Businesses collect lots of customer data to inform marketing, product and operations. Data from apps, engagement channels and products themselves. And so they should. It’s helpful to improve the business.
But look again, and you’ll see this is all from a customer exhaust pipe.
Data thrown off while users go about their daily lives. It’s why we’re asked to consent to ‘Yes, please send this helpful data back to HQ’.
But not much has changed since 1999, when the Cluetrain Manifesto book (well worth a read, and ever-relevant) described customers as ‘eyeballs with wallets and gullets’. In most cases, people are seen as transactions waiting to happen. Just look at what Google returns when you are researching something, rather than looking to buy.
Customers can take on new roles
But what data might be available if it was collected FROM people, not just ABOUT them?
Customers could take on many new roles.
It’s already started with ‘customers become support’. Like GiffGaff, where approved community members ARE the support desk. Same for ‘customers become sales advisors’ with sites like TripAdvisor and SeatGuru.
What if this could go much, much further? Here are some examples:
Customers become insights: not only sharing data about what they do with products, but the context: why they use it, when, and even with whom.
Customers become real time feedback: data feeds will be shared right along the customer journey, from payment and set up to daily use and upgrades… a sort of real time and next generation Net Promoter Score. 'Would you recommend this moment?'
Customers become the 360 degree view: Netflix doesn’t know all the films I have seen - but wouldn’t they love to see my real movie profile, what I've watched elsewhere, and liked/disliked? It would transform what’s recommend to me. And like how much they could charge.
Customers become a master data record: businesses will be able to verify lots of customer data, from purchases made and miles traveled, to events attended and real digital identities. It would massively reduce customer errors (think wrong address), reduce fraud (think account takeover), improve customer services (think customer authentication), and present an entirely new way to handle account updates (like change of bank card).
Customers become real demand: sales teams will be able to respond to genuine signals about customers needs… avoiding wasteful guesses from predictive engines.
The point here is that new digital customer tools won’t just help people make sense of their own data.
It will completely transform business and the role of the customer.
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The source paragraph in Cluetrain says, "So the customers who once looked you in the eye while hefting your wares in the market were transformed into consumers. In the words of industry analyst Jerry Michalski, a consumer was no more than "a gullet whose only purpose in life is to gulp products and crap cash." Power swung so decisively to the supply side that "market" became a verb: something you do to customers."
After the book was published, Jerry told me I had heard him wrong, and corrected the quote to "gullets with wallets and eyeballs." I've since sourced that one-liner in a number of posts, for example here: https://blogs.harvard.edu/doc/2022/09/18/attention-is-not-a-commodity/
By the way, we are in extreme alignment on all the stuff you've been writing about customer agency. Let's talk soon. :-)