The Customers Network

The Customer’s network

Count the contacts

Jose heads to lunch at the Panera across the highway from his office. While he is deciding between six types of bread and 30 combinations of top- pings for his ham and cheese sandwich, the lunch shop’s 42-inch flat screen plays a series of in-house commercials to the right of the large illuminated menu board. Above and left, another screen tuned to CNN features a doc- tor being interviewed about eating a healthy diet, followed by a Subway commercial.

Seemingly oblivious to all of this chatter, Jose is now fourth in line to order but becomes distracted by his Google phone vibrating in his pocket. He checks the “alert” to see who is trying to reach him and sees an email message from online electronics retailer Tiger Direct announcing a “three- hour sale on 26-inch combination personal computer and high-definition digital television monitors for $99.”

Still waiting in line, Jose clicks the link to the Tiger Direct website on his phone, and after three more clicks, he has logged in to his corporate Tiger Direct account. He changes the quantity on the pre-completed order page to “6” and clicks “submit” to complete his order. His three-inch phone screen displays “order completed” along with a confirmation code and a shipment notification message verifying that the monitors will arrive at his office in two days.

Jose looks up at the cashier and orders his sandwich, adding a cinnamon roll as a reward for saving his company more than $400. He deserves it. Four minutes later, he leaves the store with his lunch and passes a big brand electronics retailer advertising a “just reduced 22-inch monitor for $209”


with the notation, “only 3 left.” Jose shakes his head and murmurs quietly, “They just don’t get it.”

The bottom line is that customers have figured out the system, and they are motivated by price, urgency, quality, trust, and ease of doing business.

The customer’s network

Tiger Direct participates in Jose’s network. The customer, Jose, gladly lets Tiger Direct interrupt his personal lunch hour not just to offer him something free, but also to sell him something.

Jose designs his network to carefully meet his needs by selecting who has access to his email accounts, phone numbers, addresses, and devices. His criteria are personal, and they change as his needs change. He chooses some for convenience and others out of necessity, like his bank accounts and credit cards. He chooses still others for curiosity and entertainment. But, most importantly, Jose is in control of who is “in” and who is “out,” the times of day that he is open to messages, and the types and frequency of the messages, offers, updates, and alerts.

In the customer’s network—phone, email, car, game device, television— information moves from one device to another according to the customer’s preferences. The customers use “rules” to orchestrate information around their network.

Thanks to pervasive access to the Internet and the reach of handheld computer and communication devices, customers blur the division between personal life and work life, personal time and work time. This also changes customer perceptions and expectations for how things should operate regarding business dialogue, information access, process portability and mobility, feedback, and assistance at each contact.

Your customers are on duty nearly 24 ⁄ 7, armed with Blackberries, iPhones, other smart phones, and tablet and ultraportable data retrieving and communication devices. Your customer’s network transcends the tra- ditional barriers of work time, personal time, and leisure time, creating a

digital composite persona that persists across devices, websites, calendars, channels, locations, activities, transactions, and messages.

Companies must learn to “Think Like a Customer!”

“We don’t decide how long the people are in the store. What we decide is how easy it is for you within the 21 minutes you’ve allocated to get what you want.”

— Stephen Quinn, Walmart Marketing Chief

The hyper-aware customer knows more about your company, your product, and your service than any individual he is likely to come into contact with during the entire buying process.

Customers have breached the wall at most companies. Information is everywhere: embedded customers, embedded analysts, and embedded competitors. Review sites are springing up, submitting unsolicited reviews of your products and services at a host of websites. People blog, instant message, Tweet, broadcast, and narrowcast about how wonderful or how horrible you are.

Digitization Enables Transparency

Past, current, and potential customers, as well as competitors, partners, and employees participate in message networks and communities that share information about your business. All parties freely discuss pricing, quality, activities, affiliations, upcoming developments, customer satisfaction, cor- porate shenanigans—just about everything.

If someone wants to find out more information that isn’t currently avail- able, he can simply go to a post, build his own blog, or go to an industry website. He can submit a question or opinion to a bulletin board and wait for commentary to come back. To add to management’s frustration, most

of the information is exchanged anonymously without any way of verifying or tracking who leaked what or who made up the story.

Again, the Internet and the age of digitalization have changed the cor- porate information landscape forever. A company’s operations, lawsuits, and board member activities—significant or insignificant, real or unreal—are equally searchable and accessible to anyone with an interest.

