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Gustin Partners | March 06, 2015 |

Imagining the Customer of the Future – Part 1

By Thornton May
Futurist, Senior Advisor with GP, Executive Director & Dean - IT Leadership Academy

What do we know about the customer of the future? The post-Global Financial Crisis/Great Recession “Customer” is typically described as time poor, always on the go, constantly connected to the internet via mobile, more skeptical, more demanding, more price conscious, better educated, and more knowledgeable about marketing, distribution channels and margins. In a word the customer of the future could be conceived of as a scary monster.

There is a rich and robust literature focusing on how to “manufacture desire” [i.e., how to create demand; how to get this impatient, prone to disloyalty, penny-pinching, discount-addicted beast to want what we are trying to get them to buy]. Customer appeasement may not be the answer.  In his must-read book Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become? MIT Fellow Michael Schrage explains that designing new products or features or services is not the best path forward. Schrage posits that it is only by designing new customers--thinking of their future state, being the conduit to their evolution--will you be able to successfully transform your business.  It is not what we want future customers “to buy”. It is what we want future customers “to be” that really matters.


How does your customer behave today?
What are the most important/impactful customer “signals” today?
What will be the most important/impactful customer “signals” in the future?

What do our customers learn from us today?
What do we learn from our customers today?
What do we want our customers to learn from us tomorrow? [JetBlue’s Example of training customers to be more polite]
What do we want to learn from our customers tomorrow?

How do customers buy from us today?
How will customers buy from us in the future?

What is the “why behind the buy” today?
What will be the “why behind the buy” in the future?

How do we currently imagine and design ideal customer outcomes?

Traditional product development questions include: "How can we be disruptive? How can we create new value for our customers? How can we do things that allow customers to do things that they’ve never done before?"

What customer investments are you making today?
What customer investments should you be making in the future?

Schrage asks why not look at innovation as “an investment in our customers, as a way to add value to our customers, not just as a way to provide value for our customers? “ He contends that Google just doesn’t create search—it creates searchers. Henry Ford, not only created the mass production of automobiles—he mass-produced drivers.

The Seattle Hointer store digitally keeps track of which customers like being approached by salespeople and which ones prefer to be left alone. The retailer is essentially spawning a new genus of customers who prefer to shop on their own. Schrage concludes that:

“The product of that education is not just a more sophisticated Hointer shopper, but a shopper who may now become impatient with the delays, inefficiencies, and inferior experiences proffered by other retailers. That’s where value-added differentiation and competitive advantage come from. That’s why helping customers learn can be as strategically important as learning from customers.”

How do you want customer behavior to change in the future?
How will we observing what our customers do in the future?

How do our customers use our products/services today?
How will customers use our products/services in the future?


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