I didn’t think that my 60th birthday would affect me much, but it did. Know why? Because I realized that I was actually over halfway through my life and that it was a finite life. It also hit me very hard that there are things I needed to do for my own sake and hopefully for the benefit of others too in the time that was there for me. It made me value things that I hadn’t thought as much about and deeply care about things I already cared about and made me think about things that hadn’t been particularly top of mind. It put me in a position that forced me to review my life and what I had done to date and what I hadn’t accomplished that I had wanted to and what I had to accomplish that I still wanted to. Some of what I hadn’t accomplished, I didn’t because I didn’t want to anymore. I had changed.
What I realized more than intellectually is that not only have I dramatically changed over the past 60 years as I’ve evolved and matured but I’ve dramatically changed over the past 60 days in some regards and even changed in the past 60 minutes in much smaller ways. I’ve always recognized that this process of change is constant and continual and never wavering. We all change – which, by the way, doesn’t necessarily mean grow or mature – and are often, years down the road, looking back at what we were, not even close to being what we expected to be. Which means that often enough, we surprise ourselves with who we are and what we’ve become. And that, my friends, colleagues, family, and even those I don’t have the pleasure of being acquainted with yet, is the heart of the matter.
So, what does this have to do with customers and SCRM? Everything. First, let me ask this question. If I look back at my life and realize, like, I presume, most of you do to some degree or another, that I’m not where or what I expected to be when I thought about my future so many years ago, how can a company be expected to know what I am, what I want to be, what I expect from them and how I think – as a customer? Think about it – those questions are puzzles to me – the one who lives inside this skin. So how can a company really know me? But yet, they are trying to get some insight into my life so that they can know enough about me to persuade me to buy and buy and buy again. But isn’t what they do know about me more from a frozen moment of time, or a series of moments of time? Meaning they have a customer profile which has captured data at the particular points that I’ve intersected them How much value is there really in understanding me just from the information gleaned in that frozen moment of time? If the answer is “not much” then it brings up the oh-so-sensitive question….is it worth it for companies to spend money on strategies, process change, cultural transformation, technology, for what’s not more than a possibly better guess about a person who is either buying from them or potentially doing so?
It is, but how much value you get from that investment is determined by the appropriateness of the way that you think about the customer – given the industry that you serve, the company that you work for and the nature of what you provide to those customers.
So, while typically, say, you might be selling products and services to your customer based on a particular need, there might be a far more fruitful way to look at those customers.
Story of A Customer’s Life
As many of you might know, David’s Bridal was my client for several years – many years in fact. If you don’t know them, they are the #1 retailer of wedding apparel in the world – mostly U.S. based and with a product range that not only goes from $99 wedding dresses to Vera Wang and well beyond, but also the dresses that fit the bridesmaids, the flower girls, and the 15 year old’s quinceanera dress. Their success had been driven over the years by a single event – a wedding. Their presumption about the customer was straightforward. The customer was the bride and the wedding was the end of the customer lifecycle. The customer lifecycle started with the planning of the wedding and ended with the bouquet being thrown over the shoulder – at least so to speak. That meant that there was no reason to continue to co-mingle with the customer because, hopefully, they didn’t have more than one wedding.
But the world changed and they found out something.
They weren’t ready for was a customer who thought like this:
Now, this wasn’t their typical customer – in fact, this was just a joke that everyone at the podium was in on. But there was clearly a shift in how the customer communicated and what she expected, who she trusted and how she interacted with all institutions including David’s Bridal. This conflicted with their view of the customer which was very much:
- Event driven – a one off view that ended with the wedding
- Sales driven – high volume sales at their now 500 plus stores were the way they focused.
- Product driven – the success of the supply chain was vital to their customer experience. What happens when a wedding dress isn’t delivered in a timely fashion to a bride? “Going postal” is replaced with a new expression –“going bridal.”
You see that obviously, get ‘em into the store, sell them their wedding dress and accoutrements, alter and ship. That was the customer/company relationship. There was no advertising to the existing customer after the wedding. Why should there be?
Wait. Maaaaaaaaybeeeee there should be.
After a significant amount of discussions, some facilitated sessions, a look at documents and campaigns, I came up with this idea.
That David’s Bridal actual optimal customer wasn’t the bride.
Huh? Wha? How? Who?
Yeah, the actual customer wasn’t the bride.
It was…..(drum roll, s’il vous plait)
The mother of the flower girl.
