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Tarnish your customers: They love it!! (or rather Did You Ever Hear the word Customer Advocacy?)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Long ago I came to the important conclusion – and I think that I am not the only one – that the web, the mobile telephony and many other less known amazing technologies developed and commercialized in the last 20 years have made our life easier in some respects but harder in some others. I do not refer here to complains about information overload, Internet criminality or the various forms of online addictions but simply about situations where technology should make our life really easy but this does not happen because it is not used in the right way. One reason for this is the rampant ignorance of businesses as to what technology can do and also as to what marketing in the 21st century is about.
But I also have another explanation: Some years ago my eye fell on an article (I think published in the HBR) titled Tarnish Your Customers: They love it. It seems that this article (or at least the title) has been read by many, mainly from the mobile telephony industry, who obviously decided to make this slogan their business mantra.
I can’t help it but this though comes back to my mind whenever the time for renewing our mobile subscriptions at home is approaching. To keep all four members of my family connected I pay, like all of us, an expensive ticket per year. I wouldn’t have many problems with that but I have: every two years when the end of our mobile subscriptions approaches the nightmare of searching for the new package begins all over again. I must say that I consider myself lucky to use the standard university subscription and so to have escaped the torture of searching myself for a new one. But since the subscriptions of my wife and children end about the same time a searching spree is begun in search of the subscriptions fitting to each one’s individual calling patterns and browsing habits.
I do not know if you are familiar with mobile telephony tariffs but every time I look to them I question the state of mind of the mobile marketers and their bosses. It is the rule rather than the exception that the customer will have to choose among 20 -30 different tariffs with sometimes minimum differences in the services per provider. Imagine that sometimes you must compare three or four of these providers with similar crazy service schemes. And in the end after you make your choice you will most probably feel like a fool because you overlooked another offer, much better and cheaper than the one you got.
It is not surprising that mobile service providers together with a number of other industries enjoy the lowest levels of trust and respect among the public. It seems that they do not mind about this at all, despite their efforts to persuade us in their television spots that they love and care for their customers. They are fooling us: the term Customer Advocacy (something that I consistently try to explain and propagate to all my students during the last 5-6 years) is a term not included in their vocabulary. I think that their marketing strategy is to make profit by confusing their customers in the hope that they will choose a more expensive product than they really need. Or maybe they have no idea what their customers go through when they fell in the swamp of their offers. If they had any idea about marketing they would now that the over-segmentation is a failed strategy and also it is something else than mass customization. The over-segmentation was a popular strategy in the 70’s and 80’ resulting sometimes in 1500 or more brands (see for example P&G or Unilever) that had to be drastically reduced when it was realized that the only result was high customer confusion and low profitability. The new form of mobile services oversegmentation results in hundreds of price cosntructions that are only confusing customers and make the services of different providers impossible to compare.
Is there any solution here; is there any hope for us the unlucky customers? Having no choice the customers of the mobile operators oligopoly have been tolerating such a situation that only gets worst by the year.
And what can be the solution? I think a very simple one: its name is Mass Customization. There is no service more suitable for this, the only thing you need is a configurator (in case they do not know what a configurator is go to the Configurator Database to see hundreds of examples. You can add to this an online advisor that helps the customers to identify their needs and even better merge the two systems in one!
Rocket science? I don’t think so, just common sense and a bit of empathy for the customer will do the work. I promise to the first mobile services provider to do this that he will have me as customer for ever. 
And something else, do not always believe everything you read, even if published in HBR.
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