Thursday, December 26, 2019

2020 Vision -- The Restoration of the Customer

The Age of the Customer: You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet

Nearly a decade has passed since Forrester said we were entering The Age of the Customer. That is apparent and has obvious implications. But as the decade of the 2020's dawns, I call out a deeper vision -- The Restoration of the Customer -- that could bring far more fundamental changes in the coming decade.

There are two surprising turns that may be taken in this decade to restore power to customers -- one that can fundamentally change how we conduct business, and one that can fundamentally change how we collaborate.

Those turns might just begin to undo many of the ills of the industrial revolution and of the computer revolution.  Both turns center on a return to enlightened human values:
  • The customer is not just a persona with a bundle of attributes that a business can learn how to manipulate, but a unique human being that has been bred since pre-history to thrive on a cooperative effort to create value and share it.
  • The user is not just a a source of attention that can be engaged to be sold to advertisers, but a customer to be served what they value -- again, a cooperative effort to create value and share it.
What those paying attention see

Forrester put the basic drivers nicely (emphasis added):
In this era, digitally-savvy customers would change the rules of business, creating extraordinary opportunity for companies that could adapt, and creating existential threat to those that could not. ...It requires leaders to think and act differently – in ways that feel foreign, unfamiliar, and counter-intuitive. And honestly, it is simply hard to do. ...These dynamics will endure as new technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics emerge to challenge core notions of what it means to be a company, what it means to build human capital, and what it means to compete and win.
...And, a deeper vision

Here I point to some little recognized ideas on how re-centering on value can change not only the dynamic of commerce, but also a parallel dynamic of customer value that is equally important.
  • First, the commercial dynamic that Forrester describes is just the foundation for reversing how the "progress" of technology cost us the human dimension in commerce -- a dimension that we had when commerce was just the way villagers did business with one another -- with human beings on both sides of an ongoing relationship. 
  • Second, we humans, as "customers" of Web services, have lost control of our experience of the world.  Our central experience of human interaction has been hijacked by platforms who "engage" us in order to profit from bombarding us with advertising and paid propaganda.
First: Back to the future of commerce

Consumers are increasingly alienated from the companies they do business with. Instead of neighbors or shopkeepers, we deal with soulless institutions that we distrust and feel abused by. That has been, increasingly, the price of productivity and material riches. But now technology has advanced far enough to restore the dimension of human values -- if we applied to do so. That does not require that we abandon the miracle of capitalism, but only that we bring it back to the marketplace of human value. Technology now makes it possible for even large faceless institutions to build human interfaces that behave with human values. That will drive institutions to interact with human in ways that are more truly human.

FairPay is a framework for centering on why and how to do that. The key is to recenter on relationships and the creation and sharing of value in ways that are tailored to each individual. Specifics on how to do that are in my FairPayZone blog, some articles written with prominent marketing scholars, and my 2016 book. Some of the best places to begin to understand this are:
Second: Who does it serve? - a course correction in how we experience the world

Social media and other online content services have changed how we experience the world, including how we interact with other people. Computer-mediation began with great hopes, but now it seems we have built a Frankenstein's monster.  As growing calls for change are beginning to focus on new levels of regulation, it is not enough to regulate against specific harms. Instead we must refocus on what we want to regulate for -- who these "services" serve, and what we want these platforms to facilitate. They were supposed to make us happy and smart -- instead they are making us angry and stupid. But technology can reverse that, if we incentivize that.

We can design new architectures for our interactive media that create value for us.  The key is to recognize that each of us is an individual, and we should be able to individualize our services, mixing and matching offerings to make just the service we want for what we are doing now. The most urgent part of that is to shape our media services to give each of us what we value. The Web stated out seeking to do that, and we can return to that vision. It won't be free, but it can be affordable. And we have seen that "free" is not really affordable (because it is not really free). If we do not change direction, our democracies and our civilization will collapse. Some starting points for seeing how:

(Cross-posted with my other blog, Smartly Intertwingled.)

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