The Age of the Customer and How We Got Here

27

MARCH 2014

Eventus Marketing Team

We grew up hearing from various bosses and businesses about how “the customer is always right” and how you should focus on meeting their needs.  Before now, those ideas were considered optional and many businesses didn’t subscribe to them; but those days are over.  Now, if every aspect of your business doesn’t work towards delighting your customers, then you’ve lost a step in today’s market.  We have entered what Forrester Research has coined “The Age of the Customer” where businesses must be customer-obsessed in order to maintain any kind of competitive advantage.  This age of the customer impacts any contact center solutions you are using as well as other elements of customer engagement.  While this is the world our businesses now live in, it helps to understand how we got to this point.  Here’s a quick history lesson on the various business eras in relation to major competitive advantages and customer service operations.

The Age of Manufacturing

Occurring roughly between 1900 and 1960, the age of manufacturing focused on the ability to automate production through factories and assembly lines.  The ability to create more products faster than your competition meant that you could own the market.  Customer service was nothing more than an afterthought for businesses during these times; contact center solutions included only a switchboard connecting the customer with the phone to the store they purchased the product at while marketing efforts mainly focused on product features rather than customer needs.

The Age of Distribution

From 1960 up until 1990, the world moved into the age of distribution thanks to globalization efforts and the suburbanization of a majority of the American population.  Companies were beginning to take advantage of lowered labor and supply costs in foreign countries and as such, needed to build reliable distribution networks to transport their products not only from one country to another, but also from warehouses to an increasing number of retail stores across the country.  Lower prices and greater options lead consumers to favor the major companies who were able to capitalize on a structured distribution process.  During this time, customer service efforts increased to include the implementation of the call center, touch-tone dialing, the 1-800 number and the introduction of IVR technologies.

The Age of Information

The age of information lasted from 1990 to 2010 and focused on the ability of companies to capture, utilize and distribute product and company information in an effective manner through new technology.  The beginning of this time period also saw rise to outsourced contact centers as companies began to look for cost savings within the customer service departments.  This soon changed though as consumer sentiment and more common contact center solutions led companies to centralize their customer service efforts.  The computer changed the game during this era as new hardware and software provided the tools necessary for companies to fully understand their customers.  Those who recognized the power of the computer and its near-endless list of business functions were the ones who found the most success during this era. 

The Age of the Customer

We find ourselves in the age of the customer today, where all the differentiators from previous eras have become commodities leaving a strong customer focus as the current major competitive advantage.  Companies now have access to factories no matter how large they are, distribution has been outsourced through companies like UPS and FedEx while cloud computing and other, now affordable, technologies have allowed companies to take advantage of intelligent software solutions.  Companies like Zappos, Amazon, Apple and AARP are now considered leaders within their respective markets due to their use of various contact center solutions and customer-focused strategies driving increased customer satisfaction and retention rates.  These companies have shown that in this era, the company who is obsessed with providing the best possible service and experience for their customers will have the greatest competitive advantage in the market.

As the business world evolved, so too did the factors for competitive advantages throughout the ages.  Just a few years ago, success within the market was measured by marketing budget and market share, yet more and more companies now are focusing their attentions on customer satisfaction indexes and retention rates.

The customer is king.  Never before has this saying been truer, and the sooner businesses realize this, the better.

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