Customers Need Scale

Businesses love to say “the customer comes first,” “the customer is in charge” and that they need to “let the customer lead.” But for those things to happen, the customer needs to actually have the ability to do all three: to come first, to be in charge, and to lead. And to do all three the same ways with all the companies they deal with.

Scale for the customer is having the same leverage across every company she deals with. For example, changing her address or last name with all those companies in one move.

In other words, the customer needs scale.

Scale is leverage. In today’s networked marketplace, the customer doesn’t have it. She has do deal with every company differently, in ways those companies provide, and on their separate terms alone.

Consider, for example, changing her address of last name. She has to go from one website to another, logging into all of them separately, like a bee going from one flower to another through a whole garden. With scale she would make the change for all those companies in one move.

That’s why she can’t get scale from the companies she deals with, no matter how well-intended they might be. They can greet her by name, give her a hug and lavish discounts and benefits on her, and it won’t make a damn bit of difference, because they are each only one company, and they are not her.

What she needs is native power of her own. Without it, she’s up against CRM and other B2B systems sold to the companies she deals with, all of which are designed to “target,” “acquire,” “manage,” “control” and “lock in” customers — all terms better suited to ranching and slavery than to anything that aspires to genuine relationship.

To really come first, to really be in charge, to really lead, the customer needs powers of her own that extend across all the companies she deals with. That’s scale.

Just as companies need to scale their relationships across many customers, customers need to scale their relationships across many companies.

The customer can only get scale through tools for both independence and engagement. She already has those with her car, her purse, her phone, her personal computer, her email, her browsers, her computer, her cash. (See The Cash Model of Customer Experience.) Every company she deals with respects the independence she gets from those tools, and every company has the same base-level ways of interacting with them. Those tools are also substitutable. The customer can swap them for others like it and maintain her autonomy, independence and ability to engage.

For the last ten years years many dozens of developers around ProjectVRM have been working on tools and services that give customers scale. You’ll find a partial list of them here.

Here is what we have been looking for, from any and all of them together—

  • Ways to manage gradual, selective and trust-based disclosure of
     personal identifiers, starting from a state that is anonymous
     (literally, nameless).
  • Ways to manage our many administrative identities (the ones by which companies and other organizations know each of us), as well as our sovereign source identities (how each of us know ourselves).
  • Ways to express terms and policies with which companies can agree
     (preferably automatically).
  • Ways to change personal data records (e.g. name, address, phone
     number) for every company we deal with, in one move.
  • Ways to share personal data (e.g. purchase or service intentions)
     selectively and in a mutually trusting way, with every company we
     deal with.
  • Ways to exercise full control over our sovereign data spaces (e.g. PIMS) for every thing each ofus owns, and within which reside our relationships with companies that support those things.
  • Ways to engage with existing CRM, call center and other relationship systems on the vendors’ side.

I believe we have most or all of the technologies, standards, protocols, specifications and APIs we need already. What we need now is thinking and development that goes meta: one level up, to where the customer actually lives, trying to manage all these different relationships with all these different cards, apps, websites, logins, passwords and the rest of it.

Apps for doing those things should be as substitutable as a car, a wallet, a purse, a phone, an email client. In other words, we should have a choice of apps, and not be stuck again inside the exclusive offerings of any single company.

Only with scale can free customers prove more valuable than captive ones. And only with mastery will customers get scale. We can’t get there with a zillion different little apps, most of which are not ours. We need go-to apps of our own.

And we’ll get one. I have faith that VRM developers will come through.

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