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Smart Customers Abandon Stupid Companies

Take a critical look in the mirror, and answer this simple question: Does your company behave stupidly?

The harsh truth is, customers use the word "stupid" all the time when they talk about their experiences dealing with the companies that serve them.

Customers think companies are behaving stupidly when they require customers to make purchases, reach technical support, or ask a question about their orders during “normal business hours.” Or when they are forced to navigate opaque IVR systems only to wait for the “next available representative.” Or when they have to repeat the most basic information: name, account number, password, and more every time they transact on the Web, over the phone, and in-person.

Fortunately for customers, they are getting “smarter”–digital innovation and always-on connectivity mean they are increasingly empowered to take control of their commercial relationships in ways that should terrify CMOs and other executives.

Put another way, it’s time to prepare for the age of the “smart customer”–because massive disruption is coming to your industry, if it hasn’t already.

Digital innovation means smart customers can see, learn about, or purchase almost anything, anytime, from anywhere. They research, connect, and purchase online with laptops, tablets, and smartphones without a second thought. They have the power to behave in a far smarter and better-informed manner than ever before.

The scope of intelligence handed to your customers is unprecedented. With this comes radically higher customer expectations. Higher expectations of experience. Greater demands for personalization and customization. Lower tolerance for mistakes, inane hoops, or interactions that require mindless repetition.

The world has changed dramatically, but many companies have not.

The rise of smart customers is already undercutting loyalty: People download price-comparison apps to find the lowest price. It threatens to dissolve–perhaps in months–the advantages your business may have gained over years of investing millions in bricks-and-mortar (think Borders and Best Buy), as these same customers shop online and buy from a lower-priced competitor while standing in your store.

In short, smart customers abandon companies that they believe behave stupidly. This is the challenge your company needs to confront.

Smart Customers Stupid Companies book by Michael Hinshaw and Bruce KasanoffInSMART CUSTOMERS, STUPID COMPANIES: Why Only Intelligent Companies Will Thrive, and How to Be One of Them, Bruce Kasanoff and I explain the disruptive forces fundamentally reshaping customer experience. We’ve focused on the four forces most responsible for changing the basic ground rules of business competition and making it impossible for firms to survive with outdated strategies:

  1. Social influence inserts other people and their opinions between a company and its customers, radically disrupting traditional notions of "customer relationship management."
  2. Pervasive memory is the data that accumulate in huge volumes as we interact through digital devices. It delivers competitive advantages only to firms who leverage this data to benefit customers.
  3. Digital sensors are the trillions of devices that see, hear, and feel what is happening in our world. Smart companies must have smart products, and sensors are what make products smart.
  4. The physical Web is what's emerging, allowing us to browse, bookmark, tag, and manipulate the real world much as we do on the Web.

Together, these forces bring customers more choices, better information, and stunning new services. Put another way, they’ll continue to make your customers even smarter.

Whether you thrive in the face of these forces depends in large part on your company’s ability to act smart. The thing is, the very forces making your customer smarter can make your company smarter, too. An understanding of these forces and their implications creates countless opportunities for the kind of innovation that reshapes industries, propelling companies to the top of their markets (and others). Think Apple and music, Amazon and books, Google and Facebook and advertising.

Your company needs to assess opportunity and react intelligently and confidently to the fast-paced, continually evolving complexity of smart customers, disruptive technologies, and potentially infinite touchpoints. To do so, we suggest your company act SMART. It’s an ongoing system of capabilities comprised of the following five steps:

  1. Segment your customers by needs and value because understanding them at a granular level is key to serving them, and to making a profit while doing so.
  2. Modularize your processes and capabilities to increase your flexibility and responsiveness, and to boost your ability to customize experiences, products, and services.
  3. Anticipate the needs of your customers by understanding the data that increasingly surrounds them.
  4. Reward your employees for finding ways that profit both your customers and your company–and empower them with the tools to do so.
  5. Transform your touchpoints to better meet customer needs, and make them smart enough to do so even more effectively.

Taken together, these steps will help you create a nimble and responsive organization–an organization designed around customer needs, as well as one that remains in ongoing, close contact with individual customers to deliver differentiated, highly relevant experiences, and driving significant value as a result.

Be smart enough to learn what your customers really need (and give it to them).

The disruptive forces we describe are raising customer expectations to an extent that should sound the alarm within established firms. That's because only the most flexible, responsive, and intelligent companies will be able to profit from these radically greater expectations of customer experience.

Companies that react slowly or tentatively will be increasingly marginalized, until finally, they’ll wither away. It may take five, 10, or even 15 years, but eventually the companies that can’t give customers exactly what they want–when and how they want it–will be smothered by the competition and growing demands of their ever-smarter customers.

This book was written to make sure you’re not one of them.

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