How to Put Your Customers to Work

How to Put Your Customers to Work

Consumer-Company Interactions: Smashing Assumptions

Consider the evolution of the health-care industry. Innovations in pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, nutrition, cosmetics and alternative therapies are creating various treatment modalities and transforming our concepts of health. As both consumers and technologies advance, traditional medicine (curing sickness), preventive medicine and improvements in the quality of life are rapidly merging into a "wellness space". Let us examine the changing dynamics of interaction between a consumer and the organizations that participate in the wellness space.

Twenty years ago, when I was feeling ill and visited my doctor, I might have undergone a battery of tests that would have informed my doctor's diagnosis, which he would explain to me only if he had to. He would then choose a treatment modality, prescribe some medications and schedule a follow-up examination. Health-care back then was generally doctor-centric, just as commerce was company-centric. Doctors thought that they knew how to treat me, and since I wasn't a physician myself, I probably agreed. Similarly, most businesses figured that they knew how to create customer value - and most customers agreed.

Now, the health-care process is far more complex. As soon as I feel ill, I can tap into the expertise and experience of other patients and health-care professionals. I can access an abundance of information, some of it reliable, some not. I can investigate alternative treatments for any condition and develop an opinion about what might and might not work for me.

Ultimately, I can cut my own path through the wellness space, thereby constructing a personal wellness portfolio. If I'm grappling with high cholesterol, then I can include pharmaceuticals for blood pressure and cholesterol approved by the FDA, health supplements not approved by the FDA, a fitness regimen developed with an instructor and genetic screening for hereditary heart disease.

Notice that my wellness portfolio does not fit neatly into any traditional industry classification. Yes, I visit my doctor. I get tests and medications and submit the bills to my medical insurance, provided through my employer. But other services in my wellness portfolio fall outside the conventional doctor-based health-care, pharmaceutical or insurance industries. My wellness space springs from my view of wellness, my biases, values, expertise, preferences, expectations, experiences and financial wherewithal. My spouse, meanwhile, can construct her own wellness portfolio.

Rather than rely solely on my doctors' expertise, I can seek experts among my peers - other health-care consumers - organized into thematic communities, such as a high-cholesterol group. This networked knowledge encompasses not just the medical aspects pertinent to my condition but its sociology, psychology and likely impact on me, my family and the community at large.

These consumer-company interactions in the wellness space fundamentally challenge two deeply embedded, traditional business assumptions: 1. that any given company or industry can create value unilaterally; and 2. that value resides exclusively in the company's or industry's products and services. What new concepts do we need to understand the implications of the emerging pattern of interactions between consumers and the company?

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