Commentary & Analysis
In Search of the Invisible Customer
By Rich Troksa I am the invisible customer-
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: January 26, 2005
By Rich Troksa I am the invisible customer--the one who's value is unknown and therefore deemed unimportant. And I am treated as such. January 26, 2005 -- I am not an industry, a demographic, a class, a geography, or a segment. I am your most important customer, but you don't even know who I am. To you, I am invisible. Within the on-demand output arena, much discussion has centered on personalization, one-to-one marketing, targeted advertising, demographically tailored direct marketing, Web site individualization, and a multitude of other electronic and traditional methods of identifying and acknowledging your customers. Your competition may know them, market to them, and give them opportunities to buy products and services in an effort to keep them loyal. But it is imperative to the growth of your business that you find these invisible customers and make them visible on your radar screen. Each of us can be this invisible customer. Many of us are also trying to communicate with him. Here are some of my personal experiences as an invisible customer. It is imperative to the growth of your business that you find the invisible customers and make them visible on your radar screen. After traveling for a couple of days over the holiday season, I was greeted with a stack of mail upon my return. Magazines. Travel brochures. Credit card applications. Newspapers. Bills. Invoices. Policies. Financial reports. All of these had my name, address and zip code printed neatly on their covers or in the envelope window. The bills were easy to detect and deal with. All of the other mail presented a challenge. Do I really need to subscribe to all of these magazines? Did I really win a sweepstakes? Do the companies that sent me this information really know who I am? How do they know that I need a new credit card? Does the airline really think I am capable of going to Hawaii at the end of the year? Send me the information that I want at the time I need it. For example, I vacation in the summer; Hawaii in August might have a chance, but I can't leave the week before Christmas. As a part of the holiday shopping frenzy, I went to a Web site focused on selling books, records, videos and other entertainment. I purchased a book for my brother-in-law on how to rebuild old Volkswagens. As I went through the automated checkout process, I was invited to buy other books that were also bought by people who chose the Volkswagen book. One of these books looked good so I added it to my shopping cart. I was not a frequent visitor of this site, but they created the right personalized message at the right time and I made a purchase decision. At that point, I became a real, valued customer to them. In fact, the next time I went to their site they remembered me and welcomed me back. The direct mail I receive tells me I am classified as a frequent traveler. Probably so. During 2004, I stayed in hotels for 86 nights. I have preferred status with several hotel chains and am treated to upgraded rooms, complementary water and free Internet access at these places. Occasionally, I am required to stay at hotels where I am not a favored guest. These places usually put me in a room by the elevator. Yet, I want to be treated with the same level of service at these other hotels as I am at the ones who know me. If I have a good experience, I might even stay with them next time. But to these establishments, I am the invisible customer--the one who's value is unknown and therefore deemed unimportant, and I am treated as such. If they would send me an upgrade coupon, I might go back to their hotel. To find and communicate with your invisible customers, you must create and execute an enterprise personalization strategy that improves the effectiveness of your communications. As a part of my travels, I spend time at airports and on airplanes. I have traveled almost a million miles in the last seven years. When I have the correct ticket with the correct airline, I can navigate through the airport security with ease and efficiency. Travel on the wrong airline and I am subjected to the security maze. When it is time to board the aircraft, why does one airline let me upgrade to first class while the other airline insists I stay in seat 32E? Why do some airlines give me full mileage credit and others give me partial credit based on fare, distance and status? I want to be treated like a gold-level customer on all airlines. Maybe I will even fly them more frequently. The airlines I fly frequently treat me as a valued customer. To the other airlines, I am the invisible customer. I am in the process of organizing my financial information for the 2005 tax season. I received financial statements from several companies. Are these the best companies for my investments or are others who would be better suited to my needs? Do I need other investment types? I don't exist in many investment portfolios. For them, should I or will I remain the invisible customer? At least twice a week, I get a telephone call during dinner. Telemarketers are looking for me and they choose this time thinking I will be at home. They are usually right. How many calls can I get to change my long distance carrier or get a new credit card? One call I have not received recently is a call to subscribe to a newspaper. I really want to get the local paper delivered to my house on the weekend. I received these calls monthly when I didn't need the paper. Can someone call me when I need a product or service? I don't want to be an invisible customer. I want you to know I want the newspaper. Identifying the Invisible Customer To find and communicate with your invisible customers, you must create and execute an enterprise personalization strategy that improves the effectiveness of your communications. There are three key attributes of this solution: functional flexibility, multi-channel delivery and communication differentiation. Functional flexibility provides the platform to create and adapt your messages in the right form and with the right impact. By selecting a scalable and extensible solution, you can be prepared for changes in technology, infrastructure and integration. Your solution needs to be able to accommodate all current content management and database systems, while being architected in a way to allow future technological expansion. A solution that will grow with your organization's size and functional needs is important. You can't afford to frequently replace and integrate personalization tools. By incorporating the correct enterprise personalization solution, your company can improve customer relationships across all types of contact points--print, interpersonal, electronic, and interactive. Multi-channel delivery is important as you determine the best communication method to reach your customers. Should it be delivered via paper (mail, print media), electronic (e-mail/Internet), telephone, television, or some other media? Most customers today are familiar with paper-based or electronic solutions, but their media delivery preferences will change over time. You need to be prepared to address their current and future needs without continually re-architecting your solution by investing in a solution that can get it done today and better position you for tomorrow. Communication differentiation is critical to your company as you focus on ways to retain customers, generate new business and enhance your brand. You need to stand out against the competition and have a unique presence. Your enterprise personalization solution should allow you to segment customers and target personalized content for cross-sell and up-sell opportunities as a part of normal mailings and communications. Differentiate yourself by getting your customers the right type of communication at the right time. The Benefits of Locating the Invisible Customer By incorporating the correct enterprise personalization solution, your company can improve customer relationships across all types of contact points--print, interpersonal, electronic, and interactive. Your communications will be consistent, generate more impact and have more relevance within the marketplace. Don't make it difficult for your potential customers to understand the benefits of your products or services. Know what they want when they want it, and be prepared to provide it. Enhance customer knowledge, improve brand identity and deliver products and services that your customers want when they want it. If you execute these strategies, invisible customers will become real, as will the bottom-line profits they can provide to your business.