By Dale S. Laszig
DSL Direct LLC
The holiday season is a critical time for retailers and a reminder of how quickly time goes by. Meanwhile, in the final weeks of 2019, the dizzying pace of change continues to dominate payments industry news.
Digital transformation has brought inspiration, opportunities, challenges and threats to merchant level salespeople (MLSs). Experts offer solutions but seldom acknowledge the toll these changes can take on MLSs and merchants, who are tasked with adapting to a "new normal" every day.
As we enter a new roaring twenties, the decade will inevitably invite comparisons to its 20th century predecessor. It's worth noting that the analog technologies of 100 years ago were just as disruptive as today's digital versions are to merchants, consumers and service providers.
The 1920s introduced the Model T automobile, assembly line production methods and a massive electrical grid for powering households and manufacturing. These innovations improved efficiencies and lifestyles, changing the American landscape forever. A century ago, the simple act of plugging into a power source unleashed a whole new set of capabilities. Today, it's the opposite: business owners and consumers are unplugging, leveraging wireless technologies that enable them to freely transact anywhere in the world.
Mass production mentality, as evidenced by Henry Ford's famous comment, "You can have your car in any color you want, as long as it's black," has given way to mass personalization at scale. Customers expect immediate, personalized offers from their favorite merchants and brands. These expectations comprise the very heart of innovation, according to Richard Arundel, co-founder and general manager North America at Currencycloud.
"We're seeing consumer demand like never before," Arundel said. "Having best-in-class APIs is table stakes for today's companies; what's more important is designing technology stacks that enable them to iterate quickly. Digital-first companies like Airbnb and Uber release application updates and enhancements all the time."
Arundel went on to say that expectations are going through the roof in the corporate sector because of what's happening in the business-to-consumer space. For example, a finance director of a large company may question why a transaction takes three days to complete when a consumer can do it in three minutes, he said. This trend will undoubtedly continue, he added, as B2C innovations challenge traditional approaches to corporate finance, operations and strategy.
Everyone is feeling the pressure of technological change, but each generation has a different way of dealing with it, Arundel stated. He further noted that digital natives, who have never known a world without wireless technologies, are having an immersive experience; transformers, who grew up in an analog world, are rapidly adapting; ostriches, for whom digital and wireless technologies represent a bridge too far, are burying their heads in the sand. He cautioned that ostriches may lose market share to agile, digitalized companies that offer a great customer experience.
"Gen Z is the first truly digital generation, and Gen Z consumers are making new demands on merchants and banking partners," said Sankar Krishnan, partner at Capgemini. "Gen Z's have a higher tendency to try a product or service if their peers recommend it, because they're integrated into the social media exosphere like never before."
Krishnan, author of The Power of Mobile Banking, noted that banks have a 200-year history but have not used customer data as effectively as Google, Facebook or Amazon. Fintechs, on the other hand, have an amazing understanding of what consumers want, and use data to predict what will make customers happy, he added. "For the first time in banking payments history, fintechs are helping banks leverage their customer networks by using data to differentiate and create a better experience," he said. "These collaborations are redefining the future and giving people the freedom to decide what role they want to play in that future."
As payments professionals shape the next decade of commerce, they will be guided by values that have stood the test of time. Change in this industry is as constant as the North Star, and merchants will always need steady, well-informed, consultative MLSs to help them navigate it.
Dale S. Laszig, senior staff writer at The Green Sheet and managing director at DSL Direct LLC, is a payments industry journalist and content development specialist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @DSLdirect.
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