Are You Ready for the Age of the Customer?
Markets were born when humans chose to acquire what they needed by trading with each other rather than producing it themselves or taking it from someone else by force. The moment of proto-market conception was when the first seller offered to trade with the first customer, and that offer was accepted.
For millennia, this marketplace dance was as beautifully simple as it was exquisitely effective, having at its nucleus three primary elements:
1. The product, controlled by the seller
2. Information about the product, also controlled by the seller
3. The buying decision, controlled by the customer
From that first transaction, when shells were the reserve currency, to about 1993, the marketplace dance was performed zillions of times with little variation. I’ve termed this period The Age of the Seller, because the seller controlled two of the three elements.
Everyone currently in the marketplace was taught Age of the Seller practices, as they were the dominant paradigm around which the global economy worked. Then something happened that had not occurred for 10,000 years: A new age -- I call it "The Age of the Customer."
This new age was born as micro-computers and associated innovations converged with high-speed internet and associated applications. As this convergence has shifted marketplace paradigms, it has conveyed the balance of power from the seller to the customer.
The millennia-old marketplace dance is still beautifully simple. But when the dancers come together in the Age of the Customer, a new leader emerges, because control of the major relationship elements has changed:
1. Products and services are still controlled by the seller.
2. The buying decision is still controlled by the customer.
3. The information -- including customer experiences -- is now easily and abundantly available to the customer without being controlled, filtered or distributed by the seller.
The Age of the Seller is succumbing to The Age of the Customer as customers resist the restrictions of the former age and embrace the empowerment of the new. During this transition period, sellers are operating in parallel universes, but not for long.
The energy that’s driving the shift from the original age to the new is customer expectations. The best way to think about the pressure the new age is imposing on the old one is with a geological analogy, specifically the shifting of tectonic plates.
When two tectonic plates of Earth’s crust collide, since both can’t occupy the same space, something has to give. Geologists call that something subduction, as one of the plates overrides and subducts the other.
If you’re operating your business with Age of the Seller practices, meaning the way we did business in the previous 10 millennia, you’re running out of customers who have Age of the Seller expectations.
But if you’re making the adjustments necessary to identify and deliver on expectations of customers in the new age, you can see that your world just opened up to the emerging Age of the Customer expectations. Ask yourself which tectonic plate your business is riding on -- the one on top or the one being subducted.
In the words of Rishad Tobaccolwala, chief innovation officer of VivaKi, “The future does not fit into the container of the past."
Your business is now operating in an age where customers rule. They like this new-found empowerment, and increasingly expect sellers to connect with them on Age of the Customer terms.
Visionary sellers are making the conversion to Age of the Customer expectations. Hidebound sellers, nostalgic for when they had control, are becoming irrelevant and are perishing. Which kind of seller are you?
In the Age of the Customer your greatest danger is not being uncompetitive, but becoming irrelevant.