A version of this article first appeared in Customer strategy, a magazine published 10 times a year in London by TBC Research. Through its comprehensive portfolio of magazines, events and research, TBC Research is dedicated to helping senior business professionals make more informed technology decisions.
Self-discovery is a wonderful thing. When I am not consulting for my clients, or writing for Customer strategy, I busy myself running a small company applying CRM (customer relationship management) in different areas. I have recently discovered --thanks to an article in an airline magazine--that I run what is called a lifestyle company, meaning that my business has been developed to suit the kind of life I want.
And this is true. Back in the bad old days when customers were the least of anyone's concerns, I and thousands of others had contracts of employment with large firms in what we now call the bricks-and-mortar economy. We worked in massive offices, commuted long distances, and took part in an endless sequence of meetings.
Then we heard of an eccentric minority called teleworkers, who worked from home armed with a phone, a word processor, and later, a PC. Much later came the Internet, but by now half the clever people I once knew in my friendly multi-national were already working for themselves.
This was not just the entrepreneurial spirit. It was common sense. Instead of joining the M25 car park and spending an hour and a half each morning and evening behind the wheel, I now drive one and a half miles to my office. I can walk it in half the time I once spent commuting. When I get there I enjoy the magnificent surroundings of an English Victorian mansion.
People running small companies can choose their own working hours--or working weeks. I know consultants who work 51 weeks a year by choice. But I also know others who work fewer than 40 weeks, and spend the balance on a Swiss Alp or the Cote d'Azur.
What these factors have in common is the element of choice. Those with skills to sell, a business idea to bring to market, or a service to deliver are choosing to live in a particular way, and to build their businesses around their lives. The Internet, the fax, the mobile phone and all the other facilities of the modern SOHO (small office; home office) infrastructure have liberated tens of thousands from the old-fashioned contract of employment.
Customers are also behaving differently. CRM is about understanding customers better, and leading-edge organisations have long recognised that traditional demographic segmentation along socio-economic and related lines was too crude. So customer-profiling was introduced.
Retailers in particular cater for groups of buyers who are defined primarily by their lifestyle values and behaviour. The lifestyle-conscious buyer may also have abandoned the traditional office for the renovated stable block; they may have said goodbye to the nine-to-five working day. Just like the consultant who is the wrong side of 50, they may have concluded that their most precious asset is time.
For these customers, the Internet and the increasing choice of mobile devices is a godsend. eCRM and e-commerce are ideal for those who want to interact with a supplier in their own way, in their own time, and wherever they choose.
Today, everyone agrees that the customer is in charge, but it is important to recognise why this is the case. If I am right in thinking that it is the result of the customer becoming lifestyle-oriented, then it also follows that those who will succeed with this type of buyer are those who make a conscious effort to empathise with the chosen lifestyle values.
E-business presents companies with opportunities to position themselves to appeal to various types of customers. Style, content, scope and function are all variables which good Web designers can manipulate to hit the right buttons. It's just that we may also have to remember that this customer lives for classical music and that one can't wait for his skiing holiday.
So the future involves lifestyle-conscious suppliers talking to lifestyle-conscious consumers or clients. Business is coming of age. It's shedding the cocoon of corporate infrastructure and beginning to fit into the wider, richer lives that people have lived for generations.