The Hidden Wealth of Customers: A book review by Bob Morris

The Hidden Wealth of Customers: Realizing the Untapped Value of Your Most Important Asset
Bill Lee
Harvard Business Review Press  (2012)

Estimates vary but, on average, it costs about six times more to add a new customer than it does to recover a former customer or keep a current one. 

In their marketing classic, Creating Customer Evangelists, Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba explain how an organization can leverage relationships with its best customers after enlisting them to serve – in effect – as an extended sales force or at least as advocates and referral sources. The specifics of their recommendations are best revealed in context. However, much of what they have to say about establishing a customer-centric organization is strikingly similar to what Bill Lee has in mind, especially given the emergence of social media that offer almost unlimited opportunities to strengthen relationships with customers, not only as consumers but also as strategic allies.

Here are a few of the several dozen passages in Lee’s narrative that caught my eye:

o  Why Customer Engagement Programs Fail (pages 7-10)
o  Customer Value Creation and the 80/20 Rules (36-37)
o  How to Build an Effective Customer Reference Program (50-60)
o  Accelerating Customer Engagement (66-68)
o  Marketing’s New Role: Engagement Through the Customer Life Cycle (85-88)
o  What Every Executive Should Know About Communities (113-117)
o  Developing C-Level Relationships with Increasing Reciprocal Value (150-153)
o  A Framework for Tapping the Hidden Value of Customer Communities (163-168)
o  Four Steps to Making Your Company a Design Platform (168-172)

Credit Lee with especially skillful use of several reader-friendly devices that will facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of key material later. For example, “A Road Map to This Book” at the conclusion of the first chapter and then a “Key Tasks” section at the conclusion of Chapters 2-8 that will sharpen a reader’s focus on how to implement key initiatives.  The key tasks identified at the conclusion of Chapter 5, for example, suggest how engaging customer advocates can help to increase an organization’s web presence. Lee also inserts dozens of “Tables” and “Figures” throughout the book to organize and illustrate key points. Then in the Appendix, he provides a comprehensive self-diagnostic that will help the reader to answer a key question: “Are you creating robust organic growth?”

One final point. Although this book’s title refers to wealth that is “hidden,” more often than not, the problem is that an organization’s leaders simply do not recognize “the untapped value” of an asset they already have. Yes, customers are buyers and if they do not buy enough of what an organization offers, it will go out of business. Lee urges those who read this book to replace their “customer = buyer” mindset with one that takes into full account all that customers can be and can do to help an organization thrive. Reciprocal value must be based on mutual respect and trust. That’s true of individuals and it’s also true of organizations.

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