Here’s the challenge: our future networks can “make us not only more connected but, let us hope, more human.”
I am grateful to Thomas Kuhn and then to Joel Barker for filling one of my several knowledge gaps, in this instance the dual concepts of paradigm and paradigm shift. They have prepared me well for books such as this one in which David L. Rogers observes, “Today, business needs a new paradigm: the customer network. In customer networks, customers are no longer viewed as isolated individuals but are seen as dynamic and interactive participants in a network…To succeed, businesses, nonprofits, and organizations of all kinds need new strategies that match the behavior of customer networks. But first we need to rethink our image of customers, from individuals to networks. We need to stop thinking about the bees and focus on the hive.”
After identifying and briefly discussing four basic mistakes to avoid (Page 11), he shifts his attention to “Five Customer Network Behaviors” (12-15) and “Five Customer Network Strategies (15-20), then alerts his reader to 10 of the examples customer network strategies that are featured within the remaining narrative. They include a few of the usual suspects (Apple, Nike, Dell, Cisco, and Ford) but also a few unexpected exemplars such as author Stephanie Meyer (the “Twilight” series) and the 2008 Obama presidential campaign. All this is included in the first chapter (1) and by then, Rogers has begun to generate some momentum that carries him (and his eager reader) through more than 100 mini-case histories in Part II: Five Strategies to Thrive with Customer Networks, previously introduced (Pages 12-15). Briefly:
1. ACCESS: Be faster, easier, everywhere, “and always on.”
2. ENGAGE: Become a source of valued, preferably indispensable “content” [e.g. information, advice, constructive criticism].
3. CUSTOMIZE: Make offering adaptable to various customer needs.
4. CONNECT: Become included during your customer’s most important conversations and considerations.
5. COLLABORATE: Involve your customers at “every stage of your enterprise” [e.g. brainstorming to meet a specific need].
Rogers is dead-on. All of the customer feedback studies I have examined agree that “feeling appreciated” and “easy to do business with” are among the highest rated by respondents. With regard to #5, one of the most neglected opportunities to strengthen a customer relationship is to help each customer to strengthen its relationships with each of its own customers.
In Part III: Leadership and the Customer Network-Focused Organization, Rogers answers two separate but related questions with thorough explanations: “How specifically to plan and then execute a complete customer network strategy?” and “How to create the customer network-focused organization?” By now the reader understands that the five core strategies are appropriate for almost any organization, whatever its size and nature nay be. He introduces the “Five Step Customer Network Planning Process” and patiently guides his reader through each step. In the final chapter, he explains how to complete a transition from a customer focus to a customer network focus. He again stresses the importance of (a) intelligence generation, (b) intelligence dissemination, and (c) responsiveness to intelligence. Rogers then illustrates several key points when discussing Dell, SAP, and the aforementioned Obama campaign in 2008.
No brief commentary such as this can possibly do full justice to a book that contains such an abundance of valuable information, insights, and counsel. However, by now, I hope I have at least suggested the scope and depth of the potential benefits of the new paradigm that Rogers calls for. He expresses dismay (but not astonishment) when acknowledging that “we have not yet seen more customer network-focused organizations.” He suggests a few reasons for that, then concludes the book with still another affirmation of his faith in what needs to occur: a call to defend and strengthen digital access, equal access to knowledge and ideas, “those digital expressions, and our digital freedoms. If we do, then our future networks will continue to make us not only more connected but, let us hope, more human.” Amen.