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?
So, I asked the question on Twitter.
Pop-quiz: Sat next to a guy on the train. Mac book, Vodafone HSDPA dongle, using Facebook. Who owns the customer?
— Terence Eden (@edent) August 14, 2009
Here, in no particular order, are the replies I received.
@edent At that point, the rail company is the most likely to be able to own him 😉
— James Pearce (@jamespearce) August 15, 2009
@edent Significant cash investment in the Mac, potential high time investment in Facebook. Vodafone probably disposable (sorry!)
— All About iPhone (@allaboutiphone) August 14, 2009
@edent great western rail
— Matt Millar (@millarm) August 14, 2009
@edent Who is delivering the immediate experience? Probably FB. Other two are enablers, wouldn't you say?
— Scott Smith (@changeist) August 14, 2009
@edent the train company, I'd say. or maybe the people he/she was poking through FB?
— Franco Papeschi (@bobbywatson) August 14, 2009
@edent Vodafone. They're the only people he's paying to do what he's doing. They're the ones who have a billable identity for him right now.
— Spike Garden (@sjjh) August 14, 2009
@edent Or alternatively who does the customer call? Probably Voda.
— Mark Watts-Jones (@MWJ) August 14, 2009
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!"