The Customer Is Not In Control. Nor Are You!

One of the key-premises of the “Social era” is that the power has shifted from companies to Customers. We’ve all read cases of “United Breaks guitars” and alike to prove this. We also know that Customers are more keen to follow advice from close friends, relatives and credible strangers online than from just any company representative. And there’s plenty of evidence that Customers are showrooming.

But does this all mean that the power has shifted? The more I think of it, the more I disagree. Customers, despite the social tools, mobile devices and what have you, are loosing ground. And here are some reasons why.

The Customer Decision Journey is overwhelming
Have you tried buying something lately? Like any sensible human being you would start your journey online, or maybe by asking your friends, but at some point you are on your own, trying to figure out what’s best for you. By that time you have read dozens of reviews and possibly seen the same amount of comparison’s by online aggregators. It is highly likely that you are so overwhelmed with information that you suffer analysis paralysis. And this is not only applicable to services like e.g. insurances. Try espresso-makers (I did recently) for instance.

The Customer Decision Journey is ‘unbelievable’
If you have then found the service you want, it is also very likely that you will encounter multiple prices on multiple places for exactly the same.. And because you don’t buy that it is ‘exactly the same’ for that different price you start to doubt again: is this what I want? Is this the best I can get?

The Customer Decision Journey is ‘uncontrolable’
All this is caused by the explosion of online aggregators, affiliate contracts and those alike, like e.g. cashback sites. It’s happened largely unnoticed, probably due to growth of online sales in a new “hip and happening” silo’d channel. No questions asked as long as online sales growth quota’s are being met. Online marketeers were no part of the marketing department, but of the online department. In the meantime a brand is showing up everywhere, adding hundreds of touch-points in the Customer’s decision journey, without ‘knowing’ it.

You know what happened? The company lost control, yes, and the Customer did not gain it..

To further stress my point: During the decision journey your personal information got in hands of all kinds of parties that you do not know and, frankly, have no idea what they are going to do with it. It’s your mobile provider, the (mobile) operating system provider, Google, Facebook, Twitter, any online aggregator, affiliate or just company who you’ve asked for an offer. You can only hope they are trustworthy and stick to the appropriate legislation (as if any company these days can know exactly what legislation that is and how it is fully applied).

One thing is clear: The Customer is not in control, nor empowered to regain control. Nor is any individual company (yet!).

In short: It’s a mess, and frankly I cannot imagine Customers feeling even remotely empowered throughout their decision journey. And I’m afraid many companies are just about to discover they have entered chaos.. or is it?

What are you going to do about it?

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24 responses to “The Customer Is Not In Control. Nor Are You!

  1. Wim,

    A fun and interesting way to start 2013! As a read the post, I am left wondering if the company lost control and the consumer did not gain it, where did it go? I believe the missing variable here is ‘Time’. If any particular stop along the journey takes too much of it, then the entire process is abandoned, or the channel is changed. This presents its own set of challenges.

    Let me explain. I had my own buying journey for a new television and the various model numbers, features and functional breakpoints did reach a point of ‘time-wasted’. The journey was not full of too many channels, 4 or 5 maybe. But, when I reached the breaking point, I left the computer, went to a local store (not a big chain), asked the questions and in the end, bought the TV local.

    I did feel empowered, I simply chose to switch channels and buy local!

    Mitch

  2. Nice post and very interesting questions. Just a couple of thoughts:

    What is interesting, is that you put the ball again where it used to be in the before internet age, the gate-keeping of information providers or what you call channels.

    Second, information is only one part of the buying experience and buying process, which is well illustrated by Mitch’s contribution.

  3. Wim, I agree with each of the points you make. I disagree with your conclusion.

    What you’re talking about is decision-making, whether it’s a purchasing decision or management strategy or something personal. A person can be inundated by too much information or be inexperienced in decision-making in that field (or both). It is,of course, helpful when the data is presented in a simple fashion which the person can easily understand.

    Over the holiday season, I made dozens of buying decisions. For the most part, they went well and I chose correctly. I will single out Best Buy’s Low Price Guarantee, which enabled me to purchase an expensive keyboard there for the same price as Amazon was showing without paying for shipping and being able to take it home that day. All I had to do was to use my smartphone to show the cashier the price that Amazon offered.

