Written by Rik Vera

Picture the following scene. You are standing in a crowd of people that have exactly the same age, nationality and gender as you. Can you see them? The one next to you looks a lot like your high school sweetheart, but older.

Now, how many of those people are likely to buy a copy of John Williams’ `Stoner’ at the exact same moment as you? How many of them will fall in love with and marry the same (wo)man? How many will order the same lovely bright red Tesla? Expecting significant statistics to emerge from such a completely unrelated batch is insane. Yet it is exactly how most companies treat their customers: by expecting large unconnected groups to behave and react in a similar fashion.

How to build valuable relationships – with AND without segmentation

From customer-centric to relationship-centric

Segmentation is dead. Well, it was never actually alive or even very effective, for that matter. But what’s changed is that buyers, these days, are used to personalised, quick and easy solutions and services like those of Uber, CitizenM, Spotify, Hootsuite and Apple. Which triggered a zero tolerance for failure and useless marketing noise. They’ve been spoilt. They also have more choices than ever. A lot more choices. So you’d better not piss them off by suggesting them a Primark sweater if they just tweeted an article entitled “The true cost of your cheap clothes: slave wages for Bangladesh factory workers”.

“Not products. Not services. Not even customers. But the relationship between you.”

I absolutely loved how John Phillips of Zuora put it at Bloovi’s `Web Tomorrow’: we need to evolve from being customer-centric to relationship-centric. I believe it’s about building something in the long term. About creating experiences that make a lasting impression. About emotions: not about selling a product but about surprise, joy or excitement. “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”, as Maya Angelou so elegantly put it. So. Not products. Not services. Not even customers. But the bond, the relationship between you and them. 
And you can only have a meaningful relationship of trust if you are interacting on a one-to-one basis. That’s why the only useful ‘segment’ today is the segment of one. The one in which there are as many segments as there are customers. And the only way to achieve this is by becoming an information company. But that’s a different story.


Don’t forget to segment. Really. (No, really.)

Yes. This title IS messing with your head. But it’s ok. Everything in life is a contradiction. And a similarity. You can quote me on that. You need to build one-on-one relations with customers, but you also DO need to segment. I am not referring to segmentation based on static and completely useless metrics like age and culture. No, I’m talking about segmentation based on behaviour and true potential for growth.
In an ideal customer world, all your touchpoints and all your channels would be open and manned 24/7. But then all organisations would go out of business and there would be nothing to buy anymore. Not good. Businesses have to stay realistic and make choices. They have to manage their resources in a sensible manner, based on value. Is it a small or big customer? And does (s)he have a lot of growth potential? This is what should be measured: dynamic, behaviour-based metrics. Your online channels should be dedicated to digital delight, operational excellence and convenience. But  your most growth-worthy customers need to be charmed, enchanted and captivated with the passion, creativity and empathy of your human staff. The latter customers are the ones that you should truly invest in. Don’t think in terms of sales and marketing cost. Think customer investment. Above all: think relationship building.

So yes, segmentation is dead. But only the old form of segmentation. The evolved model – that allows us to manage our resources, channels and touchpoints in a smart way – is very much alive and kicking. So yes, long live segmentation!

Like to find out if nexxworks can help your organisation forge great relationships with your customers? Contact hello@nexxworks.com.

This opinion piece first appeared in Dutch on the Bloovi platform.

Picture: Kaleb Nimz (Unsplash)