Friday, March 8, 2013

Caring about the customer
In stakeholder management customers are regarded as primary stakeholders of the firm but also many a firm not pursuing general stakeholder management, does think it should be customer oriented. “Usability”, “ergonomics” and “human centred design” are no longer exceptions in strategic considerations. The customers are moving toward the core focus of business, which I think is a good development, because traditional customer orientation is not enough. A deeper and more honest relationship to the people who are buying your goods is necessary. As I see it, the primary focus should not be on how to sell more of a company’s products, but on what the person buying the product really wants (also resulting in selling more products).
I would like to illustrate this think shift: Many people like to eat healthy food. A snack company spots this customer need, puts some milk into the product and praises it as being a healthy snack, even though most nutritionists would assess the product to be of the contrary (heavily sugared and fatty). So just by recognizing and addressing the consumer need doesn’t make a customer centred firm. Another example: Consumers like the look of dark red meat (not grayish meat) because they have built the mental shortcut (heuristic) that intense color in food is a sign of freshness. This is why market research study participants would prefer the dark red meat to a grayish meat product. A company that follows what the consumer actually wants, will not sell the consumer a meat that was treated with a gas that keeps it red (but doesn’t keep it fresh), it will sell the consumer fresh meat. This is not only a shift in strategy, this will have wide implications for a company’s daily business in distribution, packaging, communication and so on.
We use these mental shortcuts (here: intense color equals fresh food) because they mostly lead us to making good decisions (read publications by Gerd Gigerenzer for more on this topic). Shortcuts make life easier; especially in this fast paced, information-overloaded environment. These heuristics are good because they are often based on experience and implicit knowledge. But the shortcut only works if it is not tampered with by others. Robert Cialdini, a social psychologist, wrote several books on persuasion, summarizing his findings based on many experiments he had made in his research on e.g. selling tactics. But he states “Just because a given [powerful psychological] principle is successful does not mean we are ethically entitled to commission its persuasive power to create change.” I think this misusing psychological mechanisms such as heuristics is not only unethical it is also a strategy that won’t lead to sustainable business success. A company that shares its purpose (the “why” of a company) with its customers and therefore wants the same thing, will be able to engage the people they call their customers and conquer the challenges (such as resource scarcity) together in an innovative way, and of course sell their products.
Vanessa McSorley

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