    Sure, it can be confusing when the customer faces the plethora of data that you mention. But that’s not always the case, and sometimes the confusion is caused by the customer’s poor decision-making skills.

    I believe the customer still controls the process, except in cases where he or she is under contract (cell phone provider) or locked into a loyalty program (think airlines).

    But you are correct that there are times when it can be very overwhelming. Some customers just give up.

  4. Excellent question to start the new year. ‘Where did the control go?’

    As others have pointed out, the control was with the information ‘gate-keepers’. The companies had that control not so long ago, then shared it with channels and grudgingly with customers. The social network connected customers efficiently in unprecedented ways and now everyone has (almost all) the information. Too much of it.

    No gate-keepers any more. So, no one has control.

    A new set of gate-keepers are rising now. They are not interested in throttling information but in using that information as fuel for new decision-making infrastructures. The smarter companies and the smarter channels are building decision management tools for their customers. These tools rely on a new class of systems – Decision Management systems to get the customers what they need – not information, but easier ways to make decisions. Better personalized user interfaces powered by predictive analytics, business rules and social signals.

    Too early to tell if control will ever return in the traditional sense. Maybe we are entering another cycle of evolution. Hold on to your hats.

  5. Hi Wim

    Another on-the-money post. And another response longer than the post itself.

    Like you, I am rather frustrated by many of the simplistic messages being communicated by people who really should know better. No, NPS is NOT the only metric Cos need. They need a balanced scorecard of different metrics to capture different aspects of how the business system creates value. No, engagement is NOT the next big thing in customer management. Engagement requires customers to show emotional and behavioural affiliation that Cos are not going to develop by starting a one-sided dialogue through Facebook. And No, the customer is NOT in charge of the conversation. He never has been and he will not be in the foreseeable future either. Not if things continue as they are.

    As we both know, life is much more nuanced than that. A quick look at the evolution of CRM shows why.

    In the beginning we had CRM 1.0. This was driven by data and analytics and resulted in customers being more effectively targeted for sell-side communications. It worked great for Cos but it didn’t work anything like as well for customers. Unless you like being targeted for irrelevant offers. As a result, customers started to ignore the messages and legislators, always quick to spot an chance to cosy-up to voters, got in on the act making life much more difficult for direct marketers.

    Recognising that CRM was two one-sided, marketers developed Customer Experience Management (CEM 1.5). This was also heavily influenced by data but focussed on ensuring that interactions with customers produced a much more satisfactory experience for them. Not exactly difficult when the only interaction with CRM 1.0 was akin to having someone shout ‘buy this product!’ at you. CEM 1.5 is much more difficult than CRM 1.0 and the jury is still out on whether it really works for Cos. Things are definitely better for customers, but CEM 1.5 is still largely all about the Co and not really about customers. It’s more akin to someone whispering ‘please buy our product. Pretty please!’.

    With the advent of the ubiquitous internet and always-on mobile devices customers got the social bug. As a recent Pitney Bowes survey points out, over 68% of people (at least in the UK) are now online and using social media. And 78% of these people use social media to make their social lives easier by ‘hiring’ social media tools like Facebook to help them. Being social isn’t exactly new for people, we are a highly-evolved social species after all, but the tools do make it much easier. Research suggests that most people use social media tools to keep in contact with those same friends & family that they used to email, phone and chat to over a pint at the pub; in addition to sending them emails, phoning them and chatting to them to over a pint at the pub.

    Marketers being a smart bunch always on the lookout for something to replace the declining effectiveness of direct marketing had a brainwave. If they could harness customers to talk about their products to each other their bacon would be saved. Customers believe their friends, family and people like them much more than they believe marketers witha history of over-promising and under-delivering. And a small proportion of customers seem only too happy to play along by talking about Cos brands to others. One thing led to another and a new mantra was born… ‘customers are in charge of the conversation’, quickly followed by, ‘this is the age of the social customer!’.

    Or is it?

