“Capturing Customers”, “Luring Customers”, “Attracting Customers” and “Keeping Customers” are all terms used daily in marketing departments. They invoke images of carefully prepared fly patterns, practiced casts and the adrenalin of a good strike, ending with the satisfaction of a catch of the legal size, a ‘keeper’.
Many organisations view customers in the same way that the fishing industry viewed Atlantic fish stocks.
Some marketers, (not you gentle reader) allow various product managers to fish the same customer waters day in day out. They use nets, lines, perhaps even explosives,in fact any technique they can to catch all the fish they can for their product line. Large fish, small fish, dolphins and seals, no matter, the sheer weight of fish is all that matters, catch them and the folks in accounts or risk management can sort them out later.
But it can’t go on forever and interesting things happen as fish stocks deplete.
The fish get smarter, other fishermen take too many fish, whatever the reason; basically the fish get harder to catch and the expense per fish climbs. Successful fishing campaigns become rare and marketing more superstitious as ‘luck’ starts to play an increasingly important role in determining which Product Manager gets the good haul. Internal competition for access to the schools of customers increases and increasingly intense fishing worsens the yields.
Sometimes marginal species are harvested in a, short-sighted, effort to keep the canning lines busy; the aquatic equivalent of aggressive discount programs.
Product Managers lobby for increased and more elaborate fishing rigs as they range further and further, perhaps even targeting species considered commercially marginal in the past.
If we are lucky, at some point, governments, alarmed by the threat to their fishing industries, step in. They appoint a governing body to preserve breeding stocks by limiting:
- the number of product managers allowed to chase the fish,
- the techniques they use and
- the times of year they can operate.
Old and inefficient ships are mothballed, replaced with more efficient technology that reduces collateral damage to the customers.
As a group they legislate the number of campaigns allowed and the quality of the fish allowed in a catch.
Importantly they crack down on rouge product managers with “exciting new ways to catch fish” because the problem is not acquisition as much as it is sustained, quality yields. Poaching can ruin decades of planning so all parties sign treaties and help stop uncoordinated campaigns to unsuspecting customers.
They do NOT do this by relying on the self-restraint and self-regulation of individual ship-owning fishermen (product managers). Each and every one of who will insist that the other fishers show restraint first.
Who “owns” the customer interactions in your company, who makes the rules that govern who does what to whom and when? Marketing? Sales? Accounts Receivables? Branch or Store Managers?
The real objective of defining customer ownership inside the organisation is to allow the enterprise to treat its customers rationally. If your answer is “all of the above”, you run the risk of looking irrational to your customers and overfishing your customer base.
There is nothing rational in offering me a credit card upgrade that is not available when I call the toll-free number provided. It is irrational to offer me a home equity loan and an increased credit card limit in the same mail delivery. There is nothing rational about writing to me to combine my gas and electricity accounts into one with you when I already have. But I have received these within the last 30 days.
So the question is; who is ensuring that you act rationally with your customer base and you don’t ruin your long term business?
One answer is establishing the role of Customer Governor, a person or team that researches your customers. Your organisation needs to understand:
- customer needs and behaviours,
- the level of fishing they can sustain before costs exceed the value of the catch and
- how to profitably sustain the long term relationship between them and your company.
And then sets rules defining customer interaction that are understood, followed and enforced within the company.
The Customer Governor takes on this role and ensures that long term value for the company is maintained and built over time, not squandered.