In order to compete, your company must seek an invitation to your customer networks. You may become the source and destination for all related information, or you may link customers to the most convenient source. If you cannot be the source, find a way to get on customer maps and radar, even if it means participating in commentary and services not specifically related to your product or service. Provide a means to get cus- tomers what they need. This is how you create repeat business and the eventual revenue payoff.

The answer is in the Matrix

Do not make the mistake of assuming that customers know how to design products. They don’t. But observing how customers get, find, use, and link your service to their needs will uncover areas where your business can create innovative products, services, features, and partnerships.

The Next Big Thing

The next great breakthrough will not be a brand new service. It will be a combination of products, services, features, and functions that closely wrap themselves around the customer’s need-set and adapt to the customer’s life stage. An example might be a bundle of financial services that adapt to a customer’s age, family attributes, transaction behavior, and season using best practices for balancing savings, spending, investing, and insurance. The Matrix enables customers to benefit from this information that is automati- cally built in to their service and applied to their specific situation.

The customer is the true arbiter of good corporate decisions

Try to think like a customer. Your customers make the same cost or expense- based decisions as your company. So, every “go forward” decision in the CxC Matrix process involves a minimum of two parties balancing trade-offs and exchanging value.

Consumers weigh value based on their own value sets. Convenience, proximity, brand, product fit, total cost of ownership, and quality of service are estimated by the shopper who builds a checklist that establishes a set of expectations for vendors, sellers, and servicers. Shoppers and customers have become more aware of their purchase options, so they leverage the Matrix process transparency to negotiate demands at every stage.

Buyers and sellers knowingly monitor their investment and expenses throughout the buying process, weighing trade-offs at each stage:

• “Buy now or delay?”

• “Customize product and wait or take available product immediately?”

• “Use vendor’s financing or alternative funding sources?”

• “Buy or lease?”

All parties involved in the customer experience process have a vested interest in each contact. What has changed is that, up until now, companies have only looked at their internal expenses where they have some degree of control. Now, companies are forced to acknowledge the customer’s invest- ment and stated or implied specifications and requirements. Perhaps even more troublesome is the fact that this entire experience may be observed, critiqued, mocked, or mimicked in the transparent marketplace where service contacts are recorded and exposed on websites and forums like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and CNet.

However, there is a great opportunity in all of this. By understanding and addressing the customer’s expectations and expenses in every contact, you can expose greater revenue and cost savings opportunities for both parties. These opportunities exist in nearly every customer interaction and contact,

whether the contact is person-to-person, or person-to-machine. It happens during the purchasing cycle, the buying transaction, and in each stage of the customer experience.

“BlueLight spokesman Dave Karraker said the slowdowns on his company’s site were caused in part because of customers who were using shopping bots to find PlayStation 2 game consoles. In recent days, BlueLight has been able to redirect traffic from those bots, and sales have been increasing 5 per- cent per day, Karraker said.”

—“E-tail Sites Resilient Amid Latest Holiday Hubbub,”

Troy Wolverton, CNET News

The rise of the professional customer

Customers get it. Not only have they mastered how to buy from you and are likely to share this knowledge, but many buyers are also becoming sell- ers in secondary markets. And if they are not selling your products and services, they are still likely to influence the market at review sites, blogs, and industry forums.

If you have not done so already, log onto the websites on the following list, and enter your company name and one of your specific product names. Even try one of your own product identification codes, and see what pops up. Many managers are surprised to see that their products and services are posted on other sites for resale. Products and services are typically sold as after-market items in used or repaired condition or they are rebranded.

• eBay

• Craigslist

• Amazon

• Google

Managers should walk through the entire customer experience provided by these sites to get a customer’s view of what he finds as he researches your products, services, and company.

Do not betray trust—build value!

What if my car sent a message to a service station that I needed oil, and the car negotiated the price along my daily route? Why not have a program that optimizes prices for my commonly purchased items along my regular commuting route? But let’s not stop there! Why not have a “buy” button that assembles purchased products without my having to stop, so I only have to pick them up later from a single location on my return trip. This implies a great level of mutual trust between buyers and sellers, but similar models exist where customers have professional buyers, use concierge services, and buy through aggregators like Amazon. With a growing level of distrust of companies that handle our personal data, new service configurations are likely to evolve that balance privacy and convenience to benefit both the company and the customer.

“Give trust, and you’ll get it double in return.”

—Kees Kamies, production manager in a facility that employed

socially and mentally disabled persons