“Have a search for ‘personal data vault’ or ‘personal data locker’. They appear to be part of the emerging lexicon. Personally, I prefer the phrase ‘streams bank’. Thinking in terms of streams of data suggests flow appropriately, and ‘bank’ conveys that the service is working on your behalf to build value, and that the people providing the service work to a high standard, perhaps a regulatory standard. That’s if people still have such high regard for banks these days of course!”
He paused again. I think I mumbled something like ‘right, yes, I think I see what you’re saying’, if only to utter the sound one expects from the to and fro of conversation.
“And now I can answer your question.”
I had, to be honest, slightly lost sight of the question and I was thankful when Saket repeated it.
“Why do I relegate customer-centricity? To answer that, let’s first return to the definition of marketing: the process by which companies create value for customers and build strong customer relationships in order to capture value from customers in return.”
I indicated I was holding on to the thread.
“Let’s abstract that a little and see where it might take us. What if I said it like this? The process by which thingummies create value for wotsits and build strong relationships in order to capture value from wotsits in return.”
This time I gave Saket a look I’m sure wasn’t flattering.
“Seriously. Stick with me,” he said. “Let’s do some word substitutions. How does this sound? The process by which employees create value for companies and build strong relationships in order to capture value from companies in return.
“Or how about this? The process by which companies create value for investors and build strong relationships in order to capture value from investors in return.”
“In other words, every single individual, for each of her many roles in life, seeks to establish relationships to create value, of one sort or another. And perhaps the very definition of a sustainable relationship, and perhaps of society itself, is when such value creation is mutual.
“Today, as nascent as it is, VRM looks to equip individuals in their role as customer. A fork from it – government relationship management – is looking to help individuals in their role as citizen. Longer term, we’ll simply seek to equip and empower and liberate the individual across all her roles in life – customer, citizen, employee, vendor, supplier, investor, family member, friend, custodian of the planet, etc. You can’t call this a business domain or government domain – although business services will evolve to meet the need of course. This isn’t something I believe you can just label ‘social’ either. This is the human domain.
“Networks of these newly emancipated individuals join together more freely to create sustainable value, and they are motivated to stick together as long as that value creation is mutual and appears equitable and competitive, and so long as our values align too.
“Now allow me the license to describe Attenzi a little differently. Some participants in one particular network have chosen to brand the network Attenzi. Mutual, sustainable value is generated within this Attenzi network, within this system, and no one individual or category of individuals can do it without others playing their part – the right mix of others at the right time. It’s a natural law. It’s all in the mix. Ignore this, or indeed attempt to act otherwise, and you wither – particularly when facing off competition that does get it.
“That’s why I relegate customer-centricity.”
“Wow. Thanks Saket. Never a dull moment!”
I knew I was going to have to think about this some more. “So where can I sign up for some VRM?”
“In apparently attempting to put the customer first, it has amassed all this high tech weaponry on its side of the table to lend it microscopic visibility of its relationship with the customer, leaving the customer with nothing like the equivalent capability. The customer is adrift, uncertain of what the company knows or, more accurately, thinks it knows, and is unable to find out. Just as social media was rebalancing the relationship, the balance of power has gone against the customer again and he knows it. Or at least feels it and lives with the consequences.
“Perhaps the company gives the customer access to his transaction history via its website. Whoopee! And? Where’s the analytical capability, the insight, the decision-making assistance? What can the customer really do with it?”
Saket paused for me to take in what he was saying. Then continued.
“Don’t you want CRM to help you and the customer mutually, allowing you both to manage the relationship? Surely the value of your understanding how influence goes around comes around is enhanced when those you interact with have similar understanding. Or would you rather propagate the status quo – CRM as a construct to manage the customer?
“Who do you think best knows the customer in the round today anyway – you or him?”
“Well, he does,” I replied, realizing the question was actually rhetorical. I continued: “But of course not everyone who owns Attenzi equipment is even in our system. Domestic customers have a relationship with the retailer, not with us, and we don’t get to know about them unless they tell us, most often via warranty registrations.”
Saket’s response hit home. “In the future, when your equipment ‘phones home’ so to speak, both you and the customer will want to keep tabs on its conversation. You will have direct relationships and to a certain extent retailers may find they’re disintermediated.
“And by then you will also want to give the customer the opportunity to correct your misperceptions and misconceptions Eli.
“Let me ask you this, how does Attenzi treat customer records today? How will you treat all that data from those future products sending data back to base 24/7? And whose data is it? More to the point, when data isn’t a scare resource – it can be replicated at negligible cost – what does ‘ownership’ of it mean anyway?
“And while we get to operate our one chosen CRM system, can we realistically expect the customer to adopt each and every CRM system adopted by each and every organization he has a relationship with? No!
“If Attenzi really valued the customer it would share its CRM capabilities with the customer, and eventually help populate the customer’s own as and when such facilities emerge.”
I was feeling the world changing around me. It might sound melodramatic, but it was actually a bit disorienting. Now Saket was on a roll and obviously thought I could take it all in. He carried on.
“This idea, this potential for CRM on the customer’s side of the table, has been labeled VRM – vendor relationship management. It empowers the customer. It balances out the relationship with the very customer the corporate entity apparently cherishes so much.”