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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited
In a recent article in The New York Times, C.K. Prahalad is quoted as saying, "Consumers are going to drive the firm." His prescription for business success is to look outward instead of inward – to see your products and services as your customers see them, not as they seem to you from the inside.
"But I know my customers very well," you may respond. "We have a relationship that goes back many years." That may be true, but the fact of the matter is that yesterday's customers have changed. And they will probably continue to change as the economy, technology, and society change.
In his book, The Tipping Point (Little and Brown, 2000), Malcolm Gladwell presents his theory that new ideas and behaviors spread through a society in the same way that viruses cause epidemics. The spread of ideas is facilitated by three types of people: connectors (people who know a lot of people and who bring together those with a common interest), mavens (people who know a lot about something and are eager to share their knowledge to help others), and salesmen (people who, by force of personality, can persuade others to a point of view). And just as viruses spread more broadly as transportation allowed people to travel widely, ideas spread faster and to more people as technology makes communication more ubiquitous.
So, whether we are talking about shifting fashions, adopting a new technology, trying a new product or service, or changing marketplace expectations, consumer attitudes will continue to mutate and evolve.
In this issue of Strategy & Leadership, we offer a number of articles that can help you understand how consumers are changing and some of the factors that are driving that change. We also include some tools for finding out exactly what your consumers are thinking and what they expect from your business.
Katherine Kress and her coauthors report on research that defines the new consumer and identifies the driving forces in consumers' changing attitudes. They also offer some suggestions for meeting these changing needs.
Jan Duffy underscores the importance of the customer in business analysis and argues for including customer capital as part of a company's overall worth.
Randy Harris explains how the digital economy has changed the buyer-seller relationship, especially in the B2B marketplace.
Horst Schulze draws on his experiences as a lifelong hotelier to critique today's technology-based customer service and endorses the person-to-person approach as greatly superior.
Warnock Davies gives us a detailed analysis of the relationship between corporate policy (or mission), strategy, and resources and clarifies these terms in light of their common misuse.
And don't miss Bob Burian's short article that includes a questionnaire you can use to assess your customer data-gathering process.
History has shown that, like the infamous Lola in Damn Yankees, whatever the consumer wants, the consumer gets. How well do you know what your customers want? How prepared are you to meet these expectations?