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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0 responses to “Customers Continue to get Smarter. Is Your Business up for it?”

  1. The network *does* know more about the product than the company knows. After all, the company designs the product and sells it to customers, whose needs are somehow different than those of “the business.”
    It makes me wonder, with all the metrics and data out there, does anyone study the percentage of employees who are also customers? For example, what percentage of (all) Ford employees drive new Fords? What percentage of (all) Nike employees wear Nike shoes?
    Customers are talking to each other. Customers are figuring out how to make the product better, tweaking and even overhauling it to meet their needs. They do this for free. Companies looking to really innovate ought to spend less time trying to control/drive the message, and just enjoy the ride.

  2. Great article Valeria.
    “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.”
    Can you elaborate on this point? How can organizations effectively do this?

  3. Stupid, no ( at least not all the time). The people we trade with are every shade of the human condition.
    Just because they have a computer doesn’t change where they sit in the bell curve. Most of us sit in the middle and, at times are incompetent and ignorant.
    Indeed the self referential nature of the internet can re-inforce this. Hyper connectivity inevitably increases the load on our brains to the point where we substitute hard thought mental models with a thoughtless search algorithm or reduce everything to price.
    The irony of the internet is that we know more but understand less.
    In my experience what is needed is for organisations to think compassionately as well as smartly when trading.

  4. And smart doesn’t necessarily mean well-informed. Customes will take the chunks that they know, stitch them together with the things that ‘everybody knows’, as well as the things they’ve heard, overheard, or assumed. The resulting tapestry will be their view of the company. Which you can bet your last dollar won’t look like what the CEO thinks it looks like to them.

  5. by having a human who understands behavior parse through the feedback. No tools will tell you the meaning of what you’re seeing, or will be able to extrapolate the trends.

  6. and yet, what I am seeing is the hiring of one profile: the detail-oriented, compliance-minded, and type-A (fairly young/cost effective) person in positions where being wiser and more experienced professional might do a world of good for everyone (not to take away from anyone, there is a reason why experience matters)

  7. indeed it doesn’t. As buyers we are often informed yet not smart — we will not do as much learning about a product’s features as a seller does…
    And you are spot on in terms of what customers stitch together.

  8. I’m glad we’ve come to this point.
    It seems that corporate customers are a little on the stupid side. Never before have corporations had so much instruction on how to buy well and yet they continue to “buy” poorly.
    This is the thing, if you think about corporations as customers of services from the wise experienced etc. It is often those same people who are most critcal of the corporation
    “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.”
    Does this mean corporate customers need to be given more credit for their decisions or the whole customers know better thing is a little overstretched and the truth is they’re are more than a little dumb.

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