Last month, as part of Aaron+Gould’s first birthday, we gave away 3 experience consultancy sessions. On Monday, I had the opportunity of spending one of those sessions with Rick Timmis, and hear all about what he’s doing with making Customer Relationship Management (CRM) more personal and more friendly.
Other than the Exeter Tweetup I held in August, this is the only other time I’ve met Rick, but thanks to social media, we were able to build upon the conversation that we’d been having online for months and get straight into things. I don’t want to divulge the details of the consultation, as in short, we built a plan for Rick to take over the world, but I do want to harp on the one thing that we kept coming back round to: making it personal.
A shift is upon us, as we as enter the two-thousand-and-teenies, from the brand machine to people. In other words, people are despising the great awe and wonder and distance that big companies have, that once upon a time were considered the marks of success. This old school thinking went along the lines of “The more people between the CEO and the customer, the bigger, and therefore better, the company is.”
Now, the more people between the CEO and the customer, the more bureaucratic and out-of-touch the company is. CEOs are tweeting and brands are becoming ‘Olivia at Coca-Cola’, ‘Rick at Abazander’ and ‘Michael Hyatt at Thomas Nelson’. Personal doesn’t just mean you give me your name – it means I can contact you personally. Hear that? I can contact you personally. In other words, the relationship is no longer you telling me what do to. It is about you and me having a conversation. You listen to what I have to say, take it on board, and I in turn listen to you, and when you are unable to deliver on something I’m fine with it – because we have a relationship.
Relationship. The beginning of business. Adam Stone was telling me yesterday about a keynote he had attended by behavioural economist Roger Martin-Fagg, who was boiling business down from economic grandeur to the level where it began: relationship, tribes, identity, and felt need.
When you begin to talk about getting personal, many businesses step away. They are afraid of personal, either because the people in their organisation are money hungry wolves with no care for the well being of the customers, or because they don’t want to make mistakes, or both. Me, I have no time to work with these companies, nor these people. I’m onto more relevant things than money. Businesses that invest in being personal will win in the future – they will help more people, make the world better, and yes, they’ll increase their revenue because their customers will be telling their friends just how much this company cares.
Of course, this won’t be mainstream for years to come. But do yourself a favour and think innovatively for a moment. My predictions:
- The wise utility companies (Phone, Gas, etc) will start having personal reps. No longer does John from Vodafone call me but I can’t call John back and am instead stuck with Sally. In the years to come, I will become a client of John, my rep for Vodafone, just as much as I am of Vodafone.
- The wise high streets store will start cultivating personal name based relationship with their customers, as opposed to only the few that currently do like independent retailers and the innovative Gap and Starbucks.
- ‘Removed’, as a mark of stature, will be replaced by ‘In Touch’. The ‘In Touch’ CEO will nurture a more emotionally connecting brand, and will command greater respect than the ‘Removed’ CEO.
- Mobile Phone numbers on websites will no longer be a mark of being ’shoddy and can’t afford a landline’, but be an expected way to directly get hold of the person you need to talk to.
- Websites, then, without the names of the people who are running it and the people you want to speak to, will become essentially worthless. Average Joe loads the webpage, can’t find the person he needs to speak to, and figures ‘why bother?’ I don’t know about you, but business websites without names make me think they’re fake.
- Company Twitter accounts, unless they are brands that have thousands of followers, will make you look small because why follow the company when you can follow the CEO? Hence, Company Twitter accounts will become CEO Twitter accounts.
- Twitter, social media and realtime personal customer care – i.e. ubiquitous business – will boom as people flock to their mobiles for the internet. A quarter of Facebook’s 250 million users are mobile, for example. Decisions can finally be made in a moment – by checking on your mobile.
- An extension of the above, reviews and rating of products and service has become real time and will continue to become more intuitive. For instance, HSBCreviews.com is a realtime monitoring of HSBC tweets, creating an overall rating of how good / bad they are.
- The current clumsy nature of getting train time updates, for example, will be replaced by digital personal assistants – a merger of the Google voice activated iPhone app and ReQall – only far faster. If I had the capital, I’d be investing in this technology. It’s Star Trek in action.
- Mass personal customisation – a hallmark of the experience economy – will become increasingly more mainstream. Think about the personal card greeting market that is increasing, and then imagine it across over markets and products.
Is all of this new? Not at all. As our friend Roger Martin-Fagg points out, it all goes back to year-dot behaviour, just with modern technology. Hairdressers, shopping in upmarket stores, small businesses and coffee houses, as well as others, have been doing relational, personal business for years. It is now time that the big companies scale down and get personal. Big used to be an advantage, but now, consumers are wanting names – and the companies that are flexible enough to offer them will win.
Fast forward to Tuesday night as I’m putting the final touches on this post and talking to Dave Thomas over the phone. Dave was telling a story of contacting his clients and receiving referrals from them. The point was, that unlike the ‘Removed CEO’, Dave had built relationships with his clients, was in touch with them, and could personally ask for a referral without the fear of embarrassment – because, hey, friends ask each other for favours, don’t they? This takes me to the final punch for making business personal…
The old method of doing business – the one that’s currently struggling to survive in the face of the social media revolution – is based on fear. I, the customer, fears the business. The IT agency knows all, and I fear their knowledge. The web host mysteriously holds all my files, and I fear they’ll switch my hosting off. British Gas serves my utilities, and I fear their bills when they don’t reflect our monthly arrangement. I fear the big successful CEOs and Creative Directors, especially compared to my small budget. It’s all fear.
Making it personal means trading fear for friendship. I don’t fear the IT company who are friends with me (and incidentally, that’s Dave’s company down to a T). I don’t fear the big CEO because through Twitter, I’ve made friends with her. Sure, I’m not inviting the CEO over for dinner, but there is friendship and relationship in the place of fear and the unknown. Alistair Banks (@banksy6) put it like this:
People buy people and that is so important – without being personal you simply don’t get that.
The ball is in our court. As innovators, Executives, Directors, Pastors and thinkers, we’ve got to take the first step of friendship towards our customers. I know full well that if you went onto the high street and asked people if they wanted their mobile phone company becoming all personal with them, they’d say ‘no’. But what I gleaned from Steve Jobs and Henry Ford is this: you need to tell people what they want. If Henry Ford had made what people wanted, he’s just have tried to make horses faster. Thankfully, he saw beyond what others saw. And that’s the point. People are so used to customer sacrifice that talk of customer surprise seems alien to them. (BTW, for a great slideshow on this subject, check out this.)
The challenge, then, is for business to grow some kahunas and be the first to do it. Because second place just sucks.