21 Century Customer

Four Rules for Courting the 21st-Century Customer

In the era of social media and big data, maintaining consumer relationships is a lot trickier than it used to be.

In the old days, if you wanted to ask someone out on a date, you summoned up the nerve, tried to gauge their interest, and actually said the words, “Wanna go out?” Now you log in, swipe right, and send a couple of emojis, leaving the hard work to a dating app.

The situation is not so dissimilar for firms trying to develop and hone customer relationships, observes ESCP Europe’s Michael Haenlein. He’s the author of a new study about the challenges of managing those dynamics in the modern world.

The guiding precepts of customer relationship management (CRM) were set down in the 1980s and 1990s, when those interactions were generally viewed through a few lenses: stand-alone investments that paid off in the long run; marriages that were mutually beneficial if maintained; or the products of linear mathematical formulas that balanced customer retention and acquisition over time.

Decades later, Haenlein finds, organizations have taken steps to modernize how these relationships are formed and viewed, employing new CRM software packages, algorithms, and big data. But to a large extent, the traditional theories remain embedded in companies’ CRM practices, hindering the potential gains from technology and leaving large gaps in firms’ understanding of their customer base.

“This leads to outcomes wherein firms manage customers like they did 30 years ago without even realizing it,” Haenlein writes. “Try to date today using strategies employed by your grandparents and you get an idea of what implications this might have.”

Drawing on his analysis of research and best practices over the past decade, Haenlein underlines some of the failings of conventional wisdom…

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