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Customers Move To Center Stage

The new customer of any company now demands continuous exchange of value and collaboration in product creation.

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A profound shift occurred in the business ecosystem about two or three years ago, recalls Paul Greenberg, founder and president of Manassas, Va.-based The 56 Group LLC (www.the56group.typepad.com), an enterprise-applications consulting firm. What shifted from corporations to customers was the center of wealth creation and value, he believes. “What it means is that the customer wants to participate in his own business transaction. The irony of it all? We’re all customers,” says Greenberg, an expert in customer relationship management (CRM) and author of “CRM at the Speed of Light: Capturing and Keeping Customers in Internet Real Time.”

What is a customer? “Anyone with whom you exchange value—and a customer may be internal or external to your group, to your company,” observes Greenberg, who is also a member of the Board of Advisors of Baylor University’s Master of Business Administration CRM major, and co-chair of Rutgers University’s CRM Research Center. A company’s employees have the responsibility to propagate and exchange value continuously, he notes. To do that, a company now also must give customers visibility into itself. The company must also provide tools so that each customer can create his or her own experience with the company and value with the product, Greenberg emphasizes.

Find customer wants

From a manufacturing supply-chain perspective, companies must be concerned with their customers, Greenberg declares. “Procter & Gamble now has a general manager of supply-chain innovations,” he notes. “They go out and find what the customer wants—and what the customer wants to pay for a product.” Once that’s known, the company then reverse-engineers the product, at the corresponding price and quality, he says.

“They’re doing it from the customer’s perspective. Every KPI (key performance indicator) on the supply-chain side is aimed at improving customer value,” Greenberg indicates. The consequences of a failed supply chain mean no customers, he says. And companies also understand that a failed manufacturing process means no customers, Greenberg adds. Failed doesn’t mean the entire process failed, but just one part of it, he explains.

So how does a company effectively, efficiently and seamlessly deliver what the customer wants at the point of sale? It’s a matter of creating the kinds of processes that will deliver either on the spot or within two or three days, Greenberg believes. “The principle here? It starts with the customer and engineers backward. It’s from the outside in, whereas Six Sigma (a quality improvement process) and others like it operate from the inside out.”

Besides a shift in what corporate supply chains should now emphasize, there’s also a swing in the broader value chain, he says. That value chain has moved from the enterprise to the personal customer. “It’s realigned around me or you, as opposed to revolving around the business.” And to create meaningful value, the company has to pull from a number of enterprise value chains, Greenberg states. “What that means, though, is that I’m going to be dealing with people. Human interactions are going to be going on all over the place.”

That human interaction is as old as commerce itself. But with electronic commerce, the company providing the point-of-sale product is often just an aggregator, such as Amazon.com, which really is an activity of dozens of corporate supply chains, Greenberg explains. “But if one of those hiccups, who suffers? Amazon, because it’s the one’s who’s going to hear the customer’s complaint.”

Declaring broken the old business logic by which most companies operate, Greenberg suggests the new customer of any company now demands continuous exchange of value and collaboration in product creation. Those new customers “are not going away,” he says. “They’re active, out there and engaged.”

C. Kenna Amos, ckamosjr@earthlink.net, is an Automation World Contributing Editor.

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