Who Owns The Customer?

Where in the value chain are you? This is a question that we're constantly being asked. When a customer is doing something, who is she doing it with? Who is she doing it for? With whom does she hold the relationship. Above all - Who Owns The Customer?

This sort of thinking always bothers me - I don't see anyone as owning the customer.  Yesterday, on the train home, I saw a person using Facebook on an Apple laptop with an internet connection provided by Vodafone.  Who owns that customer?

The Question

So, I asked the question on Twitter.

The Response

Here, in no particular order, are the replies I received.

The Conclusion

So pretty mixed response.  The argument can be made for all of them.  We rarely buy product X from Brand X's store using an X authorised credit card. All our transactions - monetary or otherwise - are facilitated by multiple vendors.  Each one of whom is working against the others for our attention and our money.

The question is, of course, nonsense. It is the customer who owns the relationship with the business. At any time they can terminate their contract with a company. A company can rarely terminate their relationship with a customer.

The best thing that companies can do is to work together to ensure that there is a seamless and pleasurable experience for the customer.

  • Facebook and Apple could work together to make sure the site works properly.
  • Facebook and Vodafone could work together to ensure billing can take place smoothly.
  • Vodafone and the Train company could work together to ensure there's adequate signal coverage.
  • Apple and Vodafone could work together to ensure the HSDPA dongle works.
  • The Train company could work with Apple to ensure customers can fit their laptops on to the tables and can recharge them.

Almost any combination results in a better experience for the customer.  It also means the customer is less likely to mistakenly blame one company for another's failings.

I don't believe that a rising tide lifts all boats - but if businesses don't get their act together their customers will simply drift away screaming like a sullen teenager "YOU DON'T OWN ME!"

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2 thoughts on “Who Owns The Customer?”

  1. Wes Biggs says:

    Isn't the point of open standards that these companies don't have to work together explicitly? e.g. I don't think Vodafone has to work with Apple directly; they just have to make their HSDPA dongle to spec. And Apple has to implement the USB comms stack to spec. Similarly, as long as Facebook follows the HTML and related specs (yeah, I know, easier said than done) and the browser manufacturers implement the same, the customer should get the proper experience (you don't mention which browser was running, but that's kind of the point).

    The only one that's interesting from an explicit collaboration point of view is Vodafone and the train company, because you've got real geography involved. Vodafone presumably has significant capital outlay in placing towers within range of GWR (as do other mobile operators). Still, this is mostly Vodafone's problem: while it's in GWR's best interest to ensure that their passengers can receive HSDPA signals throughout their journey, they are probably best off making the route plans and other data available to all cell site operators, not just Vodafone.

    So I would say the answer is not businesses working more together on a one-to-one basis, but generally businesses being more open about sharing data and using standard specifications.

    The customer service issue is a separate one. It will be difficult for any of the parties to remotely diagnose an issue the user is having if it's something like "the Facebook page isn't loading". Customer service is a cost, and it's hard to say if the Nordstrom model of offering customer service for the whole experience would be beneficial in this case (i.e., does that model only work face to face, in-store, or would it work via call centre?). It would be beneficial to the user, of course, but would it build brand goodwill to the business enough to compensate for the cost? Perhaps a better alternative is an insurance-like service that users could subscribe to that gave them 3rd-party customer service that covered all their devices/software/connections, a bit like the AA but for technology.

  2. I said the train company rather flippantly, because they're most likely to screw up the user's day - i.e. "own" in the sense of "pwn" 😉

    I agree: nonsense question. Normally only heard in close proximity to a conference room of telecoms geeks.

    The minute I thought any third party owned me, I'd be outta there. "I'm a free man!"


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