In the Age of the Product, customer service ensured that the product lived up to its specifications. Everything after that was the customer’s responsibility, not the vendor’s. In the Age of the Customer, the bar has been raised. Now it is the outcome that must live up to the customer’s expectations, else it is the vendor who is left holding the bag. That requires a whole new function, what the SaaS sector has taught us to call customer success. Let’s take a closer look at what has to change.
First of all, we still need customer service. Products still break, implementations still go awry, and parts still wear out, and they all need to be attended to. The traditional CRM customer service model is admirably suited to the task. It is organized around a trouble ticket generating a case which is managed through to a resolution with the data captured in a knowledge base to better inform the next case. This is by design a product-centric model, putting a premium on accuracy of information and reduction of errors, with productivity being measured first and foremost by the number of cases closed and the time taken to close each one.
What this system does not measure well is the customer side of the equation. In a B2C world we call this the customer experience. In a B2B world, the critical variable is the customer outcome. In both cases it is the reason the customer bought the product in the first place. The problem with this variable is that it is, well, so variable. Experiences and outcomes are in the eye of the beholder, and there can be as many as you have beholders—even more if some of your customers tend toward schizophrenia as they so often seem to do. How in the world are you going to manage that?
For this you need more than data. Data will give you the facts, but as in any relationship, the facts are just part of the equation. You also need signals, the business equivalent of your spouse kicking you under the table. The good news is that our increasingly digital world abounds with such signals. The bad news is they are embedded in a whole lot of noise. Nonetheless, this is the path forward.
Specifically, we need to detect signals to feed a customer health model. In the B2C world these are likely to come from social media, as well as from the log files of users interacting with any connected product or service, or even just our web sites. In the B2B world they are more likely to come from proactive outreach, perhaps triggered by a signal from a connected product, but reaching beyond product health to connect with customer outcome status. This is one of the great new job opportunities for a digital economy, for it requires intellect, curiosity, empathy, and judgment far beyond what a chatbot can deliver.
The point is, in the past we were focused on the state of the product. Now we need to be focused on the state of the customer. That means there is a market both for programs that can help change state and for systems that can help maintain state. Both have to be customer-centric in their design, something that implies a new data model and a whole lot of opportunity for the next generation of application software developers.
That’s what I think. What do you think?