Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Speaker: Follow trends to customer satisfaction

Express Staff Writer

Michael Tchong Photo by Willy Cook

At one point in time, someone out there surely thought the idea of a fast food restaurant was silly.

Fast forward 50 years, and the concept has not only exploded worldwide, it has changed the way people prepare food, said Michael Tchong, founder of Ubercool, a company that that helps businesses identify trends to better serve their customers.

"I'm a trend watcher," Tchong said. "My job is to help you catch the next wave before it catches you."

Approximately 150 people attended Tuesday's Best of the Best Speakers Forum breakfast at Sun Valley Resort, organized by the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau.

By staying ahead of that wave, businesses can anticipate what consumers want from them—and provide it in more creative ways.

"Hotels are providing wi-fi for free," he said of wireless connectivity. "It's going to be like soap. It is as essential as anything you've ever wanted."

Business people need to be aware of changes—and more importantly, trends—in order to capitalize on what consumers want, he added.

"Ubertrends," as Tchong calls them, are big trends that ripple through society, creating other ripples in their wake.

"They can give you a far better (understanding) of how things are developing in our society," he said. "Trends, unlike fads, take a long time to develop. They fundamentally change consumer habits."

Some trends Tchong identified are women traveling alone; single-resident households; and technology integrated with clothes, homes, and life.

"In travel, think in terms of single occupancy, not double occupancy," he said.

Think also in terms of time compression, meaning people are in a hurry and want businesses to help them do things faster.

Meanwhile, as businesses cater to their clientele, they shouldn't do everything for them, Tchong said.

Why? "Control freakism."

People like tracking their Federal Express packages online. They like selecting their own airplane seats. Let them.

Businesses in the Wood River Valley who cater to vacationers can help their customers "relax faster," Tchong said.

"Consumer doesn't want to slow down their life," he said. "But they do want to relax."

And for those people who are content to think that McDonald's will always have its place at the top of the food chain, Tchong offers some food for thought: Starbucks is opening hundreds of stores a month and may outnumber the fast-food hamburger giant in the near future.

How will McDonald's tap into that market? They already have, Tchong said, by offering "premium" coffee from Seattle's Best—owned since 2003 by Starbucks.

Are you keeping up?

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