A report in the current issue of the Journal of Service Research describes the changing nature of customer relationships and how new technologies have altered the way consumers interact with businesses. The authors from Europe and the US describe a ‘pinball’ framework that characterises the to-ing and fro-ing of these more equal relationships, which they say is “highly disruptive” for those seeking to manage the relationships in a more traditional way.
“Managing customer relationships in the era of new media resembles pinball playing, with extensive information being available on brands and products which can multiply, but also interfere with the companies’ marketing messages (such as bumpers do when playing pinball) and make it more complex to control brand images and relationship outcomes such as customer equity.” (p324)
While paying particular attention to the ease of access epitomised by the increasing use of mobile technologies as consumer tools, the report seems to overlook the critical skills of discernment required to make educated decisions. It suggests that search engines have:
“diminished consumers’ need to classify and organize information about products and markets and to store them in their internal memories.” (p320)
The researchers have, like most users, imbued search engines with enormous trustworthiness and impartiality. They talk about the value of the ‘database of intentions’ to forecast future patterns of behaviour and personalise search results still further.
The downside of personalisation is the potential to only see what’s deemed specifically relevant.
This presents an interesting dilemma as search engine technologies become more sophisticated and present an ever-decreasing set of results because they reflect our preferences and previous behaviour. The downside of personalisation is the potential to only see what’s deemed specifically relevant. Far from enabling and empowering consumers, the ‘intelligence’ of these systems might well concentrate results to well-trodden paths and familiar territory.
All this reiterates the need to monitor the dominance of the likes of Google, and the importance of instilling a healthy sense of scepticism among users if we want to retain critical independence and the joy of serendipity.