waiting outside for a train in the snow
A focus on maximizing sales and profits often results in a culture that sees the customer as prey PHOTO: yns plt

A traditional organizational strategy tends to revolve around minimizing costs and maximizing sales and profits, thereby maximizing shareholder return. In a government setting, cost reduction is important to strategy; but so is raising awareness of what government is doing, and changing the behavior of citizens.

None of the above put the customer first. In fact, the practices that flow from the above strategies often degrade and ruin the customer experience. For decades, customer service has been relentlessly pruned by organizations using new technology and innovations to reduce costs. Localization has rarely been about “adapting a product or content to a specific locale or market,” but rather about finding the cheapest possible way to translate content. Nobody would ever imagine that outsourcing or automated phone systems are about improving customer service.

Maximizing sales and profits often results in a culture that sees the customer as prey. The whole ethos of marketing ‘conversion’ is about getting the customer to buy more, rather than helping the customer. Marketing becomes obsessed with gathering customer data so that it can torture customers with communication until they convert. Going through many ecommerce purchase processes is like walking down a dark alley full of pickpockets. At every turn they try to slip something extra into your basket. What becomes crystal clear to customers is that these are not friendly, supportive environments, but rather predatory ones.

Government today faces a crisis of legitimacy. Many governments are responding to this crisis with the very tactics that caused the crisis in the first place: propaganda. At least commercial organizations have enough sense not to parade the activities and deep thoughts of their senior managers across their webpages. However, government communicators still partake in the childish belief that citizens actually care about what politicians are doing or thinking. It’s a pathetic but endemic practice in the culture of government PR and communications and it further delegitimizes government in the eyes of many.

Government needs to try and change negative behavior, for example in areas of health, addiction, driving, tax compliance. This results in a flow of programs and initiatives that often flood websites and search engines with great quantities of often lightweight content that has a short shelf life. This type of content often dwarfs the useful content that government produces, making it harder for customers to do with government what they actually need to do. Thus, a vicious circle is created: the more government tries, the more useless it becomes.

Historically, all organizations have assumed a compliant, malleable customer and citizen. One that through the use of clever marketing and PR, can be converted, preyed out, directed, changed. This sort of malleable customer is an endangered species.

The rise in interest in customer experience is a response to the rise in power of customers. Focusing on customer experience is something that has been forced on organizations as they see loyalty and trust precipitously decline. The old strategies of maximizing profits, minimizing costs and focusing almost exclusively on short-term shareholder interests are what caused the customer revolt in the first place.

If you’ve been digging a hole you won’t get out by changing shovels. If customer experience matters, then it means putting the customer first. That requires a dramatic shift in strategic thinking. Maximizing the customer experience is the new strategic imperative.