Creating a Customer Culture

An ill informed but over curious rant of contradictions.

Photo by Roman Arkhipov on Unsplash

It was only after about a year of my time at WikiHouse Foundation that I started thinking about how my projects, initiatives, or even just the way I communicated as the Community Host, might effect the culture of the customers I served. In my case, the main customer is the person who identifies as being part of the WikiHouse Contributor Community.

It’s also worth recognising customers, not just as end users of a product or service we create, but as teams and individuals within our organisation. For example, management is an organisational layer that has a customer commonly identified as a ‘team’. So when we talk about customers, it’s often as a group of people that we serve (or at least that’s the idea). So ‘customer culture’ could really apply to just about any kind of working relationship, be it internal or external.

For the sake of this article, which is really just an extension of jumbled thought as opposed to anything with real credibility, I want to focus on the relationship between the internal company and it’s external customers that pay for a product or service.

To over simplify this I’ve recently been thinking about 3 different states of culture that companies can create.

1) Dependence

Customers rely heavily on the company providing the service for whatever reason, perhaps it’s because they need an expert or perhaps it’s because they feel entitled to the support because the service is premium and they’re paying a premium price.

2) Independence

The second is the state of independence or the isolation of the customer from the company, maybe the company has limited resource and can only put so much time towards supporting their customers in an interactive way. This company might rely on out dated support pages and the customers might implicitly not be viewed as important, perhaps because the product or service is considered a necessity (housing/rental market, energy suppliers, health care) and some level of demand is guaranteed.

3) Interdependence

The state I’ve been thinking about the most is one of interdependence. In my mind this seems like the best option but at the same time raises questions of the moral limits of markets. A company/customer relationship of interdependence is one that empowers customers to make most of the decisions based on their own needs and experience. Take, for example, platforms like Medium, YouTube, or Airbnb. Infrastructure is set in place, then customers are given freedom to interpret it’s use within the set parameters and purpose. I think in it’s truest form it also raises the question of why we even need some of these services or products at all (technically I should explain this more but I can’t, it’s just a hunch but also it’s probably true and I think we all know it). The irony of it all, is that no one person or organisation actually owns the internet. Where did it all go wrong?

So I’ve found myself thinking about these three states and how each could effect how empowered people feel vs how entitled people feel, how intuitive people feel vs how reliant they feel. Without doing a Phd or a heck of a lot of research going beyond a handful of books, it’s made me realise that as we move more and more towards this idea of customer communities and customer experience, we should be continuously asking ourselves this question. What kind of customer culture are we breeding by doing this or that and how does that effect society?

Of course it’s ridiculous to assume that these ‘companies’ are superior when it comes to deciding our culture as a society. But I think that the reality is, yes we have the power to change society, but it’s more convenient to let other people create change on our behalf and complain about it when it’s not what we want.

I’d argue that a lot of products and services in the market today are creating apathetic, reliant, and entitled customers and it’s all for the benefit of a few people at the top. I think we place too much value on some of these companies that create a dependent culture amongst us (for example, central govt. or prisons), but it doesn’t take a change in the market or the way we do business to dismantle this belief. I believe we just have to come to the realisation that because of these services, we’re starting to form false beliefs that are damaging to us as a society. If we don’t actively fight these beliefs it will just be how it is.

This is the end of my ill informed but over curious rant of contradictions. If you can make any great book recommendations on the multiple subjects vaguely mentioned above feel free to drop it in the comments section.