The best businesses connect with their customers. They build intimate relationships, learn, and extend their products using this knowledge. After Apple learned that customers were using iPods to save addresses and data, they incorporated this feature into their next release. Intuit heard their small business customers saying, “I need to keep the books without the complexities of accounting" and QuickBooks was born.
Many companies have a different story. For them, technology has been a killer app—it’s killed the ability of individuals in the company to see their customers as individuals. Customers are a list to be manipulated, a total in a spreadsheet. They aren’t seen as people, much less as potential innovators. Dependence on big information systems is a source of the problem. These technology solutions are built to be comprehensive; built for speed; built for anywhere, anytime access. They aren’t built to understand individuals one at a time.
Sometimes the inability to understand customers stems from a business’ impatience and short-term focus on ROI. Tom Asacker pulls out an early marketing guru to make his point:
Abraham Lincoln on chopping down a tree: "If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first four hours sharpening the axe".
Instead, what do most marketers do? They take a whack at the tree, put down the axe, measure the cut, pick up the axe, whack the tree in a different spot, and repeat ad nauseum. Exhausting, to say the least.
If you are in an information-rich business with many customer interactions—you can know your customers intimately. You can look at individual customer behaviors and start to recognize important and startling patterns. It will take some time, but Abe would say it is time well spent.