Where Do You Fit into Your Customers Future? The Life Stack

Introducing your customers Life Stack. Where do you fit?

Over the last few months, we’ve been working with several clients to map out their future strategy. In some of these sessions, we’ve developed personas and scenarios of a future time, typically about 10 years out, and constructed narratives to help explain this possible future. We then present these future narratives to the teams we work with to help to trigger future thinking.

One of the more recent models that we are starting to use is the concept of a “life stack”. In concept, like an OSI network stack model, it’s a visual representation of the way things are communicated both on a foundational level and at the user level on a network. The top layer of the network stack is the application layer (although some people call it the user interface layer) because not only is it closest to the customer, it is the layer that the customer interfaces with, whenever they wish to connect and communicate with the network. Then there are 6 other layers below the application layer, and the bottom layer, which is the furthest away from the customer, is the physical layer.

Image the life stack in the same way, but much simpler – you have the customer layer, a master agent layer, sharing space with an API (application programming interface) layer, an agent layer, and then a services layer.

Now imagine the customer layer of the life stack as a list of everything a customer needs to do over the course of any day. Those are further split into “must do” tasks and “like to do” tasks.

“Must do” tasks could be considered any task that humans do every day to live in a polite and civil society: sleep, wake up, use the restroom, shower, eat, work etc.

“Like to do” tasks could be considered things that the customer would prefer to do every day. These are things that they typically enjoy doing, but are not necessarily required to be done.

For example, a typical customer’s set of “must do” top level life stack tasks might include:

  • Sleeping
  • Waking up on time
  • Having a shower
  • Eating breakfast
  • Commuting to work
  • Going to the ATM for cash
  • Working
  • Eating lunch
  • Working
  • Commuting Home
  • Shopping for food
  • Eating Dinner
  • Going to sleep

“Like to do” tasks may include:

  • Doing yoga
  • Meditating
  • Preparing a delicious and healthy meal
  • Exercise
  • Shopping for fun
  • Going out for dinner
  • Watching a movie, play or TV show

Our contention is that as automation takes hold, and we develop intelligent agents to handle tasks for us, through this life stack of agents, that increasingly tasks of the “must do” variety that we perform, will be delegated to an agent. If your company currently provides a “must do” service to a customer, then you may end up with the bot as your customer instead of the human. If that is the case, will you be OK with simply being a layer in the stack (it does not make you any less profitable, and in fact, may improve your bottom line) or will you struggle back up the stack to interface with your customers?

Here’s an example:

I have a family of five. We’re out of milk. We run out of milk on a regular basis. We typically have both almond milk and regular milk in the house. So, what happens when we run out of milk? We must factor in going out and getting milk: a “must do” thing that we need to do every now and then whenever we run out of milk. We must think about milk, we must physically go out and get milk. Shopping for milk pretty much interjects itself into our day, and we now need to move things around to factor in shopping for milk.

If you think about it, there is so much “must do” stuff that happens during your day, it’s a wonder you ever get to any of the “like to do” at all. This is probably why dads enjoy that rare retreat to their garages and mom’s retreat to their “she-sheds”.

But I digress.

Maybe you already are subscribed to a service which delivers milk on a regular basis. Maybe at some point soon your milk will be able to order itself, when sensors in the carton tell the fridge it’s running low, and automatically place an order for a new carton to show up, just before you run out.

You stop thinking about milk because milk just shows up. Shopping for milk, that task at the top of your stack, something that you used to have to deal with, you no longer care about. It’s moved below the surface of the life stack somewhere. It just happens and you don’t really care how. The concept of “shopping for milk” is gone.

If you are a kid growing up in this environment, you might think it magic. Milk happens.

Let’s explore the life stack a bit and see what’s below the surface. At the top level are the tasks you still need or want to do.

The next layer is the Master Agent layer or the layer that the customer gives orders to. Think of it Amazon’s Echo or Google Home. The Master Agent manages all the other agents below it. It’s like a concierge.

Next layer down is the “Agent” layer. These are software agents which manage the tasks lower in the stack. In that layer is the “Shopping for Milk” agent, a little piece of software which makes the decision to buy milk for you when the milk runs low. It’s not super smart, all it does is check the milk sensor, then tells the “Grocery Shopping” Agent that you need milk. The Grocery Shopping agent adds milk to its next order. The Shopping for Milk agent might be smart enough to order milk on its own if the Grocery Shopping Agent won’t trigger an order in time before the milk runs out.

Below the agent layer the services, like the grocery store, the bank, the delivery service etc. The agents talk to these services to trigger actions. Like shopping for milk.

A new dairy opens. How does this new dairy get new customers when “shopping for milk” is now something people don’t do anymore? How does this new dairy get people to care about “shopping for milk” again?  Maybe they don’t. Maybe you need to convince the “Shopping for Milk” agent to try you out, or the Master Agent? In the future, will your customer be a human or a software agent, or chatbot?

Think about your own business. Where will you live in the future? Right now, you interact directly with your customers. However, in the very near future, you will be disintermediated lower into the life stack, as agents and master agents insert themselves between you and your customers. If that is the case, where will you go? Will you be content in the lower layers, losing that connection to your human customer, or will you attempt to move up into your customer’s life, and be relevant to them?

Where do you see yourself in the life stack of your customer’s future?