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As a child I was fascinated by the workings of my terrarium, it was the first thing in my life where I felt a huge sense of responsibility for keeping something alive. Bringing together the light, air, water, moss created an ecosystem that gave sustainability to the little frog living in there. I became a huge cheerleader for its survival day in and out. I watched it live and grow daily.

The business world can and should be viewed in its commercial context in a similar sense and business writers greater than I, viz. Geoffrey Moore, have espoused this concept and written about it.

When I joined SAP in the late 90’s this concept was brought forward when we studied the dynamics of bringing customer data and customer relationships we manage, into a corporate ecosystem. No longer was the customer an abstract element of the business parlayed only by a sales or service, on the contrary it was a vital element of the entire business, keeping it alive and growing.

In this day and age the social aspects of our lives are now digitized and quantified.  Consumers are a more visible part of the retail ecosystem. They consume products and services in exchange for capital and they respire social media as a byproduct in the process.

With the right tools and processes retailers can understand what consumers feel about their shopping experience. In this sense I expand the definition of experience to include the product or services obtained and how well it met the expectations. We can aggregate the data or slice it apart; we look at how it influences others, how it trends over time and what we did to cause the good or the bad.

3 years ago it was enough to hear what the consumer said, but now it’s incomplete just to listen, consumers expect to be heard and acknowledged, especially in times when their expectations were not met. This means going beyond the pale of just reading comments and now requires knowing that the retail enterprise is expected to respond in a sentient fashion.

To do so manually is tedious, burdensome and oftentimes incomplete. There’s the risk of one errant tweet going on record or conversely just simply knowing that nothing is being said without it being heard.

This means that contemporary retailers must build and maintain a complete social media ecosystem. This includes the capability to know that terms such as “bad” or “sick” can be used negative or positive context.  It has to include the tools and techniques that allow for listening, understanding and appropriating a response in near real time.  Oh, by the way, scale it to large volumes of customer’s sentiments and opinions and embrace the volumes of data that accompany it.

This is all possible to accomplish today. The question is; do you see your retail enterprise as an ecosystem? If so, what your customers express about your brand is a neerw dynamic of the business that you can’t afford to ignore, instead it merits your attention.

Hopefully retailers keep their businesses growing and healthy. It’s possible if you think of the consumer as the frog in your terrarium and that keeping that customer engaged in a positive manner is crucial to the sustainability of the business.

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