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The power of decision support

Posted on: Monday 6th of April 2015

Readers of our weekly Market Watch newsletter may have noticed an accelerating theme – the increasingly pervasive influence of price comparison services. They’re transforming physical shopping via new mobile services. They’re getting embedded into daily tools and processes such as web browsers. They’re reaching every conceivable sector.

As far as we (Ctrl-Shift) are concerned this is just the beginning, because price comparison is just one element of a bigger service: decision support.

Decision support embraces not only price comparison but product/service comparison (quality, service), which is often highlighted by peer and expert reviews. It extends into further considerations such as ‘is this particular offerings’ features and functions fit for my purpose?’ And further, into price trends and dynamic pricing – is now the right time to buy? And so on.

 

Key characteristics

Stepping back a bit we can see that decision support services have four key characteristics.

First, they are information intensive requiring a large amount of sophisticated data crunching, which means they are only really becoming possible now.  Twenty, fifty, years ago we just didn’t have the data capabilities to offer such as service.

Second, in the end a ‘good’ decision is one that’s right for me with my particular goals, priorities and circumstances. This requires the additional input of further information about myself: volunteered personal information or VPI. It’s the connection of information about the market ‘out there’ with information ‘about me’ – what I want and need – that makes decision support services particularly valuable.

Third, to survive, decision support services have to be trustworthy. Otherwise there’s no point in using them. That means they have to be impartial in the recommendations they generate (not biased by commission payments, for example), and comprehensive (not limited to ‘a carefully selected group of partners’). They also have to not abuse the personal data they collect.

Fourth, by definition, they are ‘VRM” or vendor relationship management services. Their job is to help a buyer/consumer deal with a range of different sellers/vendors rather than help a particular seller/vendor deal with a range of different customers.

Fifth, and most important of all, they offer a different dimension or layer of consumer value. They are a meta-service, helping buyers deal with complete markets, which takes them beyond any one, particular product or service. Ultimately when it comes to consumer value, a better decision comes before a better product, because a better decision is what leads you to that better product.

 

Consequences

This has important consequences. For a start, decision support services are a natural first port of call for consumers going to market. They trigger a migration of trust, attention, and money away from existing channels such as traditional media and retail outlets.

They also reduce the influence of traditional marketing messages, as consumers focus their attention on what the decision support service has to say.  After all, it should be both more useful, less biased and make the decision-making process easier.

This in turn means that traditional sellers need to rethink what value really looks like from the customer’s point of view, what channels they use to bring their products and services to market, and what they say in their marketing.

It’s quite a challenge. But as we’ll show over the coming months, it’s also an enormous opportunity.