Think about this. What’s the life of a bride after the wedding? She works at a job somewhere most likely. At some point, if children are in the cards, she is the one who bears the children (on a parenthetical aside, while I realize that the male tries to be sympathetic, to say that “we” had the child is ridiculous. I don’t see morning sickness, 30 extra pounds and pain during labor in the husband’s “child-bearing” resume). Then the little girl (if its a girl) grows up and old enough to be a flower girl at the wedding. Then the parent raises the girl – and if she is Hispanic – when she’s fifteen, she is in the market for a quinceanera dress. Then she (the child) gets older and becomes a bridesmaid, and then a bride and then a mother of a flower girl….
And the cycle of life continues.
Think about what this means to a company when it comes to thinking about the relationship with their customers.
- It recognizes that the customer has a life, not just a lifecycle – and that the company, if it’s in the right business – which retail often is – can have an impact on that customer throughout their life.
- It recognizes that change is the constant in the customer’s life and that the more insight they have into how that customer conducts her life (it can be a “his” too), the better they will be able to provide products and services in the course of that customer’s life and experience with the company.
- It recognizes that this is something that doesn’t end with the first generation but can continue on – changing the meaning of customer lifetime value – at least in a metaphorical sense – from the lifetime of the customer with the company to the actual lifetime with the customer intersecting with David’s Bridal at specific points.
- It also changes how the company markets to the customer, sells to the customer and serves the customer. Since they will see them and their families more than once.
In the case of David’s Bridal for example, it says that they have a relationship that doesn’t end with the wedding but only really begins with it. Which also means that the customer is no longer the object of a static sale, but the subject of a long term relationship. This is a fantastic potential value proposition for a company that is taking this long term view, but has its own sets of problems. On the upside, no longer is it just the wedding dress, but multiple other products and services that are geared to special occasions throughout the life of the customer – which starts with the wedding and ends with the….never. But the downside is that these are still events and there are long periods of a life that don’t have these special events. If you have no products, services or consumable experiences geared to the “in-between”, what do you do to not lose this customer’s attention, without spending far too much on the quiet periods to keep their attention. This is a tough problem, though more of one for specialty purpose retailers like David’s Bridal.
Life is A Moving Target
However, having this perspective for a large general retailer on the scope of Walmart or Target or even a more upscale department store like Nordstroms, is far less of a problem. What is surprising is that more retailers haven’t taken the “life, not just lifecycle” approach to their customers. However, in recent days, a rather brilliant campaign by Target has surfaced and is well worth taking a look at for its view of their customers.
Watch this commercial.
Target NAILS this one. The life of the customer, not the lifetime value nor the lifecycle is being considered here. She is a human who is evolving and who’s relationships are changing and she is experiencing life in her own way. Target is addressing that and saying implicitly, “we have what you need to support your life’s experience – and the next generation of that life.” What they aren’t saying is “let us sell you something.” Though, of course, that’s what they want to do.
Forget the marketing campaign for a second and concentrate on the customer view. This is a customer life flow that if put into practical terms is measurable over generations, in the eyes of Target, by the family’s continuing to shop at Target. It also says “customer, we can’t explicitly support everything that you need, but your experience will intersect what we can potentially provide you with to support your life at varying times – and hopefully, you will think of us throughout that life for that support.” Its an ideal relationship. But where it differs than high volume sales driven companies’ perspectives is that it doesn’t see the customer in terms of the products it pushes but it sees the customer as a subject of a relationship that is sustained by the life of the customer. What Target does is optimize what they can provide to that variegated, rich, ever changing human being over the lifetime the customer has – in real life terms.
Is this a great idea for everyone? No. But there are high touch industries and vertical markets that benefit from the idea of a “life as a moving target” and an evolving customer over time. Another example, higher education from the day that the high school student becomes a university’s recruitment prospect to the day that they leave the university dollars in the will – and the whole life in between. Student for Life, not for 4 years.
Think about this view of the customer, because as the social customer gains more and more credence, and is increasingly empowered by their own successes in life, how your company decides to deal with that customer is the basis for your company’s success or failure. It was always that, but customers for a lifetime provide a lot more opportunity as subjects of this long term interaction than as the objects of a product sale. C’mon. Which one would you as a customer rather be? Sometimes you’ll think long term, other times, just the sale of the item please.
The same “which one” is the corporate dilemma that 21st century companies face. Time to start deciding whether the customer lifecycle or the customer’s life is the basis for your relationship. The life(cycle) you save may be your own.