Stop Making Appointments with Customers

Last Updated Jul 22, 2011 4:53 PM EDT

A recent advertisement for Bank of America shows a series of customers making use of its banking services â€" checking their balance, transferring money, setting up an alert, or paying their bills. The only catch is, none of the customers is visiting a BoA bank branch or ATM. They are seen at their office, riding a bus, waiting at the barbershop, or hanging out at the beach. Instead of a teller or an ATM, these customers are doing their banking via their phones, laptops, and desktop computers. (Watch the ad at the bottom of this post.)

Bank of America is just the latest company to promoting itself as an on-demand brand. An on-demand brand takes a service that businesses used to offer only at specific places and specific times, and offers a new way for customers to enjoy the same experience on their own schedule, and wherever they are.

On-demand brands are not new. In the 1970s, Sony CEO Akio Morita reportedly asked why he couldn't listen to music while playing tennis--and spurred his engineers to invent the Walkman cassette player, revolutionizing the music industry.

Today, a host of digital tools are escalating the on-demand trend: the Internet, mobile devices, online video, and embedded network connections that are appearing not just in computers, but everything from clothing to cars. As a result, if your own industry is still offering a service based on an appointment basis, you can expect to soon be disrupted by competitors â€" unless you make the move to an on-demand model first.

Here are four industries to watch and learn on-demand lessons from:

1) Movies. Not so many years ago, the only way to see a movie was in a specific place (the cinema house) at a specific time (during its release). The rise of the VCR, and later DVDs, disrupted the film industry by changing where and when most of our movie watching happens. After years of rentals of physical videocassettes and DVDs, Netflix has disrupted the business again with its pioneering streaming movie service, offering thousands of films at the click of a mouse. With its latest move to raise prices on its DVD rentals, Netflix may be indicating that it has decided to move to an all-streaming model soon. After all, nothing is more on-demand that streaming content directly over the web.

2) Car rentals. It used to be, to rent a car for the day, you had no choice but to go to a rental car office, stand in line, fill out paperwork, and endure various sales pitches to upgrade, before getting your hands on the keys. Zipcar built a new business model by turning car rentals into an on-demand service. Every car in its fleet is equipped with a network-connected box that sends data back to the company regard¬ing the car's location, miles driven, engine performance, amount of gas in the tank, and battery charge (for plug-in electric cars).

To rent from Zipcar, customers simply log in to a Web site, choose a car parked nearby, then walk out to the car and swipe their pass card over the windshield to unlock the door and start driving. With its seamless on-demand experience and 275,000 members in North America, Zipcar has become the dominant player in the new car-share market. As its next step, Zipcar has begun to lease its dashboard boxes and network software to companies and municipalities to manage their own car fleets more efficiently.

3) Banking. On-demand banking is not just a cool way to check your balance at the beach. It's a new business model that is poised to transform the retail banking industry. A recent Pew study showed that 71% of consumers with household incomes above $75,000, prefer online banking and bill paying. Banks have found that they can save significantly on customer service costs when customers bank online or via text message rather than by calling toll-free numbers or visiting branches.

Bank of America has begun closing 10 percent of its retail branches nationwide, due to customers' broad shift to on-demand banking. USAA, a privately held bank serving members of the U.S. military and their fam¬ilies, has only one branch, in San Antonio, Texas; otherwise it relies entirely on an on-demand model. An innovator in digital access, USAA was the first American bank to allow customers to deposit a check by uploading a digital photograph of it through their phone.

4) Education. Salman Khan is reinventing the experience of student tutoring with an on-demand library of video tutorials in basic subjects like arithmetic, algebra, and biology. His free "Khan Academy" started as a way to tutor his young cousins long distance when their schedules did not match his own, but it quickly began attracting students from Uganda to Dubai to his YouTube channel. Students loved that they could watch the lessons at any time, and pause and rewind until they mastered each one. By the time Khan had quit his job at a hedge fund in 2010 to focus on his nonprofit, Khan Academy's videos had been watched fourteen million times on YouTube; today, they attract 2 million viewers a month. Khan, who has never been a professional teacher, has transformed the model of tutoring by making it available to students anywhere with a Web connection, at anytime, on their own schedule.

Customers demand round-the-clock access

In an increasingly digital and connected world, customers' expectations are changing. They not only expect to be able to ask a question or lodge a complaint at any hour via social media, or to read about your latest news on your corporate blog. They also expect to be able to enjoy your services at any hour, and--with mobile digital devices--from anywhere in the world.

If your brand and business are not yet on-demand, get ready. You soon will be, or else your customers may just innovate a new way of getting what they need.

Now you can watch the BofA commercial:
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David Rogers presents over 100 cases and a practical framework for planning and implementing digital strategies in his new book, "The Network Is Your Customer: Five Strategies to Thrive in a Digital Age." He teaches Digital Marketing Strategy at Columbia Business School, where he is Executive Director of the Center on Global Brand Leadership. Rogers has advised and developed marketing and digital strategies for numerous companies such as SAP, Eli Lilly, and Visa. Find him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/david_rogers and on Google+ at http://bit.ly/DavidRogersGplus.
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    David Rogers is a consultant, speaker, and author of The Network Is Your Customer: Five Strategies to Thrive in a Digital Age. He teaches Digital Marketing Strategy at Columbia Business School, where he is Executive Director of the Center on Global Brand Leadership. Rogers has advised and developed marketing and digital strategies for numerous companies such as SAP, Eli Lilly, and Visa.

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