The “Age of the Customer” is over


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You may be familiar with Forrester’s infographic about the evolution of companies and that we entered the Age of the Customer in 2010. Here’s a link if not…

Chris Age of Customer Blog

I was lucky enough to hear Jeni Oye speaking at the annual, Melbourne Business School function last week. She inspired me to try and beat Forrester to the gun and ask two questions:

  1. When will the age of the customer end?
  2. What will come next?

My two answers are:

  1. This year.
  2. 4 options, all quite related to each other – Creativity, Culture or Context or Design. (Votes?)

Here’s why…

  1. End of an Age? The answer to #1 is, I think, either that the end is imminent or possibly that it’s already over. Now don’t misunderstand me – customers are the lifeblood of organisations and always will be. We all know that manufacturing is still vital, and distribution, and information, and customers. The current ‘age’ doesn’t make the previous themes redundant but is about where the current most dominant source of competitive edge is to be found.

And it’s no longer ‘customer’. Why?

  • Just about every company now has a customer experience team. They have human centric designers. They understand and use ethnographic research and create customer experience and journey maps. They prototype and test. They have embedded voice of customer programs. In short – everyone ‘gets’ customer. (To varying degrees of excellence).
  • Digital capabilities have advanced sufficiently that engaging experiences and customer empowerment are pretty much a given.

Hence – is ‘customer’ still a source of dominance? Not for long, and maybe not at all. The playing field has levelled.

  1. So what’s next? This brings us to #2. If customer is not the future source of dominance, then what is? Current market trends give us the clues to answer this:
  • When we look at successful companies today, and look at the threats to those that are currently dominant, we think of the innovative disruptors. The Uber’s and AirBnB’s of the world are absolutely pro-customer (as we’ve discussed before) and very focussed on changing customer needs, but what makes them stand out is their speed, flexibility, creativity and culture.
  • It’s now not much the knowledge of the customer that counts as the ability to use that to deliver services and information to them in the right context. This combines customer insights, analytics, data, creativity and a range of operational capabilities. Christian Hernandez’s recent article explores the meaning of context if you would like to read more.
  • And within the large incumbent organisations, those design and CX teams I mentioned earlier are no longer 100% focussed on customer research and design but increasingly spending their time looking inwards to educate and train their colleagues on design & CX skills, change program management methods, and bring competing silos together.

Therefore current problem, or challenge, is not the ability to understand customer needs and engage customers, but to beat the competition with the creativity with which you do so, and the ability to execute that change fast. This needs a new level of customer-centric culture and design skills.

So my candidates for the next ‘age’ are:

  • Creativity – customer insights, innovation, speed.
  • Context – customer relevance, timeliness,
  • Culture – customer centricity, behaviours, operating models
  • Design – customer desirability blended with viability and feasibility.


Republished with author's permission from original post.

Chris Severn
Co Founder and Director of The Customer Experience Company. Expert in Customer strategy, and delivery of customer improvements in service, sales and marketing, and across online, call centres and retail channels.


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