Make it My Way or No Way

Customers start young wanting everything their way. A teddy bear is now Build-a-Bear workshop. The perennial Barbie doll has become accessorize-Barbie online. Even American Girl dolls now come with matching outfits for “mommy.” Want to decorate your new cell phone? There is a huge after-market industry enabling customization, from desktop stands to protective covers to ringtones. Customers flock to sites like to view only websites tailored to their preferences. Dell Computer built a powerful business on letting customers customize their computers. The filtering capacity of prominent one-to-one companies has made unwanted computer spam even more of an irritant than the proliferation of junk mail customers once tolerated.

With the advent of sophisticated computer and telecommunications advances plus just-in-time manufacturing, organizations have taught customers they can “Have it your way.” “We are so used to customizing the world around us. . . to being able on Facebook to customize our wall and to create who we are, and
technology has powered that,” notes Amy Manitis, vice president of
marketing at, in a Wall Street Journal article. Long gone is the Henry Ford-like sentiment: “Customers can have any color automobile they like as long as it’s black.” The more organizations offer a wide array of tailor-made service choices, the more one-size-fits-all approaches look way out-of-date.

Great service today requires understanding the self-centered customer and rethinking the time-place-process of how you deliver service to customers. BMW took customers’ vanity and their self-centered expectations to new heights with their Mini Cooper. New owners got adoption papers when they plunked down a deposit to buy a new Mini. It came with a means to go online and watch their specific Mini being “born” on the factory assembly line. Lately they have made news with their special billboards in major cities that respond to a radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag or chip embedded in the owner’s BMW key fob. Ride by the billboard and it will flash, “Hi, Susan, nice day for your red convertible” or any other message Susan may choose.

If today’s customer cannot have it “their way,” they show their “no way” attitude by taking their business elsewhere. How can you tailor make the service you provide?


About Chip&John

Chip R. Bell and John R. Patterson are customer loyalty consultants and the authors of several best-selling books. Their newest book is "Wired and Dangerous: How Your Customers Have Changed and What to do About it."
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