With marketers facing ever more demanding consumers, we are entering a new age of assistance. Google UK MD Ronan Harris looks at why Search is the key to meeting high customer expectations.

When today’s consumers want to know, do or buy something, using Search has become second nature. Whether they’re worried about their newborn baby, thinking of an exciting career change or looking for a DIY store – whether they’re making a £5 purchase or a life-changing decision – everything starts with a search. It’s the connective tissue between that moment of inspiration and taking action.

And it’s important to remember that consumers’ expectations have risen sharply. They expect the information they’re looking for, right then and there. For example, voice command is fast becoming the preferred way to use Search because it delivers faster results. In a recent survey, 75% of people said they search even more now that they can use voice search.

So the winners in this new world are the businesses taking action by providing the relevant information to customers, quickly and easily. These are the businesses that are being truly assistive.

“Search is moving consumers from inspiration to action more than ever before”

– Ronan Harris, MD, Google UK

There are two vital steps to achieving this: making the most of mobile and embracing machine learning.

Let’s look at mobile first. To get the basics of mobile right, we need to focus on speed and simplicity. One easy win is to cut website load speeds. A study of 100 top retail and finance mobile sites showed an average load time of around 5 seconds. Shaving a second off that load time gave a 27% improvement rate in conversions and a 30% drop in bounce rates.

As for simplicity, a great example is Hilton Hotels. They reimagined their entire customer journey by putting themselves in their customers’ shoes. These customers are used to controlling their lives from their phones, don’t like waiting and have strong personal preferences.

Hilton created an app which allowed advance check-in, choice of room and the ability to unlock your door with your phone, thus completely removing the friction in the traditional check-in experience. The result? A massive increase in take-up of their loyalty programme.

Of course, mobile gives us more signals and data than ever. And to make sense of increasing data, we need machine learning. This technology can turn information on complex patterns of consumer behaviour into actionable insights to help us assist customers better.

This is the transformational technology of the next ten years, just as mobile has been for the last ten. So we need to embrace it.

We continue to use machine learning to help solve complex problems where there’s a lot of data. And it’s not just for commerce. For example, Moorfields Eye Hospital is using machine learning to analyse large data sets of eye images to help identify early signs of eye disease. This enables eye health professionals to diagnose the disease, and meet patients to discuss diagnosis and treatment quicker.

For advertisers, machine learning can help you find potential customers; achieve personalisation at scale; make sense of complex user behaviours and signals; and produce multiple insights to identify the right message at the right moment for your business. This means you can respond to the customer with extraordinary speed and relevance. And in this new age of assistance, that will put you ahead.

Today, search is moving consumers from inspiration to action more than ever before. And when you remove any friction along the way, and are genuinely helpful, your marketing can be all ‘pull’ instead of ‘push’ – because you’re in the right place with the right offer to the right person at the right time.

In other words, you’ll be truly assistive – which is what today’s customers want, expect and value.

Watch Ronan Harris at Think with Google UK 2017