• July 1, 2009
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

A Revolution in Customer Centricity

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For the rest of the July 2009 issue of CRM magazine, please click here.


Memo from the desk of Marshall Lager, July’s Customer Commander-in-Chief:

Ah, July: the month when we celebrate the birth of the United States of America, mostly by drinking heavily and lighting off illegal fireworks smuggled in from Mexico and China. Hopefully it won’t rain this Independence Day, but there’s not much I can do about that.

What I can do is share the revelation I had about the nature of the American Revolution itself. Many call the Founders’ act of nation-creation The Great Experiment. I prefer to think of it as The First Customer-Centric Moment—not a revolution so much as a loyalty program.

First of all, let’s forget this notion that some groundswell of common-man patriotism sparked the revolution. The “common men” we call the Founders were mostly wealthy landowners, and their original democracy only included other land-owning men, guys with unimpeachable credentials:

  • James Otis, a merchant who railed against the Writs of Assistance, which were essentially blanket search warrants intended to fight smuggling. That’s a strange thing for a merchant to do, don’t you think?
  • John Hancock, the wealthy owner of a shipping business—and a smuggler himself.
  • Samuel Adams, a failed businessman who was, among other things listed on his beer label, later fired from his job as a tax collector for falsifying records; he went on to instigate the Boston Tea Party—coincidence?

The Founders weren’t yearning to breathe free, they were yearning to be free of taxes. The British Crown was just an obstacle to profit.

To be fair, the American colonists had a legitimate gripe—they really were burdened by an extremely heavy tax load (unless they avoided it via smuggling, natch). The Patriots just used clever marketing (and a few town criers) to turn their customers into agitators, and eventually soldiers.

Two hundred thirty-three years later, we Americans still find sales tax revolting. Just how bad is it? People in New York will sometimes hop a bus to New Jersey just to take advantage of lower sales tax on certain items. And every time local politicians call for a tax holiday, people cheer. Can you imagine the reaction if some rich dudes promised shoppers lower sales taxes forever? Coupled with exclusive access to popular brands like Paul Revere Silver and Benjamin Franklin Kites? They might be motivated to do what the colonists did and pick up a musket, too.

Wait a sec—for 15 years, shoppers had that kind of freedom from sales tax: We called it e-commerce, and we might still have a revolution on our hands if etail folks like Amazon.com and Overstock find some dot-compatriots in their fight against “online taxation without nexus representation.” Can’t blame the states for trying to scare up some new revenue, but it’s hard to make the case that you’re helping citizens while you’re asking them to pay more taxes than they’re used to.

Just think of the divided loyalties of those brave consumers at Oriskany in the summer of 1777—with Loyalists and Patriots taking aim at each other, the Redcoats themselves didn’t even need to show up. Can you imagine a CRM discipline good enough to get your customers to take a bullet for your brand? It brings a tear to my eye, thinking of what I could have done back then with a discount-card program and point-of-sale terminals in every Ye Olde Shoppe.

If this month’s column Whigs you out, you can fire off a nasty tweet to @Lager on Twitter—as soon as you see the whites of Marshall Lager’s eyes.

Every month, CRM magazine covers the customer relationship management industry and beyond. To subscribe, please visit http://www.destinationcrm.com/subscribe/.

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