personal one. Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and other similar platforms allow you to nurture client relationships with insight into you: your skills, education, continued learning journey, accomplishments and even pictures of the family pet help your existing clients get to know you, which also can help drive acquisition of new clients.
Most of these trends aren’t surprising, but they can be game-changers for your practice. Understanding your clients’ expectations, building a relationship and using them as influencers will be key business growth drivers for the rest of 2016. Technology innovations enable a shift in your ability to provide added value services and transform into a strategic partner for your clients.
We live in a time of rapid innovation and change in consumer behavior and technology innovation. Embracing these changes can accelerate your practice in new and unexpected ways.