On the Web the best way to think of your customers is as intelligent strangers whose most precious resource is their time.
In Ireland, the Catholic Church is facing a crisis of trust and confidence. For much too long Irish people have placed a blind faith in the Church, as they have placed a blind faith in the medical, political, educational and banking establishments. As a result, members of these establishments have nothing but contempt for their flock of blind sheep.
Dealing with the medical establishment in Ireland requires great humility. Oh esteemed medical consultant, I am not worthy of paying you this very high fee. And what do you often get for your very high fee? A great deal of incompetence.
I remember telling a banker a couple of years ago that I was moving my account to another bank because they had a better rate. She was shocked. How dare I do such a thing? Did I not feel privileged and deeply indebted to her bank for actually accepting me as a customer?
The Catholic Church is struggling globally because it reflects a pre-Web organization structure and mindset. This mindset is hierarchical, rigid and secret. It expects obedience. It does not like being questioned.
Many government and commercial organizations think in a similar way. I spoke to a financial consultant recently and, in his opinion, most of the financial industry is essentially crooked. Its first objective is to create wealth for the organization, not the customer. If it can, it will sell a customer a product that is ill-suited to the customers' needs, but that yields a higher profit margin for the organization.
Much marketing and advertising is based on the belief that customers are irrational sheep, to be manipulated and exploited. A lot of ads are carefully designed to exploit our well-established irrationality, because while we may be highly irrational, we are predictably and repeatedly so.
What the Web, blogs, Twitter and social media reflect is a customer revolt. The Web is a more rational space. The Web thrives in open, questioning cultures. The Web is not about technology, but psychology. A new psychological make-up.
A new type of customer is emerging. This customer is less emotional and more rational. This customer does not believe in blind faith. They are on the Web to research, compare, to find out for themselves. They wish to search out the views of others like them who have also bought the product rather than obediently accepting the organization's message.
If you want to be successful in engaging with this sort of customer then you need to think of them as an intelligent stranger. Relentlessly focus on helping them save time, because for many people on the Web, time is more important than money. Time is the currency of the Web. (This is also true for intranets.) The customer who spends the least time spends the most money.
What's the best attribute your web team can have? Caring about your customers time. Treat their time as a truly precious thing. Treat them as intelligent. Focus on service. Focus on what the customer wants to do, not what you want the customer to do. Solve their problem, not yours. It's a shift in thinking but it's where the future lies.