Does Customer Focus Alienate Customers?

by Emily Jasper on January 20, 2011

As a marketer, I constantly think about the role marketing has in business. For example, we are discussing behavioral economics in one class. Essentially you bring psychology and economics together to study how rational theory and our actual purchasing behavior collide. In one sense, you should buy product A because it may be cheaper and more readily available, but if Steve Jobs pitched it, you’ll buy product B for twice the price and wait in line for hours on end. That irrational purchasing behavior is exactly what marketers count on.

We’re also talking about the role of the customer in my marketing class, and I just read a case from HBR by Rust, Moorman, and Bhalla called “Rethinking Marketing.” Instead of focusing on profit as a return after push marketing, we should think about the back-and-forth dynamic of customer-focused relationships. This isn’t as new in the B2B world, and after having been in sales myself, I know that a customer-centric approach can help you not only achieve your goals, but find solutions for customers that they could actually use.

The B2C world, however, is probably still waffling. We all know social media and technology increased the number of ways a company can reach you. Data systems allow them to customize more than ever, and with analytics, they’ll know exactly which shade of blue you’ll be exited about at which time of day as they email you about their new product launch.  When social media really got started, people who jumped on the bandwagon before understanding it thought it was just another pay to keep bombarding us with ads, coupons, and announcements.

Today I feel like that’s still how companies use social media.

When you want to be customer-focused, it isn’t necessarily about being able to reach out to them in more ways with more information more times. It means that you have to learn a little about your customer, and sometimes more isn’t better. In fact, in the customer-centric world, right is better, not more. For example, there are some brands I’m pretty loyal to: Vera Bradley, Starbucks, and Amazon just to name a few. When I look in my inbox, I can tell which brands understand me vs. which ones kind-of-think-they-might-but-don’t-actually-get-it-at-all.

Let’s just say there is no reason to email me about your product twice a day when you haven’t created new products in between emails, let alone new products since the previous quarter. When I hit Unsubscribe, I usually mean it.

Unsubscribe doesn’t usually mean I hate your product, it often means I hate your emails. This situation is a perfect time for a company to get some feedback, and learn more about the right way to interact with customers instead of the more way. If we really want to be customer-centric, you don’t have to look far for what a customer wants. Start with your own inbox.

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