Who Do You Want Your Customers To Become?

Who do you want to be when you grow up? That quintessential question in every America childhood has been given a grown up business update.

Instead of thinking of where your business is headed, consider where your customers are heading.  That premise supports Who Do You Want Your Customers To Become by Michael Schrage.  I learn about the book through a review of the Harvard Business Press fall preview, and feeling the need for a short book, thought to give it a read.

You Are in Business to Transform, Not Just Make a Profit

The notion of understanding the customer isn’t an entirely new question.  Even the question,” Who Do You Want Your Customers To Become” has history, as the foreword suggests from a Steve Jobs quote:

“It’s not the customers’ job to know what they want.”

The question of what you want customer to become is referred to as “The Ask” – a central question meant to provoke deeper introspection about your product or service.  Simply, what are you offering and why are you offering it.   Schrage asserts that The Ask acknowledges a:

“. . .fundamental truth. Customers change. Always.“

Here’s more to that thought:

“They’re not finicky consumers passively expecting markets to please, satisfy, or delight them; they’re actually dynamic collaborators and authors of their own futures…they want to make sure they’re going in the right direction.“

In other words, expect to reinvest into your product or service because your customer will not want the same old thing you had yesterday.

The Source of Innovation

To provide perspective to that yesterday, Schrage provides six subsequent insights. Most reinforce the alignment of your goals against the customers, such as the third – Customer vision is as important as corporate vision.

I liked the set up for the sixth insight – Anticipate – and manage – the dark side of the Ask .  It asks you to understand that there can be diminishing returns to your ask, that you can offer too much, which can later backfire. McDonald’s supersize offerings is a fine example, being “reinterpreted as the gluttonous vice of obesity” over time.

These insights are meant to realign marketing and investment in a large organization, but small businesses can benefit from thinking about how to transform what they provide. Trust me, apply these insights, and your business will outdo competition that laundry list a series of meaningless products hoping for a sale.

Overall, I liked the book’s simplicity, discovering the best quote that captures where Schrage wants to take readers in the early pages:

“Successful innovators don’t just ask customers and clients to do something different, they ask them to become someone different.  Facebook asks its users to become more open and sharing with their personal information, even if they might be less extroverted in real life.

Amazon turned shoppers into information-rich consumers who could share real-time data and reviews, cross-check prices, and weigh algorithmic recommendations.

Who shops now without doing at least some digital comparisons of price and performance?”

The book’s efficiency is right for hyper-active business people (who seem to always outnumber the hyper-slow-n’-casual business owners, don’t they?) .  I can see someone reading this as a compliment to easy-to-process books. Service Innovation comes to mind.  Become can illuminate without creating confusing objectives against a company.

At the same time, despite the atypical brevity of 68 pages, you will feel nothing whimsical about the text that will create a cheated, gimme-my-money-back-for-this-book type of feeling.

Business owners from a long-standing industry may feel as if the book speaks more to the tech startup crowd.  But with an open mind, the best innovators will understand what Schrage is proposing.

If the answer to your childhood question is to be a serious business person, then let Who Do You Want Your Customers To Become be your next important question and your next important read.

No, Thank You