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Hop-Along Relationship Management

Posted on: Thursday 2nd of September 2010

Once upon a time there was a man who preferred to hop rather than walk. It happened because when he was very small he had an unfortunate series of accidents that kept his left leg in a plaster cast. The less exercise it leg got, the weaker it got; the more he used his right leg. Until eventually hopping on his right leg became the norm: trying to use the left leg to walk seemed more trouble than it was worth. “I can hop much faster than I can walk,” Mr Hop-Along, as he came to be known, said to himself. “So I’ll learn how to hop even faster.”

Hopping had a number of consequences. One plus point was that Mr Hop-Along was widely admired for the strength of his right leg. This became a matter of great pride to him. There were also some drawbacks however. Mr Hop-Along lost his balance quite often (though when this happened he would simply dust himself down and say, “well, that comes with the territory”.) His right leg also suffered more injuries because of the stresses and strains he put it under. Over time, he became increasingly interested in crutches: with better designed crutches and crutch using skills, he could really move very fast.

You might think that Mr Hop-Along is a mythical beast. In fact you can see him alive, well, and hard at work in every modern organisation. The way things have evolved, the way organisations try to manage their relationships with their customers is 100% Mr Hop-Along. The organisation does everything; the customer nothing – except act as a passive ‘target’ and ‘audience’ for the organisation’s activities.

For example, today we have a multi-billion pound industry working under the moniker of customer ‘relationship management’ – yet bizarrely, that’s the one thing it is not: a ‘relationship’. By definition, you cannot have a ‘relationship’ where only one side is actively involved.

The buyer-/person-centric revolution gets both legs working to create real relationships. If we look at today’s status quo, the right leg (the organisation) does everything: the research, the insight generation, the product development, the communication, the targeting. It deploys massive budgets, armies of highly skilled and training professional personnel, cohorts of specialist support services, agencies and consultancies, mountains of research, data and insights, warehouses full of exquisite, advanced tools, technologies and techniques to help it do this. Meanwhile, the left leg – the customer – contributes nothing except its role as a target.

Buyer-centricity introduces two key shifts. The first is a Copernican shift in perspective. It puts the individual – the person – at the heart of the commercial solar system, with organisations orbiting the person and the person managing his or her relationships with these organisations.

Second, it empowers the individuals with the tools and capabilities to actually do this effectively via what Doc Searls calls ‘fourth party’ services which act for and on behalf of the individual to provide all the things that traditionally organisations have held a monopoly: research, data gathering, metrics and monitoring, insight generation, information and communication, decision-support, targeting, along with budgets, skilled and trained professional expertise and the specialist support services, tools, technologies and techniques to do all these things.

There are two things to note about this. First, it represents the beginnings of a vast new industry of Personal Information Management Services (PIMS). I think PIMS could become the biggest ‘consumer facing’ industry in the world (the big difference being that PIMS act as individuals’ interface to supplying organisations rather than the organisation’s interface to the individual).

Second, it transforms how individuals and organisation interact as increasingly, the relationship is driven by person-driven information logistics: getting the right information to and from the right person (the individual) in the right ways at the right time, to help the individual achieve his goals.

At first blush, this control shift seems terrifying to the traditional manager sitting inside his Hop-Along set-up inside his Hop-Along organisation. Now he has to learn how to walk hand-in-hand with an equally empowered customer. But here we have to remember the drawbacks of Hop-Along approaches to doing things: the falls, the strains and injuries, the compensatory crutches.

For example, in Hop-Along ‘relationship management’, the organisation has to guess which customers are interested in receiving what information about which products and services when – because the silent inactive customer has no means of informing the organisation of what he is interested in, when. With buyer-centricity, just in this small corner of activity, we have a revolution in marketing.

Likewise with traditional CRM. Under Hop-Along CRM, the organisation has to set out on a God Quest – a quest to gather up as much information as possible about the customer, because there is no information coming from the customer. This is an incredibly costly exercise as well as being flawed, because the data collected about the customer is invariably partial and inaccurate with a strong propensity to get out of date very quikly. Here, buyer-centricity extends the revolution from marketing communications into all the operational aspects of customer services, fulfilment etc.

Now consider innovation. Under Hop-Along product and service development, the organisation studies its customers as a white coated scientist studies rats: observer and observed; subject and object. To be sure, you can find out a lot of things this way. But with buyer-centricity, the customer can talk to the organisation and explain what he wants and why he wants it, thus providing the organisation with the double whammy of both richer insights and fewer mistakes and misconceptions. This extends the revolution from how value is delivered to what value looks like in the first place.

Now, if we think about it, our Hop-Along economy has in-built structural flaws into how it designs value, how it delivers value, and how it communicates value. With the buyer-centric revolution – empowering individuals with information, tools and capabilities previously reserved only for organisations – organisations and customers (and therefore the economy as a whole) can learn how to walk, then to run.

The opportunity is unthinkably immense.