Physician in residence. Entrepreneur in residence. Professor in residence.

Why not, Customer in Residence? moser

Today, company and product visionaries persuasively argue that developing a close relationship with customers–being interested in, and genuinely understanding customers’ experiences before, during, and after their interactions with your product/service/employees–is either a source of competitive advantage or the source of a fatal flaw in the business.

From Amazon to Zappos (go figure the one acquired the other), and from USAA to that rascally Gecko, successful businesses (online and/or BnM) make a strong case for putting customers first, last, and in between.

Many companies manage to build a deep customer-first element into the core of their brands, and guess what? This really resonates with customers.

Not sure about that? Have a look at the new breed of customer service evaluations, and their impact on customers’ shopping decisions.

Customer programs aren’t new, but that doesn’t mean they’re not relevant. Quite the opposite. Consider:

At eBay in the early 2000s we ran the Voices program, where we invited buyers/sellers to eBay’s HQ to meet eBay employees and other community members, take a campus tour, and talk about features and issues important to the community. It was an instant hit with die-hard Community members who wanted their voices heard. And, a very large, rapidly expanding company was able to step outside its view of the world and learn from its customers.

More recently, furniture designer/craftsmen, Thos. Moser (http://www.thosmoser.com), launched a week-long CIR program, which they run 8 times a year. Moser’s furniture is designed, hand-crafted, and functional, and it generally appeals to furniture “collectors,” though I’m sure its broadly appealing designs are the inspiration for knock-offs.

At Moser, furniture-enthusiast customers apply for a spot in the Moser program via the website, and Moser selects customers on a first-come basis. Participants travel to Maine and work alongside a master craftsman while they build their own piece of furniture, which they crate up and take home with them at the end of the week.

The Moser program is a paid one (cost to customers ranges from $6K to $14K, and pretty much all-inclusive), but not all CIR programs are. You can also give away a free spot from time to time.

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While all CIR programs have some form of associated cost to the company (employees’ time, cost to bring in customers, etc.), the benefits may actually be unlimited, long-lasting, and far-reaching:

  • They’re your customers. Get to know them! Who knows, they may want to work for you some day. And if you don’t, your customers may become someone else’s.
  • Think about cost to acquire and retain. Demonstrate your interest in, and commitment to them, and your customers will probably come back next time.
  • Great customer service is viral–it spreads by word of mouth from happy customer to friends and family around the globe.

Ask not what your customers can do for you; ask what you can do for your customers.

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