Collaborative Economy – Customer Appreciation Day

Part 2 – Collaborative Economy – Customer Appreciation Day

This is part 2 of a 2-part post on disruptive technologies and the collaborative economy. Click To Read Part 1

Customer Appreciation Day

Customer Appreciation Day. Signs bearing this message have appeared regularly in store windows and print ads throughout the decades past – a well-intentioned effort to reinvigorate customer loyalty by demonstrating that for one day per year at least, the customer is truly appreciated; which begs the question, how do retailers feel about their customers the rest of the year? In truth, of course, the customer has always been portrayed as “king,” but power was measured in macro-vision, with stores and suppliers responding to requests or complaints over weeks, months or years, and always in line with their own projections of trends and fashions. The customer was king in name only.

Customers, retailers and suppliers exist now in an age of disruptive technology, where real-time access to cloud-based communication and big data has shifted the power balance by 180 degrees and has truly put him/her in charge; and more specifically each individual customer is now king, rather than the collective customer base. This increased level of access and interaction has led to major changes to the speed by which reaction to a customer and innovation happen; and it also challenges the silo mentality of the traditional Business-to-Consumer model, resulting in some innovative collaborations.

Take car manufacturers, for example. They are just one of many big-ticket item suppliers who have recognized that many consumers in the younger demographic are just not buying cars like their elders did. A combination of a shaky economy, bleak job prospects and a heightened sense of mobility and independence have moved younger customers away from long-term commitments such as car payments into shorter, just-in-time relationships with car-sharing services such as Car2Go, AutoShare and ZipCar, where cloud-based reservation and payment systems give greater choice and flexibility. In a fascinating demonstration of the collaborative economy at work, traditional car manufacturers such as Toyota are starting to offer rentals from their dealerships, while Dodge is calling upon family and friends to pitch in towards the cost of a new Dart through crowdsourcing.

Banks such as ING are providing networking and small business virtual offices for their customers and prospects, and airlines are teaming up with taxicab companies to become group carpooling matchmakers.

Retailers and organizations are recognizing that the future of customer relationships is based on individual data gathering and collaboration, especially data that can be gathered through techniques such as gamification, in which customers are invited to log on to a retailer’s website through their FaceBook account, which opens up a whole collection of likes and habits that can be used to create a customized experience. Imagine, for example, a business traveler, landing at JFK airport, receiving a custom text from her favorite running shoe company stating, “Hey, welcome to New York! Since you enjoy open-air running so much, we have sent you a map of an excellent running route through the Upper East Side, close to Central Park. By the way, click here to download some excellent running tunes that match your existing musical likes, and a scannable barcode for a free post-run coffee.” This approach requires dynamic, real-time intelligence on individual tastes and buying habits, and simultaneously demands seamless crossover between vendors of different, yet complementary consumables.

This direct and collaborative relationship between the customer and the supplier is now being referred to as ZeroDistance, and it has implications well beyond traditional retail. Employers, too, are starting to recognize that customer demand has equivalence within the workforce, as more and more employees seek a more flexible and personalized approach to work that includes flex-time, telecommuting and using their own computers and apps (BYOD) rather than company-issued tools. Those who do not see progress in these areas are likely to turn to an unprecedented collection of job-finding and freelancing resources, where yet another layer of the collaborative economy exists, with freelancers providing their skills to employers anywhere in the world.

Simply put, this is all about the consumer bypassing traditional inefficiencies to become the company, which has to be of great interest and concern to any CIO who now sees him/herself like the captain of a schooner, caught in a wild storm on the Niagara River: wind and rain in all directions, masts and booms flailing left and right, while the Falls themselves draw ever closer. The security and reliability of IT must co-exist in careful balance with the need for extreme market agility and reactiveness to customers inside and outside the organization. IT must now start to represent more than just the nuts and bolts of a network, while the marketing department itself must become more real-time data driven; IT faces the grim reality that users are opting for uncontrolled SaaS applications to solve immediate problems (e.g. cloud-based apps), while the various Lines of Business within an organization demand explanations as to why market formation is not coming in fast enough.

ZeroDistance provides an opportunity for a CIO to eliminate the gap between him/herself and the rest of the organization. By mirroring the results of ZeroDistance between customer and supplier, the CIO stands to take on a role as a central architect of a company’s future: a navigator rather than a mechanic. As the C-Suite observes the profound changes occurring in the a wholly customer-driver big data economy, it must recognize that now, more than ever, the silos that defines each officer’s role are as dated as that “Customer Appreciation Day” sign in the window.

Sponsored by T-Systems and the Zero Distance community

By Steve Prentice

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