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Value of being Anonymous?

Customer Value Foundation

By Gautam Mahajan

I often look at the business world and wonder. What are they all about? They spend oodles of money in branding (in simple terms to be recognised by potential Customers, to distinguish themselves in the marketplace).

Companies also profess they wish to present a human face. They want to be seen as caring, friendly, and concerned.

Why is it that when the chips are down, they behave like inanimate behemoths with anonymous officers?

Isn’t this a dichotomy? Isn’t this against what they seemingly want to portray?

Try to find responsible executives in a company to tell them what is happening to you as as a Customer or your experiences? (Companies will find you to ask questions, but they do not want you to find their executives). Try finding a telephone number, and if you do, you start to go through corporate watch dogs (receptionists, secretaries, assistants if you can get past the answering systems, those wonderfully inert inventions that corporates love). Elsewhere I had written that companies, while they pretend they are inanimately anonymous to Customers (the only time they appear distinctive is in branding exercises), they are composed of real people, real live people. Companies are in the people business (they comprise of people, even though the voices come across as tinny IVR ones), and they deal with people (read Customers, employees, partners, society).

Why then do they come across as anonymous? (Smaller stores and mom and pop businesses may have a more human face). Is it that it is convenient to do so? Cheaper? Is this because the next quarter results are lurking around the corner? Or is it because they do not care (I do not believe anyone would be that crass)? Or is it that the convenience of the Customer is secondary to the convenience of the company? Or because Customer focus is only a corporate myth, which they try to dispel through brand building? Or is it that the CEO will be crucified to look at Customer ease and corporate accessibility before profits. And is it because the number one thought that comes to them for increasing profit is a cost cutting strategy? Not a Customer strategy to boost profits (can corporates see this? It means creating value, giving a great experience in the shortest possible journey).

I quote from Prof. Luiz Moutinho, a world famous Marketing Guru, who has been unable to get any help from Vodafone on some serious issues. He says ‘All the other possibilities lead towards a paradigm where  Service should be called “ Make the   Give Up….” a policy of total Corporate Anonymity….as opposed to   corporate transparency and engagement  through  a “brain to brain” intelligent dialogue with Customers.’ I rest my case.

But wait, I have something even worse. Most companies talk about a 1 to 1 interaction, they talk about customisation and a Customer segment of one!  The fact is for most companies, Customers are anonymous. Many companies have no idea how many Customers they have. The company knows what and how much they sell and through which channel. They can tell you about the profitable products, the profitable segments of Customers. But who are these faceless people? The answer is we do not need to know. How, then will they customise?

Granted this is changing. Social media and big data give them the opportunity to interact with the Customers. It gives them the chance to put a name to some of these people, and to access them, but at the company’s terms. Big data gives some personal information but much of it is still masked through the anonymity of huge unrelated mass of information that companies have to delve into, clarify and make sense of. But they are more comfortable doing this than really knowing Customers.

And what will happen when we go away form a physical retail store to a virtual one? Companies have to ask if Customers want to be anonymous, or if they are offering their personal data, their likes and their dislikes, do they want to be anonymous or do they want to make themselves known? And do they want to deal with anonymous people in companies?

Look at the net. You will see article upon article on making Customers anonymous, but very few on making them known. I just did a Google search and found nothing! And of course the reader will say, we can make the Customer known, he just doesn’t want to be known. Others will say, we are taking photographs, making records and soon they will be known Customers.

I would suggest a strategy to change. Change will start with the CEO and the CXO’s getting to talk to Customers and get to know them (their needs, their likes and dislikes, what creates value for them. Knowing their names may not be as important), and likewise for other executives. In a digital environment it may be difficult, but the winner will be the companies that try and succeed. Some companies already do this and executive spend one day a week with ‘anonymous’s (a.k.a. Customers)

Will you be able to create more value for a known or an anonymous one? Will you create more value or less if your people were not anonymous? Or are you destroying Value?
Your comments are welcome!

Gautam Mahajan, President - Customer Value Foundation

M: +91 9810060368

Tel: 11-26831226
Fax: 11-26929055


Customer Value Foundation (CVF) helps companies to Create Value and profit by Creating Value for the Customers, employee and for each person working with the companies.

Total Customer Value Management (Total CVM) transforms the entire company to focus on Creating Value for the Customer by aligning each person's role in Creating Customer Value and getting shareholder wealth and Value.

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