Golden Age for consumers
Speaking as a consumer, I can't help looking forward to the Golden Age promised by Customer Relationship Marketing (CRM). Armed with voluminous information on my habits and preferences, organisations in both private and public sectors will be able to meet my needs with high-quality goods and services at the best price and at the least inconvenience to myself.
And it doesn't necessarily stop there. Larry Hochman, opening speaker at a recent Unisys seminar entitled "The Customer Era - One Step Beyond," proclaimed: "We are moving from a distribution economy to a search economy and the customer will be in control forever."
Indeed Hochman suggested that the Golden Age was already here. "Expectations are dead," he said. "They are now demands." That makes me sound a little peremptory in my dealings with suppliers, but who can swim against the tide of history?
The key, as Hochman sees it, is the ability of people to manage their own time. If a vendor of goods and services can help them in this, it has a greater chance of securing their loyalty. Quality and price must be regarded as given; convenience is becoming the key differentiator.
I have two objections to this developing fascination with CRM: one is practical, the other philosophical.
The practical objection is based on daily experience of service that ranges from poor to appalling. No-one who travels on any kind of public transport, for example, would feel he or she was "in control", now, forever or at any time. Clearly, I am not one of those customers an organisation would identify as its most profitable. But as the focus of effort and attention zeros in on the most profitable customers, there is bound to be less to spare for the rest of us.
Hochman acknowledged this problem. "But surveys say customers say service stinks," he said. "Why? Because 99% of companies are competing against yesterday's expectations, not tomorrow's." The implication he failed to draw was that all those companies fall some way short of meeting yesterday's expectations and are therefore in poor shape to satisfy tomorrow's demands.
The philosophical objection is from the Stoical school. "The good things in life belong to others," Seneca wrote. "Time alone is ours." Granted, he was in exile at the time and apt to have time on his hands, but the distinction may still be valid. To enjoy control over your time, it is necessary to make one or two material sacrifices.
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