web revolutionCustomers have always been knowledgeable about the products they consume. It is due to the widespread social adoption of the internet however that this type of knowledge is for the first time being transcribed and shared.

The volume of customer-created, product/company-related knowledge accessible to an individual customer has increased very little in the past due to medium through which this kind of knowledge was expressed, namely, word of mouth. By its very nature word-of-mouth communication prohibits the pooling and limits the sharing of its content.

Today, for the first time, the knowledge customers possess enjoys the objectification and permanence that derive from its transcription, which in turn allow both its pooling as well as its sharing and exchange. The reason that this kind of knowledge has not been transcribed up to now is obviously not that customers only recently learned to write. Rather it is the fact that transcribing this knowledge is for the first time actually valuable because it can be easily shared and accessed online. The customer’s newfound ability to transcribe, publish, share and pool knowledge about companies and products radically empowers him as a subject that creates and consumes a new, and from now on, ever-increasing body of knowledge: ‘customer knowledge’. Let’s look at what customer knowledge consists in by means of a rough classification of one kind of customer knowledge, namely, product-related knowledge:

  1. Product review: “I know exactly what the positive and negative features of my Giant FCR 3.0 bicycle are, and why I think it offers good value.”
  2. Product troubleshooting: “I know why my laptop suddenly shuts down without a warning: overheating. I know how to repair it myself: clean the CPU heatsink. I know how to notice the problem before my laptop shuts down: the keyboard and the bottom of the laptop are very hot.”
  3. Product hack: “I bought a bunk bed for my 2 boys a few years back but we ve since moved house and now each has his own room. I turned their bunk bed into 2 single beds and a garden bench!”

(A blog post that offers a more holistic classification of customer knowledge will follow.)


This knowledge is valuable for our customers because it is…

·         free

·         credible

·         relevant to their needs

·         easy to find 

 

For marketers it is valuable because it is (in decreasing order of importance)

·         valuable our customers: by facilitating the pooling and sharing of this knowledge we increase the value we offer to our customers.

·         persuasive: the persuasiveness of this kind of knowledge is a lot higher than that of our own marketing communications.

·         available: whether in our customers minds or blogs this knowledge has already been created.

·         free: while it would not have been cost effective for organisations to create this knowledge (this is a hypothesis open to doubt – please comment) customers are happy to contribute it for free.

·         relevant – relevant to our customers most specific needs.

…in short, it is an invaluable resource. 


Here are two things we can do to take advantage of our customer’s knowledge:
 

A.      Create the facilities that allow your customers to contribute their knowledge:

1.       Give the ability to your customers to rate your products, write product reviews and recommend your products in both your own and other sites. Provide them with the information and/or allow them to trial your products in order to be able to do so to the best of their ability.

·         Gain a customers word of mouth recommendation, rating or review, especially when there is a number of them has very high persuasive potential.

2.       Create a moderated wiki-based customer service or customer FAQ section.

·         Greatly improve your customer service for free.

3.       Create a section, a social network etc where they can post these. Reward the best hacks. Incorporate the best hack into new product development/redevelopment.

·         Increase the value of your products and the degree of your customer’s engagement with them. Your customers customise your products to their needs themselves. This, believe it or not, makes them happy.

B.      Stimulate the target customer’s motives for contributing their knowledge:

·         Loves the brand: show that you recognise his love and love him back.

·         Seeks public recognition through expertise: allow him to publicly establish himself as an expert.

·         Wants to contribute to the community: allow him to do so and show him how his contributions helped make a difference. Thank and reward him further on those grounds.


In conclusion, customer knowledge far from being detrimental to companies can be utilised for their as well as their target customers’ benefit.

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I would like to thank Ron Shevlin for publishing this post in his blog while I didnt have one.

I would like to address two related issues: 1) The metaphysics of engagement: Does customer engagement exist? and 2) The possibility of a uniform definition of customer engagement.

First off, metrics do not exist in the human-independent way that a tree does. If there was no human race, a mountain would still exist, but the metric called ‘customer engagement’ would not.

The only justification for creating a metric is to measure the property of something that really exists – e.g., the height of a particular tree (presuming, of course, that that property exists).

Second, engagement is a bipartite relation, i.e., X is engaged with Y. Indeed, it denotes the very fact of the relation. Any relation is an engagement and vice versa. The use of the word engagement in marketing is best expressed as the degree or intensity of a person’s psychological investment and involvement with an object (I don’t mean physical object – it can be anything).

Engagement is, hence, not a psychological state, but the degree of a person’s psychological investment in some object. This investment involves psychological states, such as — in the case of positive engagement — sympathy, love, pleasure, pride, happiness, gratitude, empathy, affection etc. Each of these states induce, in turn, a physiological state that is characterised by cognitive, somatic, emotional and behavioural components. The somatic effects of fear, for example, involve the tightening and priming with oxygen of muscles used for physical movement, increased heartbeat, etc.

For marketing purposes, however, measuring the somatic effects of certain states is rarely undertaken. Instead the more easily measurable behavioural effects of psychological states are the target of customer research. Although the behavioural effects of a psychological state are subject to culturally-specific variation and hence are not as universal as the somatic effects, they are closer to the final object of customer research, i.e., understanding and predicting customer behaviour for the purpose of improving ROI. Try to get likelihood to perform target action from data such as an increase in adrenaline release along with 10 other somatic symptoms.

Although the behavioural manifestations of psychological states are culturally constructed, the strength of social conventions commands a high enough degree of uniformity that any skepticism regarding their predictive value based on some form of radical cultural relativism (linguistic or other) is largely unfounded.

So although the behavioural manifestations of an engaged human being will vary — depending on whether it is a positive or negative engagement, as well as across different objects of engagement and media through which these behaviours are/can be expressed — engagement understood as the degree/intensity of the subject’s psychological investment, does not vary.

In so far as the psychological states that constitute positive or negative engagement are objective, their degree or intensity, manifest via public behavioural symptoms, will also be objective and measurable. Finally, if measuring that intensity is useful for predicting behaviour then the metric is also useful. Although I believe the answer is a resounding yes, it’s another topic altogether.