President's Report 2006 | Alumni

Last Word

By Dr. Jim Barnes, B.A.(Hons.)?66, B.Comm.(Hons.) ?66

Dr. Jim Barnes

With modern communications technology, customers now hold the reins in controlling the information to which they?re exposed. Dr. Jim Barnes, a leader in customer relationship strategy, says businesses that want to ride with their customers into this brave new frontier must adapt quickly.

How do companies deliver a message and get the attention of today?s customers as they listen to iPods, surf the internet, watch TV, and text friends on cellphones?

With a technologically enhanced ability to filter messages and an increased confidence level driven by access to online information, people are less comfortable with being "sold at.? Customers today can choose the information they want and limit the messages they receive. Breaking through this barrier is a formidable challenge for any organization that wants to recruit new customers or maintain customer loyalty? especially if they?re marketing through conventional mass media.

Many customers already know what they want to buy when they stride through the door of a car dealership, printouts in hand. How long will commission-based selling survive when there?s less and less selling to be done? In-store salespeople at car dealerships and retail furniture and clothing stores might be well advised to change the way they sell.

The impact of this consumer empowering technology isn?t limited to business. Increasingly, physicians are greeted by patients who?ve been online and are actively practising self-diagnosis and self-medication. They point out what ailments they believe they have and what, according to current online content, should be prescribed.

In an era where most households use callmanagement technology to screen incoming phone calls, the age of telemarketing may, thankfully, be drawing to a close.

Rather than viewing this increasingly technology-centric marketplace as a threat, those with goods and services to sell must view it as an opportunity, a frontier where, with the right approach, they can capture new territory and deliver their message effectively.

The internet is widely accepted as the primary means of communications for many customer groups. And people are willing to trust it. The everincreasing volume of online buying and the success of eBay are evidence that customers have embraced the new technology.

Businesses, medical clinics and virtually every other organization that deals with the public would do well to keep three points in mind when it comes to building customer loyalty in the technologyinfused marketplace:

First, They must accept thatconsumers have access to data and knowledge that they?ve never had before. It is essential to adjust business processes to respond to customers who ride into town armed with information.

Second, Organizations need to take a personalized view of technology. They must get to know their customers better than ever before and be prepared to deliver personalized service in the technologydriven environment as conventional means become less and less effective.

Companies like Shoppers Drug Mart (who operate large database-driven loyalty/rewards programs) are replacing printed flyers with targeted online messages to their customers. This shift is driven by a 90 per cent penetration of the internet in many urban Canadian markets. Companies that employ such marketing savvy know that their messages must not only be targeted but relevant to customer needs. Otherwise they simply become an electronic flyer and risk being shot down as spam.

Third, those with a message to deliver must have a well-designed internet presence. It?s rapidly becoming the first point of contact for many customers?and we know what they say about first impressions. Customers will "walk away? from a poorly designed website faster than they walk out of a retail store where lines are too long or the service poor.

We?re on the cusp of a revolution in consumerism. Customers are taking charge, restored to what many consider their rightful place. Thanks to new technologies, customers have considerable ability to access information and to compare products and services. And, with their newfound badge of power, they?re increasingly prepared to abandon companies and brands that don?t give them what they want.