    Dig a little deeper and you will find that customers are not really in charge of the conversation after all. The same Pitney Bowes survey points out that only 26% of people (of the 68% who are social media users) actually follow brands and mostly to receive offers, take part in competitions or find out more about the brand. Even though 68% of people said they investigated brand recommendations by peers, that’s still only about 2/3 of 1/4 of 2/3 of the population, or about 12%. And it gets worse. Not only are a tiny minority of the population responding to customer social media, but 40% say they would be unhappy to receive communications from brands they don’t follow, 54% rate spam and pop-up ads as the worst part of their social experience and 65% say they would stop using a brand if its social media irritated them. They don’t even use social media for customer service; only 19% used social media, against 30% for the web, 31% for the phone and 61% for email. So much for the customers being in charge of the conversation and this being the age of the social customer!

    Don’t get me wong, Social 2.0 does have huge potential. But not as just another broadcast medium to be harnessed by and quickly trashed by marketers with short attention spans. That is the tragedy of the CRM 1.0 commons dressed up in Social 2.0 clothing. And as the data shows, customers aren’t fooled for a minute.
    If Social 2.0 is to become all that it can be, it has to start to understand what customers really want from Cos, and how they want it delivered at each touchpoint in the customer journey. And it has to start to organise the Co and its partners so that customers really get what they want at a cost and price point that allows everyone to be satisfied. This requires marketers to learn new skills from service designers (who have the best tools for understanding customers and what they want) and to adopt new business models based on value co-creation.

    Of course, marketers can continue to dress CRM 1.0 in Social 2.0’s clothes. But marketers should ask themself a simple question? Is that what they really want to be known for? Is that going to win them accolades and Effies at Cannes? Is that going to give them a shoe-in to a board-level position at their Co? Somehow, I didn’t think so.

    If marketers are going to help Social 2.0 to be all it can be they could do worse than think about the 15 themes I describe in my 2009 Manifesto for Social Business at http://bit.ly/16NCou. It has been read almost 34,000 times so far. Maybe there is something in it for marketers and their social customers too.

    Graham Hill
    @grahamhill

  6. There is no much to say here that has not been said (especially repeated over the past few years – social is not a revolution, customers are not in control, these is adding new channels to an overtaxed customer service setup, need to return to customer service excellence, not the medusa models we have implemented, etc.).

    One thing though, the company never lost control, neither has the customer lost their end. Companies choose to make their products and sell them (or not, witness Hostess cakes making the decision that it was not possible for them to continue operating, and their millions of fans bidding boxes of their products to obscene amounts on ebay), customers continue to choose to buy them (or not, reason Hostess cakes ended up where it was is because their products are harmful to humans who became more educated and stopped buying them).

    this basic balance has not changed, nor will it ever change.

    Social is just another set of channels for companies who choose to listen to their customers to do so – faster, easier, cheaper, and more accurately.

    Decision is back with the customer (to share or not) and the company (to listen and act, or not) – nothing has changed. No matter how many fancy words we come up with (customer effort, customer journey, service design, loyalty management, voice of the customer) to justify spending money on it – the relationship continues the same as it was when you were buying fish from the fishmonger in 1245 — if you heard the fish was not good, you’d not buy – right?

    Am I oversimplifying? you could say that – but the alternative is just a hoodlum of consultants raking in their kids college funds in exchange for advice to “try something different” with (at best) ill-documented results.

    time to get back to basics: leverage technology to listen to customers, act, optimize, and build better relationships. The rest is just lip service.

    standing down from my soap box now :-)

    • Hi Esteban

      An interesting if somewhat iconoclastic comment.

      I wonder. As Tom Asacker suggests in a later comment, we are bombarded with me-too products, mediocre marketing and miserable service. It has become increasingly difficult to decide what products we should buy, so sometimes we resort to social curation to cut through the conflicting claims. The best curation comes from the closely-knit real social networks of friends, family and strongly-tied people with whom we have developed trust over a period of time. Online social curation from people we probably haven’t met is a very poor alternative (and is easy to manipulate too).

      Maybe life has become a bit too complicated. Maybe customers would appreciate simpler products, that do exactly what they say on the tin and that provide a modicum of support when customers really need it. There is a growing body of evidence that this is the case. Thompson et al in an article entitled Feature Fatigue:When Product Capabilities Become Too Much of a Good Thing, show that overloading products with too many features confuses customers which ultimately reduces Cos long-term profits. This is supported by Siegel+Gale’s recently released 2012 Global Brand Simplicity Index. In addition to listing the simplest and the most complicated Cos to do business with, the study also suggests that Cos offering simpler products could charge up to 6.5% more for them. That’s real money! The UK Government recognises this too. HM Treasury recently commissioned the Sergeant Review of Simple Financial Products to provide suggestions for a range of core financial services products that most people use and that would be significantly easier for them to use. For Cos struggling to identify how to simplify themselves, Barwise & Meehan lay out a handy blueprint in their earlier book, Simply Better: Winning and Keeping Customers by Delivering What Matters Most. The book describes six simple rules (see http://bit.ly/UIRYJm for more details) that Cos can use to simplify their business operations and to profit as a result.

