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Consultant Patricia Seybold, author of The Customer Revolution: How to Thrive When Customers Are in Control (Crown Business, March 2001), says that smart companies know who's really in charge. Here she explains to Inc. Technology senior writer Anne Stuart why "customer capital" matters now more than ever.

Inc.: We all grew up hearing that "the customer is always right." Haven't customers always been in control?

Seybold: Because of the Internet and wireless technologies and the amount of information that's readily available, customers now have the ability to make demands they never could before. They can now see into your business processes. In fact, they're insisting on that. They don't want to know just "what products you offer and what's the price." They want to know, "Where is it in inventory?" That's what's different -- that transparency.

Inc.: You write that today "the hardest thing for companies to acquire isn't investment capital, products, employees, not even brand; it's loyalty." Again, what's changed?

Seybold: In the past you could get by with good products and adequate service because it wasn't easy for customers to do side-by-side comparisons of products, of prices, of policies. Those are the kinds of things customers now can determine themselves. And because they can do that, it's now much harder to lock them in.

For more information, including Seybold's eight steps for delivering a good customer experience, visit www.customerrevolution.net.

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