In an age when technology is everywhere, those who understand how technology works are easy to find. Those who understand how people work are much harder to find. Let's say twenty years ago you had an organization of 1,000 people. Let's say that over those twenty years 500 of those people were replaced because of more efficient technology. A number of things happen.
Firstly, the 500 people that remain are extremely important now. They need to be smarter, more focused, more motivated. Because any organization that thinks technology in itself is a competitive advantage is foolish. It is the application of technology that can create long-term competitive advantage. It is staff who apply technology.
In this organization that reduced its staff to 500, what has happened to the interaction between the organization and the customer? Well, it is highly likely that the customer is interacting more and more with the technology and content of the organization than with the staff of that organization.
Why? A key cost organizations face is the transaction cost. This cost historically involved people. In less efficient organizations and societies, the transaction cost is high because a lot of staff time is taken up in interacting with the customer to complete the transaction.
Technology invariably reduces the touch points between customer and organization, thus reducing the transaction cost. Up to a point, that's a good thing. Do you want to go to your local store, have limited choice, pay higher prices, but have a nice conversation with the check-out clerk? Or do you go to Wal-Mart?
The problem is that when you close down too many touch points, you blind yourself to what your customer needs. A lot of the people that our example organization let go were probably interacting with the customer. Now that they are gone, the 500 that remain must ensure that they really know their customers.
It's very easy to put a website together that is filled with content that the organization thinks is important. A kid could do it. It's a whole other challenge to have a website that is based on a deep understanding of exactly what customers need and when.
In twelve years of working in 35 countries I have found an extraordinary lack of genuine customer focus among web teams. Technical and design skills abound, and content skills are on the increase. However, customer skills are rare.
I told a web team recently that they needed to develop a customer-focused culture. "Great!" was the reply. "Let's do a survey. I wonder who we could hire to do a survey for us?"
Hello? Outsourcing the understanding of your customer is not how you develop a customer-centric culture. You can outsource coding, design and writing if you want. You cannot outsource understanding your customer. It is the most important skill of the 21st Century.
Those who have a deep understanding of customer needs and behaviour, and translate these needs into effective websites will command high wages. Why? Because that's how you create value.
Get to know your customers. The more technological society becomes the more important is such knowledge.
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.