      Less can be so much more!

      Graham Hill
      @grahamhill

  7. Hello Wim

    I get that which you are pointing at and it does not surprise me in any way. Yes, there is a world of difference between the reality of the customer’s life – his experiences – and the narrative that is pushed by gurus, by the software industry, by the marketing & advertising industry, by the management consulting industry….

    What is the reality? There is certain zone of freedom for each customer depending on the industry that he is dealing with and his particular knowledge/expertise in using digital tools to ‘look around and safeguard his interests’. Some customers make use of this zone of freedom and others don’t. There are plenty of customers who are so used to being dictated to that they continue to be dictated to. That is the only world that they have known – I came across some of them this Christmas, they tend to be older customers – the pre-internet generation.

    In the same way companies have a zone of freedom. Companies have to ‘catch the customer’ and they are using the means at their disposal to do just that. And this is where the opportunities for the software and digital marketing industries come in. Because the marketing folks lack the requisite expertise in all things digital.

    If you look at it using an ecosystem perspective you are likely to get that companies and customers are both in a competitive and a cooperative relationship. At one level customers and companies need each other as someone has to supply the goods and services that customers are addicted to wanting. At another level, they compete for who gets the lion share of the economic value. In some industries – commodity type industries – it is the customer. Which is why many companies do everything in their power to differentiate themselves. The likes of Apple do it through R&D, fmcg companies have done it through advertising. The aim of the game from the company perspective is and always has been to get the lions share of the economic value.

    To sum up: nobody has control. And that is pretty much the way it is in an ecosystem. The whole concept of control in business is a myth, a superstition – an addictive one. Reality is much more nuanced.

    Maz

  8. Excellent observation and elucidating comments. Let me toss in a few cents, based on my research on human decision-making and, in particular, the formation of beliefs.

    Modern day human beings have always been overwhelmed with information and choice. To cope, we make most decisions with our “feeling” minds and rationalize those choices as the best ones for us at that particular time.

    We really don’t “know” why we do much of what we do. We are being pushed and pulled by our environments and stimuli that appeals to our values, desires, and cognitive limitations.

    Yes, power has shifted from the large and authoritarian to the individual. The internet has unleashed our freedom to choose by providing copious information, ever expanding options, and an increasing degree of active involvement in our decision-making.

    But… this full participation in the marketplace is as likely to create stress as satisfaction, as we trust less and less, and assume more and more responsibility.

    So no, we really don’t have more control. We simply have more information and the ability to broadcast our experiences to large groups of people, which is making product and service providers more price competitive and above-board (for fear of being called out).

    Otherwise, the computers in our pockets have simply given us all the illusion of control. Those skilled at appealing to how we make decisions (our feelings) will still push and pull us around.

    That being said, we do go willingly, albeit unconsciously, along for the ride. :)

    • Hi Tom

      An insightful comment.

      As you suggest, recent research in the neurosciences confirms that a large majority of most decisions are made subconsciously without us being aware of them even happening, let alone how. Even decisions that do we consciously make have a large component of sub-conscious decision support that again, we are also not aware of.

      But that is not all there is to it. We are not alone in our decisioning, rather, we are socially guided. Research suggests that a significant component of our decisions are heavily influenced by our social connections. Jonathan Haidt in his book The Righteous Mind suggests that evolution has favoured individual behaviours that enable real-world groups to be more successful. This has resulted in us being roughly 90% monkey (the selfish individualistic part) and 10% bee (the group-centric collaborative part).

