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Customer Centric

"The First Customer" - 3300 B.C.

November 9, 2011


Today's post is inspired by Stan Rapp, Chairman Emeritus of Engauge Marketing and a mentor from my MRM days who always finds ways to connect dots others never see,  nor misses a chance to “Think Big!”.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty and complexity of the modern customer experience and how to tweak all the levers of a modern, high-tech relationship to become “Customer-First”, I thought it might be best to start with the basics and take a look at the “First Customer”.

Ötzi, as he is affectionately known in Austria, is our case study today ( his reconstructed face shown above). While we never found a store receipt on him that would indicate that he truly was “Customer #00000000001”, the nature of the discovery of his mummified remains in the Alps (found in just a tad over on the Italian side of the border in 1991), provide some intriguing insights into the basics of customer experience.

On his person, Ötzi carried some interesting tools, a copper ax and flint among them. While hair analysis later showed that he likely smelted and forged the ax blade himself, the flint supported earlier evidence that there was a robust trading network that extended from his home in the Tyrol to as far as Southern Germany. Coming from the wrong side of the Alps, just how did he get his hands on that? He had to be someone’s customer.  Barter, borrow or pay with whatever currency was in use among his people, Ötzi was someone’s customer. But without advertising, modern retailing and Black Friday sales, what was the most important factor in concluding a transaction for something as important to survival as a flint?

Any customer transaction, stripped down to its most fundamental definition, is an act of trust. Ötzi must have had a relationship with someone whom he trusted (and could trust him not to use his ax to just take the flint!).  The key then, is really the relationship.  But this calls for far more than advice to create a loyalty program or turn over your marketing department to move everything to social media. It is really a comment about your corporate culture. A customer might need your product, but unless it is for something as basic as a fire-producing flint, will avoid you if they can not trust you.

You can build trust if you are invested in the right customer culture. Does your organization encourage its employees to know your customers? Do they feel a sense responsibility for the customer experience and the part they play in impacting it? Are they empowered to fix problems to make it right – for the customer? Do you build quality into your products and services that will ensure the customer only comes back not to return it, but to buy again?

Strip away all the modern constructs about what passes as great business and ask yourself – If I were my customer, would I want a relationship with my company?  If the answer is anything less than a resounding “Absolutely!”, no amount of Advertising, low-cost offshore manufacturing, introductory financing rates or  Social Media will fix that. Get back to basics and understand what your real value is to a customer that would motivate a relationship. And while as a consumer we may not want "relationships" with many of the manufacturers of our favorite products, we do want to trust them to the point we don't feel a need to reconsider our choices every time we need to buy something.

Ötzi came to an untimely end 5,300 years ago from what appeared to be battle injuries.  If not, he might have had a promising future as an ax maker who could confidently offer a “5000 year warranty”!  What we all need to remind ourselves is that in a modern era of SEO, Web Analytics and the full array of complex “solutions” we have to build our business, in the end we still have the risk of an untimely end if we lose sight of the basics – our relationships – and don’t apply our “Customer-First” lens to our efforts to build trust.

Next Week:  Taking a cue from readers’ comments to talk about the definition of “Customer”. It’s not as easy as it looks…

(And for the Copper-Age Curious, learn more about Ötzi here)