Born in 1957, raised as part of a liberal and progressive family in Calcutta, schooled by the Jesuits from 1965-66 to 1978-79: there is much in my background to explain why I espouse many of the beliefs of the Sixties. It begins with my family and my faith; it manifests itself in how I’m passionate about community and in communal activities, in a participative society, in a collaborative workforce. It underpins my interest in the “maker society”, in open source, in emergent behaviour, swarming, and servant leadership. It is to be seen in my attitude to ownership of material goods, it is to be seen in my attitude to ownership of ideas. It affects how I think about nature and the environment, and informs my beliefs in stewardship. It defines my approach to tolerance and to forgiveness, to war and to peace. It even influences the way I read and write, what I eat, what I cook.
And it influences the music I listen to. Take a look at the image below:
It’s a collage of 100 album covers, and represents the first 100 albums I would buy in vinyl if they were available at a reasonable price and in reasonable condition. I’ve “owned” these albums before, sometimes multiple times. I’ve paid for them time and time again, in vinyl format, on prerecorded cassettes, as CDs, as 25th-anniversary-with-extra-tracks-you-never-knew-you-needed-(and-you-were-right!), sometimes even in DVDs. Do I hear you say “sucker”? Yup, that’s me.
I’ve managed to buy quite a few of them on mint vinyl already, not as reissues but by being in the right place at the right time. But.
But given a chance, I would buy them as a single transaction, a job lot, a bundle. Even if there was some further negotiation to be done with respect to the sequence in which I would receive them, and the time over which that would happen.
It’s not just about music. I travel a lot. And I’d love to go to an airline and say, I’d like to buy 100 flights. Return. Most of them are on sectors you fly. I will use those flights up in a year. It may not be just me travelling. I will vary the class of travel, “turning left” for longhaul business travel and for at least one family vacation.
It’s not just about travel. I read a lot. And I’d love to go to a bookstore and say, I’d like to buy 100 books. Most of them are on subjects you stock. I will use up those credits in a year. It may not be just me doing the buying, I will vary the class of book, “turning left” for signed numbered limited editions occasionally and for at least one set of family presents.
Music. Travel. Books. Clothes. Eating out. In some ways it’s all the same to me. I want to tell someone what I’m in the market for, build a relationship between that “person” and me. Tell them how much I’d be prepared to spend and over what period and for what class of thing. Work with them to figure out the sequence, frequency and timing.
And expect them to invest in that relationship as a result, be my friend, guide, partner through that process.
But it needs them to think differently, in order to view what they do differently, move from the product perspective to the customer perspective.
Without that fresh perspective, we’re going to continue to see abominations like region coding on DVDs. Which customer was that designed for?
Let me give an example of something that does not work.
Let’s take Premiership football in the UK. Most grounds have capacities in the 30-50,000 range, with a few clubs below 30,000 and a few above 50,000. All of them have fan bases that are multiples of that number, large enough fan bases to warrant the payment of very large sums of money to acquire “exclusive” rights to the live games.
And then someone chooses which games are broadcast live in the UK…. it would appear that if you didn’t live in the UK, you can watch pretty much all the games live. So my brother in India gets to watch his choice of UK-based Premiership game live, while I can’t. Go figure.
OK, so the hardened supporter buys a season ticket to go to all the games. Guess what? Analog is scarce, so there are waiting lists for many of the clubs. [That’s true for most sports at an analog level, and why touts make real money: Lord’s, Wimbledon, Twickenham, the O2, the story’s the same.].
Since I can’t get an analog season ticket, the smart thing to do is to buy a digital one, right? Wrong. Because you can’t. You’re only the customer. Someone else decides what bundle of matches you get to watch, a bundle designed to disappoint every customer.
Which brings me to the nub of this post.
Customers are fundamentally unpredictable.
In the eyes of people trying to sell them things, that is.
Why is this? It’s because customers want to buy things their way, in terms of the nature of upfront commitment, the choices represented, the frequency, the sequencing, the bundling and the discount. And the ability to change everything.
I want to be able to buy 100 books or flights or albums. Or 10. Or 1000. I want to be able to buy it all from one provider, even if that provider has to source some of the services from elsewhere. I want to be able to choose what and when and how. And to change my mind. Of course, if I do change my mind, I will have to pay for it. But only as and when I exercise that “right”.
I don’t want a buyer’s market, I’m happy to see the service provider make a turn on the service provided. Everyone’s got to eat.
The trouble is, it’s been a seller’s market for far too long. Based originally on natural scarcity and monopoly, now more often based on artificial scarcity, regulatory arbitrage, ploys and schemes you don’t want to believe. All designed to ensure that business becomes more predictable….. at the cost of customer service, service quality and even freedom of choice.
This will change.
Customers will choose to make long-term commitments with companies that give them simplicity, convenience and freedom of choice. In many industries, the early movers have provided simplicity and convenience but not freedom of choice, as a consequence of which there are people who believe that the freedom of choice is not important. That’s a big mistake.
A time is coming when the customer decides on the bundle of products and services to be acquired, not the provider. In fact, that bundle will comprise services from more than one provider…. the services themselves will commoditise, but there will be a premium payable for simplicity and convenience, payable to the “prime” who constructs the multiprovider bundle. The customer chooses the bundle.
A time is coming when the analog components of that bundle will last, as they used to last. Cars. White goods. Entertainment systems. All examples of analog goods that used to be built to last, and are now designed for rapid obsolescence. This won’t be tolerated any more. Planned obsolescence will no longer be accepted.
A time is coming when everything, as a result of commoditisation: every bundle, every analog item, every digital item, will come with a published cost of change. The cost of change will be payable in two forms: an “option price” for the right to change, and an “execution price” to make the change. The penalty for change must be published upfront.
A time is coming where the maintenance and repair of what is purchased will also be commoditised: where you can choose to go where you like for analog spare parts or digital equivalents. A time is coming when every customer will have the right to look under the hood, to tinker with the product or service, to make changes personally, A time is coming when the current warranty system will be overthrown, when the principle goes back to “fit-for-purpose” rather than “will work for a year or so”.
A time is coming.
Why has this time not come already? Because companies have designed products and services with the overriding principle of aiding predictability rather than meeting customer needs.
A time is coming.