Interacticity has radically transformed the customer landscape and more transformation is on the way. Three trends are now providing customers with ever more control over the relationships they have with the companies that sell to them:
- Automated self-service substitutes customer-initiated activity for reactive and costly voice-to-voice interactions
- Social tools facilitate customers’ reaching out to other customers, not just as reference points, but for advice and help
- Subscription-based products made possible by cloud technology provide customers with much greater economic leverage
Each of these trends increases a customer’s ability to control and manage the customer-vendor relationship.
Automated self-service has only recently begun to live up to its true potential. Most companies have used it primarily to reduce costs and improve customer service, with mixed results. In many cases, a singular cost focus doesn’t always pan out. Customer care has often been turned into the stuff of late-night comedy send-ups and hilarious YouTube videos.
When automated tools do work, however, whether they are embedded in a company’s contact center or its website or smartphone app, they can take most of the hassle out of checking a status, changing a specification, or troubleshooting a problem. And this can be a great boon to the quality of customer care.
The boon itself is directly attributable to putting customers in charge of fixing their own problems, after first ensuring that the tools provided are sufficient to this task.
A more recent increase in customer control, on the other hand, has evolved because customers now find it easy to connect and interact with other customers. It is here that the customer no longer depends on a company’s own services.
A decade ago, Yochai Benkler presciently suggested that what we are witnessing with technology is a permanent change in the way human beings organize themselves to accomplish things, because (1) computers are inexpensive, widespread, and constantly connected; (2) social tasks involve information, ideas, and intellectual property rather than physical goods; and (3) large tasks can now be easily broken down and accomplished in discrete, smaller steps.
The problem, of course, is that social interactions can’t be planned and directed the same way an advertising campaign or a cost-cutting initiative can. Moreover, from the customer’s point of view, a company’s top-down, command-and-control management structure will never be as trustworthy as a self-organized collection of other customers and prospective customers.
The “customer success management” discipline springs from the fact that with cloud technology, large software packages no longer have to be bought and installed to be put to use. Ongoing subscriptions are replacing single purchase implementations.
With the cloud, a customer’s success with a vendor’s software product is vital, and B2B vendors must ensure their customers’ continued success to maintain their loyalty (and monthly revenue).
It’s clear that customers themselves have growing economic leverage in their relationships with the companies they buy from, which will precipitate an even more earnest business interest in how to ensure each customer’s success with their product or service.
Customers already have more control than before, and they are destined to get even more. As they become efficiently connected not just with the companies they buy from and with other customers, but also with the actual products and services they consume, your customers will definitely rule.