      We are bombarded with information all the time. For example, it is estimated that we see over 3,000 branded messages per day. But we are pretty good at ignoring the ones that are not relevant. Have you ever noticed how you ‘see’ ads for big-ticket brands that you have recently bought , even though you didn’t see them beforehand?
      Even the information that we do take note of has to pass through our subconscious before even having a chance of reaching our conscious mind. Maybe that is why the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) in the UK focused so heavily on getting its advertiser members up to speed on the latest findings in Behavioural Psychology recently. Why appeal to the difficult to reach conscious mind when you can sneak your message past the mind’s subconscious doorkeeper? Why indeed!

      Graham Hill
      @grahamhill

  9. Thank you or this post and the comments. I take away the insight that we are deconstructing the managerial illusion of control. Fueled by generations of a rather successful industrialist worldview, yet we see an end to it in many areas. At the edge we see better ways to work together, have access to more experience, make better buying decisions within the constraints of time, money, information, and moderated by the vast repertoire of emotional appeal.

    The repeat experience connecting to each other helps us shed certain beliefs and invites us to try the new ways.

    I agree the customer is in control of the buying decision (who else?), but not so much in control of the resulting experience and satisfaction. Easy to find trustworthy reviews of mega-popular products, hard to find similar reviews for goods bought less often.

  10. Great post and comments. There is an extremely long way to go in this exercise – a generation (or two?). The barriers/silos in each environment, company/client, are being broken down and I don’t believe in the future the dichotomy of us and them can set the agenda. New (unwritten) rules and relationships across the economy will mash up anything anyone tries imputing by some structured systems analysis approach. Are there frames which we are all signed up too? Are we living in a postmodern world but don’t understand the new philosophy(ies)? This is what underlies the churn.

    Wim your note…
    “You can only hope they[companies] are trustworthy and stick to the appropriate legislation (as if any company these days can know exactly what legislation that is and how it is fully applied”
    Sounds oh so like when we hit the “agree” button to the rules and regulations for software use!!

    • Hi Tim

      An interesting comment. Particularly the bit about Cos struggling to follow the relevant legislation.

      On one level I agree with you. The volume and complexity of legislation has grown out of all proportion to its usefulness. Much of it is a well-intentioned response to market failures, e.g. UK Retail Distribution Review (RDR) and matching EU Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID), which have just been introduced in the UK/Europe. But as with anything complex designed by humans, it usually has unintended consequences that work against the original intentions. That is not a reason not to enact legislation, just for it to be simpler in its design and for legislators to be more careful in its implementation.

      On another level I do not agree with you. Much of the legislation is there to protect one party from the worst excesses of another party. Take UK Treating Customers Fairly (TCF) legislation (see http://www.fsa.gov.uk/doing/regulated/tcf). The legislation was enacted as a response to the unfair, if not blatantly illegal marketing practices of some in the UK financial services industry. The billions of GBP being put aside by many financial service Cos to settle legal cases and claims against Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) is just one of many examples of how rotten from the core some in the financial services industry had become. ‘Greed is good’… until you have to pay outsize compensation, fines and legal fees.

      TCF sets a low hurdle for financial service Cos to leap over. But that doesn’t stop some of them spending huge sums trying to get around the six outcomes for customers enshrined in the legislation. It is bad old business as usual for these financial service Cos.

      But what if there was another way. What if financial service Cos interpreted the six outcomes, not as something to be got around through incremental innovation and deceptive marketing, but as something to redefine how they could profitably engage with customers. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how an approach to new product development and marketing based on for example: customer jobs to understand what customers really want, outcome-driven innovation to identify matching innovations, radical simplification to make them as simple to use as possible, service design to design a better end-to-end customer journey, software platforms to enable each party to co-create value throughout the journey and building a market-focussed organisation, could provide significantly more value to financial service Cos, sales intermediaries and customers. In a world full of self-centred financial service Cos this could provide a real competitive advantage. Just look at how the arrival of internet banking raised the bar for all retail banks in the UK in the 1980s.

      There is often a much better way to do things. Even in highly regulated industries like financial services. All it takes is one financial service Co to break ranks for all the rest to follow. Perhaps this is something best left to a disruptive financial services start-up. It is only a matter of time.

      Graham Hill
      @grahamhill

  11. Thank you for sharing, Wim. I believe the power lies with brand advocates — not “fans” who are forced to “like” a page to get an offer, but those for whom the product is their “favorite”. Customers and companies who tap into brand advocates will have a more pleasant and trustworthy journey. I had developed an idea for such a platform, a discovery tool designed on a “grid” where a person could curate and define their “favorites” — people, places and things. This tool — my.favor.it — combined a person’s social graph, interest graph and a person’s own “brand” graph to curate their life.

