How companies deal with fear of change

A global survey finds most people say change is happening too fast. Firms that stick to eternal values such as simplicity can help customers cope with change.

AP Photo
Technology companies display their latest gadgets at the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Last year, the world’s largest public relations firm, Edelman, added a new question to its annual survey on trust in institutions. People around the globe were asked if they believe change and innovation are happening too quickly.

Much to Edelman’s surprise, more than half of respondents said yes. People’s ability to cope with ever-more-complex gadgets, data, machines, and documents may be reaching a neo-Luddite threshold of resistance.

“Innovation should be a trust accelerator, but today it is not,” said company chief executive officer Richard Edelman, based on the survey. “To invent is no longer enough. There must be a new compact between company and individual.”

That compact requires greater empathy, clarity, and simplicity from all institutions to keep up with the rapid pace of change in products and services. One sign of this shift: The technology industry, once a beacon of trust compared with other industries or with government, saw a decline in trust in most countries for the first time last year.

“Changes in technology are happening at a scale which was unimaginable before and will cause disruption in industry after industry,” writes Vivek Wadhwa, a blogger on innovation for The Washington Post and a Stanford University researcher.

A group set up to promote new technologies, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, is worried about this trend: “While many people believe they support progress, when it comes right down to it, many individuals are ambiguous, if not downright negative, about their views toward progress,” it states on its website. To measure people’s friendliness toward innovation, it offers a test at www.doyoulikeprogress.org.

Another global survey, done for the American consulting firm siegel+gale, shows what consumers now demand from technological advances: 70 percent of people are more likely to recommend a product or service if it provides a simple experience and communication. More than a third are willing to pay extra for that experience.

The firm ranks companies on a “simplicity index,” based on consumer feedback. The top global brands in simplicity include Aldi, Google, Lidl, McDonald’s, Netflix, IKEA, and Amazon. Such firms try to remove the fear and uncertainty in their services and products, making sure their wares are transparent and organized, saving time and empowering consumers.

“[L]et your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand,” wrote Henry David Thoreau in his book “Walden,” which extolled the merits of simplicity. Institutions, too, are being forced to learn what many individuals have long sought in an era of constant change. And eternal values, such as caring for others – including customers –  haven’t changed. There’s no app for those.

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