By- Dr Art Gogartz
What do companies want? They want to sell their products and services. What do customers want? They want to feel special, individually special. The guy who is waiting in line to buy a Big Mac doesn’t care very much about all the hamburgers McDonald’s sells or has sold. He only cares about his hamburger and how he is treated when he goes to buy it. Therefore to make money, B to C firms need to make their customers (at least their core customers) feel special, but most don’t. Companies pour all their efforts and resources into their products and services. The unspoken rationale is that by owning the product or undergoing that service, the customer will feel special.
This is equivalent to your partner doing everything they can to look fantastic all the time and you feel special because you’re their companion. It’s akin to them telling you, buy me that stunning new outfit darling, so I can turn heads and you can feel proud because you’re with me. What you want is that your partner cares about you, not that they always look great. What you want is that the companies you consistently buy from also care about you as an individual and this is the problem, companies are not set up to care about you. They’re set up to get you a good looking handbag or a neat hotel room, but they lack the human touch, the warmth, the empathy and the attention. They don’t communicate with you except to ask you to spend more money on them, and when you have a problem their customer service scolds you when all you wanted at that moment was help and understanding. They expect you to either put up with the problem or go to the competition.
They don’t care which option you choose, just as long as you go away. Paradoxically there are people in every firm you buy from who will care about you; the problem is that they don’t know who you are and they never get the chance to meet you. Eighty five per cent of the people who work for large firms have no contact with customers, and the ones who do, including the sales and marketing departments, have very little real power. In experiments where they asked individuals to write down the names of people they were afraid of, virtually all the names on the lists were strangers, “the mugger I will meet on a dark street” “the terrorist” or sometimes a famous person. Statistically, however, we have more chances of being killed by someone we know then by someone we don’t know. In fact, statistically, we have more chances of being killed by our partner than by anyone else.
Who are we afraid of? People we don’t know. Who don’t we care about? People we don’t know…..the customers we don’t know.
Marketing from the company’s perspective is different than from the customer’s perspective, same as with a couple in a relationship. What one person wants is often different from what the other person is willing to provide. This can happen when it comes to a lot of things, including time, priorities, affection and sex.
When I lived in South America, I often had a problem with my wife about what to cook at home. We had a maid, whose main duties were cooking and cleaning. My wife (who is from South America) always decided with the maid, what to make for meals. Men in South America never get involved in the decision of what to cook. Instead they gladly eat what first their mothers and later their wives put in front of them, in exchange for never having to cook, serve or wash dishes. Since my wife and I had lived in the USA for 10 years and in Europe for 15, I was used to being involved in deciding what to eat on a daily basis.
I remember telling her that the chances of them making the food I wanted to eat on any given day without first asking me were not very high. It’s similar to going to a restaurant and letting the waiter decide for you. Well, for what seems like forever, companies have decided for you. They are set up to give you want they want to give you, on the terms they want to give them to you and if you don’t like it, there’s not much you can do.
The consumer today however, does have increased power, at least theoretically. Because shopping is becoming easier every day, the fight for customers is intensifying. Most countries are becoming over retailed, and online shopping is surging. Companies are slowly becoming more customer centric, not because they want to, but because they have to.
The problem is that customer centric still means very little for the individual customer. I sometimes give a simple exercise to my MBA classes when I teach innovation, or marketing. It consists of a single multiple choice question: When you go out on a date with someone, what do you mainly talk about? A. You B. Them C. Things, including interests, hobbies, work, study, family, travel, restaurants, cinema, politics….in short, everything Students overwhelmingly choose C. From an innovation or marketing perspective however, you should go with B.
“It’s very difficult to paint a rose, because in order to do so, you have to forget all the roses you have seen and look upon this one flower as if you were looking at it for the very first time” Henri Matisse French artist
The statement by Matisse lies at the heart of innovation and marketing. In order to think creatively you have to drop your assumptions and previously held ideas about how something looks, functions or should be, and embrace the problem or situation as if you were looking at it for the very first time. In marketing you have to try to make each of your customers (especially your core customers) feel individually special, not only via your products but via your whole service experience and follow up, including customer service. That’s the challenge for marketing going forward to have “customer centric” really begin to mean something for your individual core customers.
This article was written as part of an ongoing project to contribute ideas and consulting advice on a range of global problems by the World Innovation Team. Contributed by World Innovation Team General Director, Associate Professor Art Gogatz.