Customer (In)Visibility: The Choice is Yours
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Customer (In)Visibility: The Choice is Yours

Allow me to share something that is staggering to me. I spend thousands of dollars a year with many companies that have no idea I exist - and so do you.

As sophisticated as we probably think we are at "knowing" our customers, clients, members, patients, etc. (which I will refer to as customers from here on out) we really are quite in the dark. Gas stations, restaurants, grocery stores, and discount stores by and large do nothing to even know the names of their customers. Banks, hospitals, and insurance companies know only the bare minimum they need to in order to provide their services. Although building good relationships with customers has been critical since the start of the very first business, we still live in the dark ages of actually knowing what is going on with any individual constituent.

We now stand on the brink of this situation changing. Oddly, it is not a technology problem at this point, it is a paradigm issue. Way too many organizations are stuck with a belief that harvesting more information from customers is an invasion of privacy, or too much work with too little return. Both of these beliefs are outdated. We now live in a world where most people are willing to share certain fields of information without feeling like their privacy is being breached.

In fact, they are sharing liberally online by telling the world their likes and dislikes, their locations, and their opinions. We also live in a world where the organization that has the most information on their customers, and is using it, will win. We simply have to move away from the thought that we should acquire only the bare minimum of information on our customers, and instead look to harvest all that we can to provide targeted marketing (which people want) and better services (which they crave.)

The concept of Business Intelligence (BI) has exploded in the past few years. The driver of this is that we have gotten quite good at collecting business and transactional data, but have struggled to turn that raw data into useful knowledge. BI provides tools and a platform for moving data up the chain of value to information, knowledge, and finally, wisdom. Customer Intelligence (CI) is a subcategory of BI, and it deals with the same dynamic.

The first step is to admit that we are not using all of the customer information sitting right in front of us in a worthy manner. That problem is compounded in that we have access to tons of customer information for free online, and most of us do nothing to reach out and get it. Then we have the pile of data that includes all the information we could ask for but do not - not because people would not give it to us, but because we do not ask them. Every leader and every organization should be investing some time in thinking though what a CI system would look like in their operation.

This takes creativity, and the ability to see the world through different eyes. It requires one to let go of the current ways that customers are engaged, and literally rebuild how transactions happen. It takes applying new technologies that are pretty common at this point, and very inexpensive (if not free.) Here is an example:

My local convenience store is a place where my wife and I spend about $6,000 a year on gas. That is not our total budget of course - we spend at least that amount again with other C-stores. They have no idea who I am, and do nothing to build a relationship with me. They just post the prices outside for gas and hope I come by because they are located close by. The fact is I pass about 12 C-stores every time I leave the house and can do business with any of them, and often do. I could be loyal to any of them, but I am not. It has nothing to do with the price of gas; it has to do with the fact that they provide no value in my life other than a commodity.

The simple adjustment they would have to make is to add the capability for the pump to identify me by either the credit card I use, or letting me check in to the station with Foursquare or Facebook Places (or any of the other location-based systems.) When I fill up, I could just tap my iPhone or Android-based phone on the pump and use a technology like Bump to transfer the amount of the purchase to my file. Then I could see how much I have spent on gas over the last year, month, etc., and any other purchase information they want to track. They can then use this electronic connection to send me messages like discounts on gas or products, or notices of price changes. Now they have the tools to get me to be loyal to them, and a connection to build a relationship.

Replace gas station with your organization, add a little creativity, and I promise, you could develop a much deeper connection to your customers by learning more about them, and using that information to strengthen your value proposition.

Or you can just wait around until your competitors do this and you are forced to spend a year catching up while you bleed market share the whole time. The choice is yours, Customer Intelligence, or Customer Invisibility.

Scott Klososky, a former CEO and author of the new books, Enterprise Social Technology and The Velocity Manifesto, specializes in having the vision and ability to see trends in emerging technologies, which allows him to be a thought leader who applies his skills to help organizations thrive, leaders prosper, and entire industries move forward. His unique perspectives on technology, business culture, and the future allows him to travel the globe as a speaker and consultant, working with senior executives in organizations ranging from Fortune 500 corporations to universities and nonprofits. Contact him at 405-226-9897 or

Published: July 6th, 2011

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