The Big Customer Age

September 17th 2017

Avoiding the pitfalls of your customers' bad experiences making the headlines

A couple of weeks ago a colleague said something in a meeting which really resonated with me. She said, “We have been through the age of the big idea, this has now been surpassed by big data and we are now entering the age of the big customer.”

I don’t recall the “big idea” period with fondness. The obsession with the “big idea” kicked off the promiscuity between clients and agencies and largely put to an end the idea of long term relationships in marketing.

I say “largely” because not everyone fell for the ruse and it is interesting to look at those relationships that have survived for more than 10+ years and note how successful those partnerships have been for each other. Think Nike, Apple, Heineken, Toyota and of course many others. There were times during that period when I would have gladly wrenched my eyeballs out with a fork than participate in another mind numbing search for the “big idea” especially when it was being asked from “small idea” people with “smaller idea” briefs and non-existent budgets.

Big data on the other hand, has been a much more interesting journey. Mostly because few people actually know what big data is and even fewer have ever touched it or manipulated it. To be in the presence of people who do, is incredible. To be part of a team where you are shown insights that could be supportive or even contrary to your own opinion and, they are immutable, can be very confronting. Seeing organisations squirm under the pressure of an absolute tenant of their business being destroyed or large scale customer behaviour that is changing a business model in real time is exciting stuff. More recently, the emergence of machine learning and AI as a direct result of our ability to manage and understand large pools of data will change the course of human history. It’s happening already and at a pace few would have predicted. If the Industrial Revolution turned the world upside down, then the data revolution will turn the world inside out.

Which leads us to today, the age of the big customer. Despite big data and big ideas the customer still remains the biggest presence on most business people’s mind. Ignore them at your own peril. You can’t hide unhappy customers in the mire of mass marketing audiences anymore and heaven forbid that you should ever give them a bad experience. You will pay dearly. It wasn’t that long ago that United could have dragged an uncooperative passenger from a flight and only a couple of hundred people would have ever known about it and even fewer would have bothered to care. Fast forward to today and it’s the major news story all over the world for days on end. It is scary to think about who it was in the organisation that made that decision. It should be a wake-up call to anyone who owns a customer based business today to think about who in their organisation can make the decisions that impact their customers experiences all day every day. Thankfully, most businesses take Customer Experience very seriously and many have for a long time. Whether it be about Service Design, Product Design, the Checkout Experience, Employee Engagement, In-Store Touchpoints or dare I say ... Unboxing, there is always an opportunity to surprise and delight and turn Customers into Advocates. The fact that we are in an age that values and promotes Customer Value means it is a great time to be alive and a great time to work in marketing.

By Doug Chapman, Head of NEST Digital