Chris Lawer had some great comments about an opinion piece by Scott MacStravic on capitalistic conceptions of customers. Scott's position is that companies will either treat customers as objects, subjects or partners.
Modern marketing, indeed, market capitalism itself, treat customers as objects to be attracted, retained, developed and “mined” as exploitable resources for the benefit of the firm. CRM has instituted a new era of “scientific” exploitation, aiming to “manage” customers, demand chains, interactions and transactions to continuously improve the effectiveness and efficiency of sales, marketing and customer service functions.
Consumers are deemed to be tiring of both traditional marketing and CRM with their exploitative aims and devices. Rather than let sellers control marketing and sales communications, consumers are taking over, with phone and spam lists attempting to deny sellers access to consumers, permission marketing controlling whom they will listen to, TiVo and remote controls “zapping” TV commercials, and other techniques enabling consumers to dramatically decrease the numbers of commercial communications they are forced to attend. Instead, consumers are going online in droves to search out independent, objective information about available offerings, controlling when, how and where they learn about sellers and their products.
The “partnership” model envisions sellers and buyers sitting on the same side of the table, working to solve a problem or achieve a goal for both parties simultaneously, i.e. realize WIN/WIN rather than WIN/win or win/lose outcomes... When major transactions are involved, and consumers wish to do more than rely on others -- for independent comparisons of sellers’ options, for consumer agent expertise in handling the whole affair, or for “solution assembly” by trusted sellers – a partnership model may apply.
I like Chris' comment that buyer-centric relationships are fluid and can shuffle between subject and partner depending on the scope and size of the customer problem. And the knowledge gained from the partner relationship can and should be used to make simple transactions more seamless.
Overall I thought Scott's views were right on... although I have to disagree with the use of the word "attracting" customers in the definition of Customer as Object. Perhaps this is just a semantic difference, but I find that Customer-Object companies use the term "acquire" rather than "attract." One cannot acquire a customer in the same fashion as one acquires a company. Acquire is the ultimate Customer-Object term, and though customer accounts and information can be temporarily gained through a corporate acquisition, customer "ownership" does not transfer (there is no such thing) and neither does customer loyalty. If the acquiring company doesn't meet or exceed customer expectations, those customers will defect.
I contend that Customer Attraction is the corporate philosophy that will be successful in the new Customer-Subject/Partner marketplace: its emphasis is on learning customer needs and delivering a true value proposition that catches the eyes of those customers who are seeking solutions to their needs. I suppose you could say that this is still Customer-Object mentality, but if that's the case, then it follows that singles shouldn't make themselves more attractive in order to catch the eye of a potential mate. A customer must first be attracted in order to become a Partner. And a customer's expectations must be met or exceeded in order to be 'retained' in either Subject or Partner status.