Users Not Customers Will Wake You Up to the Future of Doing Business

Users Not CustomersI really thought I was a rebel back in the 80s when I had blue streaks in my hair or in the 90s when I told a boardroom full of conservative main line executives that it was a dog-eat-dog market and we were wearing pork-chop underwear.  So when I started reading my review copy of  Users Not Customers by Aaron Shapiro I found myself standing up and cheering – literally.

You Are Probably Embarrassing Yourself Online

Shapiro is on a passionate crusade to give companies a whack on the side of the head when it comes to recognizing that users and not customers are the predictor of profitability.

Let me explain.  Users are all the people who interact with your brand online and offline – but mostly online.  And the companies who make it easy for users to become customers through their online interactions with them will be successful.  The ones who don’t – will bear the consequences.

Shapiro doesn’t mince words.  He tells it how he sees and you may disagree, but the millions of people who depend on their digital impressions of your business will spend their money with the companies that have put their focus on the user experience.

The best example of this is on the very first page of the book.  Shapiro tells the story of his experience inside of a Williams Sonoma store.  He was looking to purchase a product and winced at the $150 price tag.  He simply whipped out his iPhone, scanned the bar code and found a better price at the Bed Bath and Beyond store.  When he asked the Williams Sonoma manager to match the price, they refused and he made his purchase – at the Bed Bath and Beyond.  It was that simple.

There is Data Behind the Book

Users Not Customers offers page after page of contextual data and research from the Digital Leadership Set Survey that Shapiro (@amshap) ran as CEO of HUGE, a digital marketing agency that helps global companies reimagine how they interact with their customers and manage their business in the online economy.

Shapiro had these opinions and observations about the digital user experience being at the core of a company’s profitability so he started the Digital Leadership Set study to start collecting hard data that would prove or disprove his theory.

To start, they went to the Fortune 1,000 and then grouped them according to industry.  Then for each industry sector they evaluated the twenty largest companies.  They measured over sixty aspects of the company that included how effectively their digital effectiveness across all aspects of their business.  This information was then aggregated into an overall digital excellence rating between 1 and 100.  The companies with the top ratings became part of the Digital Leadership Set.  They included: Apple, Amazon, Macy’s, Wal Mart, Wells Fargo Hewlett Packard and more.  Notice that these are not ALL digital or online companies.  In fact, there are several mature companies in the Leadership Set that have evolved and transformed themselves time and time again.

The result was that:

“True market leaders focus on meeting their user needs above all else.  Keep users happy, and customers follow; grow your user base and your customer base grows as well.”

What You Will Learn From Users Not Customers

This 200 page book only has seven chapters that take you on a journey of realization.  The introduction is dedicated to bringing home the point that:

“If you’re not thinking about users, you’ll be out of business.”

Once you’ve wrapped your head around the new context of how buying decisions happen you’ll move on to building a user-centric management team.  The meat of the book shows you how to structure your business in a way that brings the user experience to the forefront and attract and engage users by giving and not taking.

My favorite chapter in the book is called “TCPF Sales”.  TCPF stands for Trust, Convenience, Price and Fun.  The epiphany that Shapiro gives you here is that people are online for only two basic reasons:

  1. To do something
  2. To find out what’s new

If you were to only read one chapter – read this one.  This is, by far, the simplest, most concrete and clear explanation of how your users (and you) go about making purchasing decisions.

Shapiro also gives many, many examples of companies (both startups as well as established brands) who have embraced this principle and how they did it.

I wasn’t surprised when I saw that one of his examples was  This story hit home with me because I’ve been using Mint as an example of a web site that is so easy to use and understand from the split second you land there.  I’m not a user of Mint, so I was blown away at their ingenious business model.  The service is free and uses advertising to make money.  So what, you say – that’s not new.  But here’s the cool part.  They only show you advertising that saves you money and improves your financial performance.  The ads you see are targeted to you and your financial goals and the ads actually HELP you.  The result is that while most conversion rates for ads are about .3% Mint gets an average of 12%!  That is crazy!

Don’t Read This Book If. . .

This is not the book for you if you like the status quo.  If you intend to close your business and retire in the next couple of years – this book will only be mildly entertaining.

But if you intend to be in business for the long haul, then you can’t afford NOT to read this book.  Let me warn you.  You will find yourself confronted on so many levels.  Your web site isn’t good enough, your customer service or management isn’t organized around the user, etc.  This book isn’t written to make you feel good – it’s written to snap you into shape for the future.

Check out the web site for Users Not Customers to get PDFs of free chapters as well as lots of great videos and blog posts.

Ivana Taylor Ivana Taylor is the Book Editor for Small Business Trends. She is responsible for directing the site’s book review program and manages the team of professional book reviewers. She also spearheads the annual Small Business Book Awards. Ivana publishes DIYMarketers, where she shares daily do-it-yourself marketing tips, and is co-author of "Excel for Marketing Managers."