The Age of the Customer: A book review by Bob Morris

4138tr3emML._AA160_The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance
Jim Blasingame
SBN Books (2014)

How and why all of a company’s initiatives must be in proper alignment to accommodate its customers’ expectations

As I worked my way through Jim Blasingame’s lively and eloquent narrative, I was again reminded of the fact that, at least until, recent years, the term “customer” has been defined much too narrowly, limited almost entirely to the person who makes a purchase. I credit Bob Cialdini for helping me and countless others to understand the psychology of persuasion, brilliantly examined and explained in his classic work, Influence. The reality is that everyone involved in an enterprise is a “customer” in terms of having to be “sold” on communication, cooperation, and collaboration; needing to “buy into” a course of action, etc. This is no doubt what Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba had in mind when formulating their concept of “customer evangelists.”

The information, insights, and counsel that Blasingame provides are based on decades of his real-world experience, working closely with leaders of all manner of companies, to establish and then sustain rock-solid customer relationships. Over time the essentials of those relationships have changed significantly, posing both unprecedented opportunities and (to be sure) unprecedented perils. In my opinion, several of the most disruptive changes are the result of the emergence of the Web not only as an electronic marketplace but also as a source of almost unlimited information about merchandise for sale. Jeff Bezos’ vision for Amazon is for it to become “The Everything Store.” He and his associates continue to re-invent what is already an immensely successful organization.

Blasingame explains:

o Why the Age of the Seller is coming to its end
o Why the Age of the Customer is being established
o Why “parallel universes” won’t last long
o The causes, effects, and significance of the subduction of expectation
o What the Moment of Relevance is and how/why it occurs
o Four critically important influences on the Buyer/Seller relationship
o Why trust is more valuable now than it was ever before

Then in Section II, “The Age of the Customer to Market” (Chapters 9-26), Blasingame correlates as well as develops in much greater depth many of the core insights he provides in the first eight chapters. He focuses on “specific tips and best practices that you can put to work today as you listen to and respond to the new expectations of Customers. You will recognize many of the terms, concepts, and shifts already mentioned, but this time they’ll be associated with applications as you take your business to market, prepare for the Moment of Relevance, and execute your Age of the Customer strategy.” Jim Blasingame would be the first to suggest that attempting to apply all of his suggestions would be a fool’s errand. It remains for each reader to make a rigorous evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of their organization’s current relationships with customers and then select the material in the book that will be most helpful when strengthening those relationships.

This is indeed the Age of the Customer but business leaders would be well-advised to keep in mind comments made years ago by then chairman and CEO of Southwest Airlines, Herb Kelleher. He was asked to explain that company’s extraordinary success. His reply? “We take great care of our people. They take great care of our customers. And our customers then take great care of our shareholders.” With rare exception, that alignment guarantees the success of almost any business.

One final point. I get the very strong impression that Jim Blasingame wrote this book to prepare his reader to do what he would do and how he would do it if he were retained on a full-time basis by the reader’s organization to help achieve strategic objectives such as these:

o Be alert for emerging trends that, potentially, could have significant impact on customers’ expectations and behavior and thus on the given organization’s relationships with them

o In collaboration with a dedicated team, determine how to take full advantage of the new opportunities that the trends create
Comment: In a small company, that team could consist of only 2-3 of his best thinkers.)

o Develop a cohesive, comprehensive but flexible, and cost-effective “Relevant Moments Action Plan” to achieve that objective.
Comment: Leverage the organization’s most significant strengths against its competition’s most significant weaknesses.

o Implement with bold, sharply-focused initiatives.
Comment: “The Age of the Customer” is a marathon, not a sprint, but the course to be run will frequently change.

So, I submit that reading and then re-reading this book can be — and should be — the next best option to having Jim Blasingame involved and engaged, full-time.

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