Knowing your customers is nothing new.
Back in the days when people walked to the shops rather than drove to them, businesses succeeded as much from knowing their customers as anything else.
Shopkeepers knew you by name. The pharmacist would remember that you were allergic to penicillin. The local baker would know your son’s birthday and would throw-in a bag of doughnuts when you ordered the birthday cake.
Businesses would bust a gut to offer knock-em-dead service because they genuinely cared about their customers. They knew that, without their customers, they hadn’t a hope in Hell of staying afloat.
Mass Production, Mass Marketing
This customer / supplier relationship continued pretty much undisturbed until we entered the age of Mass Markets. Businesses scaled-up production, drove down costs and aimed their value offering at the middle ground. Consumer purchasing power shot through the roof – much more could be had for a lot less. Machines took over the work of people – and where people still existed, they were expected to operate like machines. Along the way, companies stopped being driven by customers and started being driven by the bottom line. Marketing become a shouting competition: the loudest voice (and the fattest wallet) won.
Today, it’s the small companies that are blazing the trail. It’s the small companies that are innovating, disrupting, engaging and generally upsetting the Big Company status quo. Thanks to a combination of an enlightened, empowered customer and the social connectivity implications of internet-based technologies, we’re choosing to deal with companies that treat us like individuals. We want to feel special again, like we did when the shopkeeper addressed us by our name and asked if Grandma was feeling better after her recent bout of ‘flu.
Connection vs. Retention
Marketing buzzwords like “social media”, “customer engagement” and the rest are nothing more than putting a new name on something that’s been around for as long as commerce has. But success (and maybe even survivability) is no longer about reach, or distribution. It’s easy (or at least easier) to get in front of your audience. But what are you going to do to keep them there?
Unlike before, and perhaps unlike at any other time in history, companies can’t solve this problem with technology (which is probably why most big companies don’t get it). It’s not about the communication channels themselves, it’s about what you communicate. It’s not about having a Facebook page with more fans than your competitor. The future of business isn’t in social media channels, or the internet, or smartphones, or iPads.
All we’ve done is come back to where we were all those years ago. Back to the days when businesses put their customers first.
And that’s exactly how it should be.