There was a time when corporations held significant sway in their respective industries, and newcomers found it nearly impossible to compete. Corporate strength lay in controlling access to something that consumers wanted, brand awareness to sway consumers into wanting what they controlled access to, and the distribution to move those goods at scale. 

Think about trying to compete with Goodyear forty years ago. It would have been nearly impossible.

The digital age has changed the rules, allowing anybody with an Internet connection, a line of credit and an online store to compete. Success is no longer based on access, distribution or brand, but on creating experiences that people love.

Technologies such as email, mobile phones and the Internet, which nearly eliminated face-to-face interaction, have given rise to companies that put people first. These companies--think SideCar, AirBnB and TaskRabbit--use technology to compete with industry stalwarts by offering a more compelling and satisfying human interaction.

Adapting to the New Normal

Person-to-person (P2P) companies offer their services at comparable prices to their traditional competition, but deliver a better, more human experience. Now customers are beginning to expect--and demand--that human experience when they make purchasing decisions. Nearly every company today must focus on becoming more human and creating great experiences in order to attract and retain customers. Some have already started. According to a report from the Altimeter Group, Patagonia, NBC and Toyota have all implemented strategies for P2P-style sharing of their products and services to adapt to this shift in consumer demand. 

Fortunately, creating great experiences doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking. Here are three simple ways that companies can adapt to this P2P world: 

1. Provide a Personal Touch

It used to be that, if you called a helpline, you'd be routed to an automated recording or eventually to an agent. Today, some companies are using technology to route customers’ calls back to the rep they spoke to last. Others, such as Zappos, bypass call trees entirely and immediately connect customers with service reps. An ongoing, direct relationship can be a huge factor in customer loyalty. 

2. Offer Human Customer Support 

When people have a complaint or issue, most accept that it can’t be fixed immediately--but everyone would like to know quickly what’s being done about it. Teams, staffed with real people who can provide information, build customer trust. L.L. Bean has made this philosophy a part of its entire customer experience, whether on the phone, online or in a brick-and-mortar store. This emphasis has helped the company consistently rank as a J.D. Power & Associates "Champion" for customer service.

3. Personalize Every Experience

When companies allow people to work directly together, they can more easily offer the personalized experiences that customers now crave. More than ever before, companies know our personal interests--think Amazon for shopping, Pandora for music, Netflix for movies and TV. Consumers today expect companies to learn about them proactively, and to tailor services and products to their personal tastes. 

The era of big industry trivialized the role of people in business. Great experiences simply didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Today, however, experiences matter immensely. Business has always been about people working together with other people. The digital age has simply made this possible at scale. To succeed, business leaders across industries must put people first and think about business as the sum of interactions between people.