    My tool would allow companies to evolve loyalty programs and deep relationships with their true brand advocates, and customers could tap into the curated “knowledge” of their friends.

    I pitched this idea with my developer son to Y Combinator for funding, but we were not selected. However, it is curious indeed that they did fund and develop a very similar “grid” tool which seems to have borrowed a lot of our ideas. ;)

    The future lies in the power of “identity”, and not just data that is mined, although Google is building these layers through their knowledge graph and Google+.

    Individuals need control over identity, to own and define, not based solely on algorithms.

    For example, Instagram missed with their controversial privacy change to their Terms of Service. They could have offered a split-revenue model to users with an opt-in for photos that could be shared by brands. This would have been a win-win.

    Platforms will win that allow control over identity.

  12. Wim – a great post and an equally interesting discussion which I would love to hear your thoughts and builds on! Customers haven’t changed per se; as Esteban and Graham point out, we have always been “social”. But the availability of information, the scale of connectivity and the tools available to both customers and companies certainly has changed.

    In my mind the impact of this has varied enormously by industry, geography, demographic / individual and company (for example, compare the impact of digital on a regulated / monopolistic Water Utility in a country with a relatively low internet penetration vs a competitive Media company in a country with a relatively high internet penetration). On that basis there is no one-size fits all sweeping statement that can be made to describe the impact – the customer is neither in control all the time, nor not in control.

    There are however certainly situations where the dynamic of a customer relationship or a transaction has changed in favour of a customer. This week I booked a holiday. I consulted Tripadvisor, travel blogs, price comparison engines, Google maps etc before placing my orders with various Airlines, Car Rental companies and Property Rental companies. I didn’t feel in any way over-whelmed or confused by the volume of information available and I feel I got the best deal for a holiday that exactly meets my needs. My access to information & peer connectivity was unrecognisable to holidays I booked a decade ago at a high street travel agency. On the company side of that transaction, without question some companies that I have previously been loyal to, lost out, so from that perspective I do feel that the balance of power in that transaction shifted in my favour.

    On the other side however, during that holiday transaction I gave up even more information to Google and Facebook. Information that they will no doubt use to filter my search results and “personalise” (I hate that word btw because it’s hardly personal if it’s not my choice!) the advertising and page content that I see. Information that makes them even more powerful and even more valuable. As a customer on that side of the equation I feel I have lost control of my information and data and significant power has shifted to the information holders and brokers.

    Maybe the problem here is the word “control”? Trade in a traditional bazaar or market is fluid and nuanced – buying or relationship decisions are made on a whole range of constantly changing factors from economic to social to physiological… nothing has really changed here except for the speed and scale at which data and information can flow. Both customers and companies can use this to their advantage and gain advantage in a transaction or they can make a mess of things and destroy value – there is no one size fits all.

    • Hi Laurence

      A very insightful comment.

      It breaks down into two parts: one about whether customers have changed their behaviour with the advent of online social tools and one about whether customers have lost control not of the conversation per se, but of their own digital personas.

      The evidence shows that although many of us have become regular users of social media (the Pitney Bowes study quoted 68%), we tend to use social media as a new tool to do those ‘keep in contact with friends and family’ jobs that we always did. As Strategyn’s Tony Ulwick suggests, our jobs don’t change, but the tools we hire to do them do! In fact, the research shows that the number of close friends, family and connections with strong ties hasn’t really changed since the advent of social media. We still have the same number of connections and they still turnover at the same rate. Even the number of weak ties hasn’t changed all that much. The average number of facebook connections is still in-line with the Dunbar number. What has changed is the number of ultra-weak connections that we hardly know. It is so easy to add someone to Facebook that you talked to for 5-minutes at a conference, that you follow on Twitter, or that you have no real connection with at all. It is not uncommon for people to have thousands of Facebook followers.

