Customers Continue to get Smarter. Is Your Business up for it?

TimeCoverPoY "The smartest and ablest experts in knowledge-intensive industries sometimes appear quickest to mock their customers' perceived ignorance and incompetence. This behavior isn't cathartic; it's corrosive."

[Michael Schrage]

It flies in the face of what we have learned about customers in the age of creation and participation — that they are more in the know on how to connect with each other, exchange information, and become opinion leaders thanks to the ubiquity of computing.

This is your new world.

Do you think your customers are stupid? Offers a few examples of disrespect dished out by organization leadership — whether directly or allowed, even encouraged, by company culture:

  • software developers wondering aloud "will the dogs eat the dog food" when they upgrade a new release
  • brokers joking among themselves about how they got a client (institutional or individual) to overpay
  • people in 'sales driven' organizations that treat transactional 'revenues' as much, much more valuable than customer satisfaction and 'lifecycle' relationships

The instances abound, seeping into the very cultural fabric of the organization. Until they become the norm even on the inside. Behaviors such as colleagues treating each other poorly is just one manifestation, a symptom, of lack of leadership.

Top, bottom, or sideways, the tone of a business, the way it comes across and is experienced by customers, is influenced in hundreds of little ways. When the internal conversation is a divisive one, by virtue of rewarding dis-respect in that environment, you are saying it's alright to behave that way.

Internal conversations are habit-forming

A culture of complainers and back-stabbers is not a place filled with problem solvers.

Looking at customer complaints is not enough. To design a desirable customer experience, an organization needs to think proactively — and often be smart enough to filter critical feedback from the frustration it may come wrapped into. 


It's become much easier for people to share their experience with each other. To paraphrase The Cluetrain Manifesto: a networked market knows more about your product than your company often does. Markets are (inter)networked and people are (intra)networked, a reality and not a play on words.

Even the very term used to designate the people who buy the products of many companies — "consumer" — is an indication of the kind of us vs. them thinking. Think how in business to business contexts the term "buyer" is used instead. Not to mention the fact that in similar situations we are those people.

Customers continue to get smarter. Is your business up for it?


[hat tip to Beth Harte for the Schrage post]

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