Malcolm Alder is a digital strategy consultant with more than 25 years’ experience and a co-founder of Orchestrate. He is on the Board of AIMIA board member, and was previously Partner for Digital Economy at KPMG. In this opinion piece, he argues marketers that try and “own” customers are probably doing far more harm than good..
Ask yourself a simple question. What kind of human being “owns” another human being? The very concept is so objectionable wars have quite literally been fought over it.
Yet, as digital transaction volumes grow and with ever more stakeholders typically involved from first engagement to completion, we increasingly hear robust debates as to which party “owns” the customer.
As so many companies declare their aim to be customer-centric, or even more grandly, to “delight” their customers whilst genuflecting at the altar of Net Promoter Score (NPS), it seems bizarre and contradictory that they also battle to “own” them.
(Image source: Feed The Beast)
The notion of ownership implies an asset that’s controlled (or can be traded) at the whim of the owner. Most customers would bristle if they heard the term used in relation to themselves and their money; yet it is, frequently.
Furthermore, as ever more information, choice and power moves to the fingertips of consumers at their digital devices, so every transaction is tested on its own merits. Ongoing loyalty and advocacy are harder to attain than ever.
This is why, at an aggregated level, large customer databases, particularly where a large proportion of those customers are demonstrably active and long-term e.g. the Qantas Frequent Flyer programme (QFF), do have demonstrable, sometimes tradeable, value. (Indeed, QFF has been touted by analysts as having a stand-alone value potentially in the range of $2-3 billion.)
Similarly, there are established benchmarks for valuing and trading mobile phone customer bases. This notion of a collective customer asset is fine because it’s based on aggregated, large numbers of individuals where each of them is free to leave at any time if they so choose (even if there is a cost to break a contract in the process). This is very different from “owning” an individual customer.
It’s true that consumers willingly enter contracts with companies all the time eg. banks, credit card providers, utilities etc. Nonetheless, to the consumer, a contract does not imply ownership; nor should it. Contracts are legal relationships between willing, independent parties for mutual benefit. Neither party owns the other and most contracts explicitly recognise that.
Of course companies don’t believe they own the customer in any legal sense. However, objections to the general notion of customer ownership are that, in addition to being unattainable, it may engender poor staff behaviour. Firstly, in online transactions in particular, most now have so many commercial parties involved that it’s often extremely difficult to define who holds the primary customer relationship. Secondly, and far more importantly, is the message it gives within any organisation that uses the term. If you “own” a customer, you don’t necessarily have an incentive to delight them.
As customers, surely the parties we are most likely to stick with, perhaps even be delighted by, tend to demonstrate the following characteristics.
- Clarity – it’s clear who we’re dealing with. In the event that something goes wrong, you know who to speak to and have confidence they’ll fix it.
- Trust – this is an over-used term that has many connotations, but of particular importance is customer trust that you’ll do the right thing with their information; you are diligent about security and respect privacy.
- Fairness – the product or service you’re being offered is at the appropriate quality for the price you are paying. In short, you won’t be ripped off.
- Context – This is a critical element but can vary greatly. For example, if you’re going for a wedding dress fitting, you want a luxurious, unhurried, “special” environment. If you want a pick-me-up coffee on the way to work on a cold winter’s morning, you need the right location with quick, friendly service and a beverage that sets you up for a good start to your day. Online, you want as much direct relevance as possible delivered in a user friendly, easy format.
- Consistency – this is far more important in some transactions than others but consumers really hate having a good experience one day and a poor one the next.
- Human – again, this is more important in some sectors and transaction types than others but even when interacting online only, consumers like a sense that somewhere behind the digital imagery and firewalls, there are real people involved who appear to have an empathy for their situation.
The aggregate of these attributes goes pretty close to that thing called customer experience. It’s not easy to deliver on all of these attributes even when a single company controls them all. In a multi-stakeholder environment, it can be very challenging.
However, if you take a genuinely customer-centric view and apply these characteristics between all parties involved, the chances of success are increased. Yet even if you achieve them every time, you still will never truly “own” your customer.
This article originally appeared at www.which-50.com
Looking to entice a more progressive audience into the Coopers family, Australia’s largest independent brewery has released a limited edition Hazy IPA. The product has launched via a national OOH and digital campaign in collaboration with Melbourne creative agency, TABOO. TABOO is behind the exciting new illustrative can design, inspired by the Australian landscape. The […]
Ben & Jerry’s has unveiled their latest limited-edition flavour: Unfudge our Future, to urge Australia’s leaders to tackle climate change by making fossil fuels history. The launch aligns with the Federal Government’s preparation of a history-making economic reboot in the upcoming October Budget, with Ben & Jerry’s joining forces with 350.org Australia and the Climate […]
BRITA Australia is today proud to reveal its latest national campaign, ‘Get Your Jugs Out’, starring Australian comedian, Celeste Barber. The quirky campaign encourages Australians to make the switch from bottled water to great tasting filtered tap water, using a BRITA filter jug at home, with the creative brought to life with Celeste’s cheeky, yet relatable sense of humour.
Twitter is saying ‘bye to the reply guys’, allowing users to control who can reply to their Tweets. ‘Reply guys’ have long been an issue on the social media app, where users (often anonymous) frequently comment on posts in an annoying, condescending or otherwise unsolicited manner. Twitter first put these users on notice in May […]
The Virtual Conference Network, an Australian-founded disruptive alternative to video conferencing, has today launched to provide risk mitigation, improved flexibility, new post-event revenue streams, and optimal cost-effectiveness to conference organisers, business leaders and peak bodies. With over 20 years of first-hand experience with the high-risk and costly ways of delivering traditional conferences, co-founders Alex Paine […]
Medallia has appointed Heather Paterson as its new ANZ country manager to drive further growth across Australia and New Zealand. With a strong sales performance and leadership background, Paterson joins Medallia as ANZ country manager following more than seven years with leading SaaS financial technology provider, Intralinks, where she was most recently director for Asia […]
Integral Ad Science (IAS) today announced the launch of “Channel Science”, an industry-leading partnership between Channel Factory and IAS. The Channel Science solution helps advertisers to leverage both companies’ technologies through a single product to ensure their YouTube campaigns are brand-safe, brand-suitable, and performance-optimized. More than ever before, advertisers are searching for ways to streamline their media buying and improve […]