      What has changed is how we use the internet to do other non-social jobs, particularly information search and simple purchases (as your holiday example shows). The huge expansion in these things has driven a welcome simplification, standardisation and automation of customer jobs that would previously have been complicated, laborious and manual. Searching for information about trips and booking simple ones has now become as easy as turning on your iPad. There is still plenty of improvement to be made, however, as the Siegel+Gale Global Brand Simplicity Index shows. The laggards on the UK version of the 2011 study (I haven’t been able to download the 2012 study yet) were power companies and Ryanair, all of whom have been pilloried over the last year for making things too complex and confusing for customers, and for what has been described as ‘deceptive’ marketing practices. Interestingly, it has only been the threat of government action that has spurred power companies to take action to simplify their propositions; customer complaints seem to have had absolutely no effect. And in the case of Ryanair, the CEO has suggested that he wants to offer the airline flight component almost for free and to make money on the plethora of ancillaries that you need to buy to consume a flight. Expect Ryanair to be highly profitable AND plumbing the depths of the Global Brand Simplicity Index in 2013.

      As we use more online tools to do jobs we have increasingly lost control of our digital personas and just as important, our ability to control access to them. As the recent controversies over Facebook, iPhone and Instagram T&Cs, and their subsequent rapid climb-downs shows clearly, this is increasingly seen as a problem. We have been duped into thinking that search, social networks and so on are free. In reality, access to our digital personas has become the main product for sale on multi-sided markets. And those markets are rapidly going mobile and local. But this is much more difficult than serving up mass-customised or even personalised content on a website. Mobile is the ultimate personal device and woe-betide any brand that aggressively interrupts customers on it. The recent fall in Facebook’s share price has as much to do with its inability to leverage our personas through a viable business model on mobile as anything else.

      I don’t expect to be in control of the conversation in general. I couldn’t give a damn about most brands that I use. I am not going to tweet about them unless the usage experience is an utter disaster. I don’t even expect to be in control of the customer service conversation when I need help. But I do want to keep control over my digital persona and access to it to interruptive marketers. I recognise that I must give up some control as the quid pro quo for using online tools. But I increasingly limit the tools I use to just those that really help me do important jobs and those that don’t abuse my persona. That’s one reason why I have screwed down my settings on Facebook to the tightest they can possibly be and have practically stopped using it for anything at all. It is only a short step to abandon Facebook completely, although I will probably stay as a form of real-option for the future. But I don’t like being cornered in this way.

      Much as I hate to admit it, Maybe Doc Searls VRM should be the way forward. But I am not holding my breath.

      Graham Hill
      @graham Hill

      • Graham,

        “You” are the product, not the customer (as you like to say). You are probably more active on Facebook than I am since the security settings seem to change daily. They are counting your frequent administration “logins” in their engagement stats. It’s all part of their engagement strategy LOL

    • Hi Laurence I did’nt read your comment before submitting mine. I think you are spot on with your observation about technology powered trading. No progress is ever 100% positive. I’m sure there were “issues” in the bazaar too! Thanks for confirming that I’m the right track. And BTW have a great 2013.

  13. Happy new year to everyone. Good post Wim and some great follow up comments. My take is that in using the word control we are probably locked in an outdated adversarial space. For me the best business relationships are those that involve trading with others rather than controlling or selling to others. In days gone by we traded with one another based on trust, on reputation and on the quality of our product or service. Technology is simply broadening the market and creating new ways to build trust and reputation.

  14. Win,

    Thanks for a very thought-provoking note:

    In my view your note raises additional or alternative key strategy questions, other the adversarial “control” or “power” questions:

    1) How should companies best design [in collaboration with customers] or influence the Customer Decision Journey to be more coherent and conducive to mutually-positive outcomes?

    2) How can companies and customers best find a collaborative middle ground between Customer Relationship Management and “Vendor” Relationship Management? Is Customer Co-Creation the middle ground? [sharing power and control in an equitable way]

    All the best in 2013!

    Arie.

  15. Happy birthday Wim. :)

    I made a mistake of not commenting earlier. Now there are SO many comments to go through.

    My thought in all this is, so long as we talk about customers as a different species we might be unable to empathise. And without that, no amount of business modelling or technology buttressing can help. If people are mindful of their actions, empathetic of the other party and build a common language of trust, there we will find a win-win proposition.

    The lack of these aspects in today’s digital platforms, actually otherwise too, is IMHO what is leading to most of the issues.

    Now to get down to reading the comments. ;)

    Have a great year!

    Prem
    @prem_k

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