thinking like a customer

thinking like a customer

Go Against the Flow

By on August 15, 2012

Science fiction novelist William Gibson (Distrust That Particular Flavor) provides a compelling explanation of how we look into the future.  What we try to predict often happens in a different way.

Gibson calls the phenomenon “Steam Engine Time.” The term is derived from a quote by Charles Fort. He used the term to explain why people invented the same things at the same time, even though they were not in the same locations. Steam, for example, had been around forever, but the locomotive was not going to become a reality until it was the right time, when all of the factors were in alignment.

The mindset of many futurists, unfortunately, relies on the tendency to see the future as simply a variation on the present. In Gibson’s niche, for example, science fiction writers in the 1940’s and 1950’s were preoccupied with rocket ships being the paradigm which would continue to be developed as technology improved. In contrast, however, what emerged as the real direction was the electronic brain (the Internet) that really changed things.

“If you are deliberately trying to create a future that feels safe, you will willfully ignore the future that is likely.” wrote Seth Godin (Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?).

In order to be successful, therefore, businesses need to think differently. In our dealings with customers, organizations tend to see their present relationship with customers only changing due to technological advances. In fact, a new direction is happening. It does not involve predictable, cosmetic changes in what we are currently doing. Instead, it is a completely new dimension that has a new understanding of what the customer needs and a willingness to transcend what average, traditional organizations still believe is good enough.

With this shift in thinking, customers will adopt a new level of expectations for their suppliers. The customer of the future will not be happy with today's service. But that will be alright. Your company will already have a strong presence in this new mindset.

Gibson is the author of the famous quote: “The future’s already here; it’s just not evenly distributed.” He understands that the future is evolving due to our innate need to explore boundaries. In every point in time during that exploration, however, we are not sure which direction will win out.

In business, what do you think will win out in the future—your product or the strength of your customer relationships? Where should your strategy be aligned?

Today, while most product-centered companies are focused on the limited, “predictable” ways of working for their customers, another movement is emerging. It’s now Steam Engine Time — for Customer 3D™. This new business strategy is dramatically different, rather than a gradual continuation of yesterday’s one-dimensional work. It is expanding our behavior into a new dimension, which will lead organizations to create exciting memories for their customers.  Imagine what your customers will expect two years from now—and start providing it now.



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