One of my closest friends was recently taken aback when he – and the rest of the audience – were asked to decide how the theatrical play they were watching should come to an end. “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”, which opened on Riverside Theatre in Vero Beach, Florida, is based on Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel of the same title, and has up to 44 different outcomes, with the audience being in charge of determining how the play ends. One of the most renowned playwrights in the theatre realm gave me, perhaps, the best business lesson in today’s ever-changing and fast-paced corporate world.
Rupert Holmes was onto something when he was putting the final touches on his play and leaving the climax open-ended, subject to the audience’s own direction and conclusion. He may not have known it then, but by doing so, he was engaging in a practice called “customerization”.
This is a relatively new term that is being uttered in marketing and customer service circles, a buzzword that seems to be catching up. It may sound similar to “customization” but, make no mistake, it is light years away from it in terms of how the customer is approached through it and, ultimately, benefited by it.
Let me illustrate the main difference between the two with an example – customization is when you say to your local coffee shop barista that you want your iced latte with an extra espresso shot and a single pump of caramel. Customerization is when the barista invites you to choose your preferred specie of coffee beans (Arabica or Robusta), take your pick among a variety of caramel syrup brands, and even have a choice between a paper or a plastic straw.
In a nutshell, customization is seller-oriented while customerization is buyer-oriented, and this shift in dynamics makes all the difference in the world, specifically the marketing world. When a company switches its marketing model to customerization, it finds itself at the forefront of customer interaction. It asks the customer how he wishes the product he is buying to look, function and be like, then it goes about creating that product, down to the most minute specification set forth by the customer. In the end, it is the buyer who drives the end-result of the product bought or service received, not the seller. Remember Holmes? Although he wrote the play, he left it to the audience to decide its most crucial part – the ending. In other words, the customers decided on the end-result of the “product” they were buying.
Why is it important for companies to employ this new marketing model, though? As we know, customer is king, thus treating them like the royalty they deserve to be, by granting them the power to influence the development of the products they are buying, will probably keep them happy, and a happy customer translates to a repeating customer, which in turn works wonders for a company’s bottom line. In the case of “Drood”, critical acclaim through comments like USA Today’s TCPalm’s Angela Smith’s who characterized the open-ended feature of the ending as ‘magical’, comes as a true testament to the power and effectiveness of customerization.
Which brings us to the how-to part of the blog post. Below are two techniques that can help you make the ‘magical’ transition to customerization, whether you are a five-star hotel proprietor or the owner of an ice cream truck:
1. Actively talk to your customers: Show them that you care, truthfully and genuinely, in what they have to say in regards to their buying experience. Focus on the “buying” part, not the “selling”. Be a great listener when they describe what they would like you to give them; better yet, be a sponge when it comes to that. In his excellent book “Crushing It!”, Gary Vaynerchuk says that “the best dinner guests are not just great storytellers, but also great listeners” so let your customers do all the talking and, when the time comes for them to buy your product, then it will be your turn to take the stage and shine. Airbnb founders, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, early on when the company was still at its startup phase, flew to New York, knocked at the doors of their customers and got a sense of the main problem area – the blurry, low-quality photographs that were advertising the properties they were renting. With a state-of-the-art digital camera, they went back in and took professional photos of the properties, which had as a result the attainment of the intended purpose of securing rentals. Chesky and Gebbia, by going themselves behind the scenes of their customers’ spaces, they managed to power through their initial problems and catapult their business into the thriving business it is today.
2. Use technology to your advantage: We live in the digital era, and opportunities for connecting to others through technology are aplenty. Make social media your ally. Send personalized e-mails to your customers; ask them e-questions. Put up a survey (Survey Monkey is the one I use http://www.surveymonkey.com) in your website, asking about your customers’ needs, preferences and above all suggestions. Assimilate content by any (electronic) means necessary, then collate such and act upon it. The other day I was asked by a very eager Facebook application if I was happy with the advertisement service I opted for and when I answered “yes” it asked me back “why?”.
Next time you see me coming up to you at one of my workshops and chatting you up, you will instantly know that, apart from engaging into friendly conversation, I am also “customerizing”, with a view to architecting my future workshops based on your own requirements, specifications and above all valuable suggestions!