The marketing concept, described in Chapter 1 "What Is Marketing?", reminds us that the customer should be at the center of a firm’s activities and that the company that thrives is the one that serves customers’ needs better than the competition. Yet often it is the customer who is most adept at serving the customer’s needs. Consumers being able to take control of the marketing activities aimed at them is what customer empowerment is about. Today, technology is making it more possible for the customer to do exactly that. In a recent survey, the chief marketing officers of 250 top companies were asked about the key factors that influence the performance of their companies. The officers’ response? A company’s ability to interact and respond to its customers as well as empower them.Girish Ramani and V. Kumar, “Interaction Orientation and Firm Performance,” Journal of Marketing 72, no. 1 (2008): 27–41.
Research shows that customer empowerment is a function of three things: creating feedback channels that are easy and widely available, asking for and encouraging feedback about products, and enabling customers to participate in the design of products. Elsewhere, we discuss how customers can participate in the design of products, or offerings. In this chapter, we focus on those ubiquitous feedback channels, as well as strategies to solicit and encourage feedback.
Take JCPenney, for example. You might think that a company as large as JCPenney would be unable to give customers the ability to create their own types of shopping experiences—that standardizing the products and services they receive would be necessary. But JCPenney is an excellent example of how a firm can use the Internet and other technology to engage its customers and provide them with more control over the products and marketing communications they receive.
What JCPenney did was to ask women to join the Ambrielle community. By joining, women agreed to regularly participate in group discussions about products, review product samples and provide feedback directly to JCPenney, and other similar activities designed to give JCPenney insight into how to best serve women’s needs. In exchange, the women got the products they wanted, as well as early fashion information, and the satisfaction of having an impact. In this instance, JCPenney empowered their customers in a positive manner, with benefits for the customers and JCPenney.