Twenty two years ago then IBM CEO John Akers declared 1987 as the “Year of the Customer”. I was into my third year of employment with IBM at the time and thought they knew far more than me about customers. Even so, I privately wondered, “Isn’t every year, the year of the customer?” What are we supposed to do and declare in 1988? Say, “Well that was nice, now let’s get back to the business of internal politics and meetings.”
Of course IBM and all of us know that every year is the year of the customer. This was particularly true in the year we all are about to complete -2009. The customer is always setting the terms, re-writing the rules and declaring, through his and her actions, the winners and losers. As it should be.
But 2009 was different and I think the changes are permanent. The recession did more than just change short term attitudes and behaviors. It was and is a catalyst for thinking very differently about the vendor – customer relationship. Customers are as demanding as ever but what they are demanding has changed dramatically in our industry. Innovation matters but it’s a different type of innovation customer’s now seek.
Feature / function innovation has long been the mainstay of technology companies and the primary sort key of competition for many of us. And while many technology companies continue to innovate in this area at astounding rates, customers aren’t demanding the type of innovation they can’t consume, use or integrate into their business. What customer’s told us in 2009 was that they wanted a different type of innovation. Innovation around the technology business model. Innovation around how technology is developed, sold, supported, integrated and used. Innovation that helps them manage the cost, complexity and risk inherent in their IT environment. Innovation that helps them leverage and extend what they have. Innovation that delivers a more compelling customer experience.
Frankly, I find this shift in customer demands exciting. There’s real opportunity to differentiate the customer experience based on capabilities that are not easily copied.
So yes, 2009, like every year before it and every year after it was “The Year of the Customer”. I look forward with anticipation and optimism at addressing the challenges of the next decade as the customer continues to speak.