It’s interesting to pick up a copy of a business magazine from 10 years ago or more and look at what was then hot and at the predictions that were being made–and how well they stood up with the passage of time.
Forbes ASAP (4/6/98) carried an article by George Gilder, in which he asserts that companies will increasingly compete by understanding that the customer’s time is a valuable resource–and making it possible to do business with them without wasting it.
The fact is that the entire economy is riddled with time-wasting routines and regimes that squander much of the time of the average customer. Suffice it to say that the concept of the customer’s life span as a crucially precious resource, indeed the most precious resource in the information economy, has not penetrated to many of the major business and governmental institutions in the United States, let alone overseas.
The message of the telecosm is that this era is over, as dead as slavery in 1865. These lingering attitudes in established busineses and government offer the largest opportunities for new companies and strategies in the information age.
Gilder is an astute and creative guy, and I think he was right about the competitive opportunities that exist in optimizing the use of the customer’s time. He was wrong, however, that there would be rapid improvement in this area. Most companies, and most government agencies, are still terrible in this area–indeed, the dramatic increase in micromanagement of customer service personnel, combined with extensive use of preprogrammed blather, actually probably represents a regression in the effective use of customer time.
Gilder also identified television as a major time-waster:
You sit down on a couch in front of a screen to watch degrading and titillating lowest common denominator schlock, scheduled for you in some netherworld between Madison Avenue, the FCC, and Hollywood…some preening as “news and some leering as entertainment, for as much as seven hours a day…all in order to grab your eyeballs for a few minutes of carefully crafted advertising images that you don’t want to see, of products that you will never buy.
…and went on to suggest that information technology will make it more possible for people to see the programs they really want to see, and be presented with advertising for products that might actually be relevant to them.
Which of course has turned out to be substantially correct, with the emergence of services like Netflix and Internet video (and blogs!)…although meaningful targeting of Internet advertising still has a long way to go.
But as far as companies making themselves easier to do business with, and showing more respect for the time of their customers, Gilder was way over-optimistic.