When advancements aren’t accompanied by acceptance…

I was having dinner last night with the CEO of a major company in the automotive industry — I didn’t ask permission to use his name, so I won’t (however, I was VERY honored he brought me in to speak to the best customers of his company, representing hundreds of millions of dollars in sales) — when he said something that really got me thinking.

I asked him if he thought we would see driver-less cars in our lifetime.  His response:

“Oh, you’ll see the technology in just a couple of years.  What we may not see in our lifetime is the consumer acceptance of the technology.”

driverless-car-technology-googleThen, another startling admission from someone else at our table:  “Which is why it’s so important that Google is involved.”  When I told him I didn’t understand his point, he replied, “People trust technology from Google or Apple a hell of a lot more than they’re trusting technology from, for example, GM right now.”

Let’s back up on that point for just a moment: If you study the financial services industry, you’ll find that banks had a very difficult time getting their customers to use ATMs in the early days.  People just did not trust that they could make a deposit or withdrawal from a machine.  They wanted to talk with a “real person” like they always had.

The potential is there for an airplane to fly itself — but, I wouldn’t board one.  For some reason, the pilot makes me infinitely more secure, especially as a somewhat fearful flyer — even though I read that most crashes are the result of “pilot error” — even to the point that sometimes accidents occur when the human erroneously overrides the technology and causes the tragic event.

The CEO told me that we will soon get to the point of semis being driven by the technology — with a “driver” on board much like a pilot supervising the automated controls.

Part of why this is so fascinating to me is that, to a significant degree, he told me that the technology already exists.  In other words, it’s not a problem with technological advancement — it’s with technological acceptance.

In any highly competitive marketplace, where many organizations attempt to differentiate themselves through increasing their technological advancements and features, this is HIGHLY instructive.  Here are some questions you may wish to consider:

  1. Are your efforts and resources better spent enhancing the TRUST and acceptance that your customers have in the technology you already have, rather than the development of new advancements?
  2. If customers trust someone else outside your industry rather than you (Google vs. GM, for example), why is that the case — and what can you do about it?
  3. An advancement not met with acceptance means little traction (or profitability) for your business. How can you leverage your existing advances better…so that you create distinction?

For example, I pointed out to the CEO that while a “driverless car” might not be an advance that basic consumers (like you and me) are eager to accept, protection against texting, drunk, and inattentive drivers IS.  

Just about everyone thinks they are a safe driver.  Taking decision making away from ME isn’t something that I am seeking.  However, ensuring that some idiot who is paying more attention to his cell phone than his driving doesn’t rear-end my family is something I am more predisposed to support.

It remains to be seen if the automotive industry will take from “Create Distinction” and Cornerstone #3 on how to communicate — however, you can consider these questions…and start positioning your existing advantages for greater acceptance…TODAY!