Guest Blogger Dan Steinbock: Service as Thoughtful Dialogue

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Customer Engagement
Customer Experience
Whenever I have lectured on the most advanced technologies in developing marketing relationships, I like to tell a story.... The lesson is conceptual, not technological. It has everything to do with thoughtful dialogue that makes service so unassuming and natural that one does not even notice it, yet feels delighted by it.

Whenever I have lectured on the most advanced technologies in developing marketing relationships, I like to tell a story.

Once, my wife and I had cappuccino in Mr. Coffee, an outlet of a Japanese chain close to Shanghai's famous "food street." After the waitress took our order, she left as quietly as she had arrived. After a while, my wife shivered slightly. It was an instinctive reaction; she was barely conscious of it. In a second the waitress was behind her and closed the window behind her back.

"I thought I felt a draft," my wife said a moment later. "But actually, it's very pleasant here." She hadn't even noticed the waitress.

What does this have to do with advanced technologies? Nothing much, but the lesson is conceptual, not technological. It has everything to do with thoughtful dialogue that makes service so unassuming and natural that one does not even notice it, yet feels delighted by it.

The point is not the current mode of technology; only what it enables.
Catching Up
In 1986 I arrived in New York City with a lot of dreams and a few dollars in the pocket. That fall the media and marketing world, which had been dominated by the Big Three TV Networks for three decades, fell apart in a few months.

As deregulation multiplied the numbers of cable channels and the volume of syndicated programming, the battle for eye balls intensified. And so I told the restaurant story in Triumph and Erosion in the American Media and Entertainment Industries.

In 1992 TCI's then-CEO John Malone saw the arrival of 500 cable channels, through digital compression. "Why not 500,000 channels?" asked Intel's then-CEO Andy Grove only four years later. With Moore's Law, the popular use of Internet-driven channels would no longer be a matter of principle, just a matter of time. And again I told the restaurant story in The Birth of Internet Marketing Communications.

At the time, I used to visit my family in Helsinki, where another revolution was simmering. Walking in downtown Aleksinkatu, the shy Finns were babbling on their cell phones, while phone kiosks lost all their users. Again I told the story, in The Nokia Revolution and in The Mobile Revolution.

During the past few years I have seen the same marketing revolutions in China and India, and many other large emerging economies - from Helsinki to London and New York City, from Tokyo and Singapore to Shanghai and Bangalore.

In modern marketing, the mastery of these new technologies is necessary, but not sufficient. The world is finally catching up with Lester Wunderman - some 50 years later.

Age of Dialogue
"People, products, and services are all seeking an individual identity," he said. "Taste, desire, ambition and lifestyle have made shopping once again a form of personal expression."

It was a stunning speech - in 1961.

I met Lester Wunderman at the peak of the Internet revolution in midtown Manhattan. As Chairman of Wunderman Cato Johnson, he was now known as the pioneer of direct marketing. He was also among the first to define the promise of interactive marketing.

Unlike the prophets of mass marketing, he already saw an "age of re-personalization and individuation." Instead of peddling mass-produced commodities, he argued that advertising was going to become a personal service of each individual.

"It was very contrary to the mainstream at the time", Wunderman acknowledged. "In the past our societies and economies were based on the idea of mass production, mass distribution, mass marketing, and mass advertising. Direct also involves a relationship."

When Wunderman talks about relationship marketing, he talks about a personal, individual dialogue, something that, through learning, will change both sides of the interaction. "As a consumer, I am the one who consumes," he says. "Eventually you can't make or sell anything unless I use it. Therein lies my power. I finally have a medium that begins to use the advertiser as my database, instead of me being his database."

"Marketing is a dialogue. People have a relationship with other people, not with the factory."

It's only too easy to forget.

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Dan Steinbock is Research Director of International Business at the India, China and America Institute and serves as a spokesperson for the Forum to Advance Mobile Experience, an initiative by the CMO Council, representing more than 6,000 global executives across 57 countries.

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