Writing in the 1980s, futurist Alvin Toffler predicted a blurring of the lines between production and consumption into the 21st century and coined a portmanteau term — prosumer — to describe it.
So influential was Toffler’s thinking that the concept of the prosumer has been adapted and explored in innumerable fields since. From economics and politics to electronics, architecture and user design, Toffler’s notion of the prosumer has cemented itself as a vector for identifying and analyzing various trends in the modern world.
Notwithstanding the multitude of interpretations that surround the concept, this article takes Toffler’s notion as its point of departure for exploring the blurring of the boundaries between production and consumption at work and how these can be harnessed to improve business outcomes.
To begin, let’s clarify what is meant when we say that the employees of today can be likened to prosumers.
Success in business is often reliant on making the right choices and being able to influence people. Think about it. The standout business success stories of the late 20th and early 21st century are all poster children for good choices and persuading people:
- Apple and the iPod.
- Amazon and Prime.
- Tesla and electric vehicles.
In 2001, Apple made a solid bet that the future of music was in your pocket. The technology was there, sure, but the kicker? Users needed to repurchase their back catalog for 99 cents a song. An estimated 450 million iPod products have been sold worldwide.
How do you wean customers off “free” shipping and offset the costs that are eating into your profit margins? For a few bucks a month, Amazon offered Prime customers some exclusive video content to sweeten the deal.
Finally, consider the electric car industry:
- The electric car pre-Tesla: ugly, slow and expensive.
- Target market: eco-warriors and enthusiasts.
- The electric car post-Tesla: still expensive, not without its drawbacks, and yet widely considered among the most desirable big-ticket items you can purchase right now.
In each of these examples, some of the world’s most admired companies made good choices and successfully convinced customers despite their initial and very valid reservations.
Making choices is what we do as customers. Influencing people is what we do as salespeople. Both skills are the flipside of the same coin — push and pull factors that affect the symbiotic producer-consumer relationship.
In the world of work, we oscillate between the role of customer and salesperson and back again with remarkable regularity. How often do you find yourself coming up with a great idea before finding that you need to secure buy-in from colleagues to get it off the ground?
Or consider you want a raise. You need to sell your achievements to your boss, but what are these achievements if not examples of when you made the right choices? Think of hiring: You’ve got to pick the right candidate, but in the war for talent you’ve got to convince them too.
It is in these business and career examples that the blurring of the consumptive and productive realm Toffler talked about begins to make a little more sense.
For businesses today, customer service is not just an external activity, but an internal one as well.
The Benefits of Customer Service Skills
Mastery of good customer service on both fronts (internal and external) is why salespeople often tend to make great CEOs, according to Forbes. Influencing people is what they’ve done all their lives. Elevator pitch? You got it. But good salespeople (and good CEOs) also make good choices because they know how to put themselves in other people’s shoes. When a good leader makes choices, they hire the right people, capture their hearts and minds and invest wisely by listening to their customer base.
Not all of us are born CEOs. But all employees, whether back-office or customer-facing, could benefit from grasping the fundamentals of customer service and how it inflects much of how we do business today.
This is why all employees, from top to bottom, would benefit from customer service training.
Better Interpersonal Relationships
When we start to think of colleagues as customers, chances are that we begin to value our relationship with them a little more. On the one hand, when we think of our colleagues more like customers, we tend to put greater emphasis on the quality of our communication.
Most of us are more inclined to choose our words more carefully and consider how we present ourselves when interacting with a customer or external audience than we are with our co-workers.
While almost always unintentional, poor communication leads to conflict. If we can learn to value relationships from the get-go and adjust our communication style accordingly, we stand in much greater stead to cultivate more productive and fruitful working relationships with co-workers in the long term.
We all deserve to be valued and treated well at work, and if more of us are on our A-game and put emphasis on quality interactions we will certainly work better as a team.
Customer service pros know that a positive experience starts with two key elements: the emotional connection made with the customer, whether internal or external, and building trust.
Investing in customer service training and development for everyone helps to improve emotional awareness and communication skills and helps staff feel valued, respected and equipped for the challenges they face together.
Win the War for Talent
In an era of remote working, white-collar workers have more choice than ever. This is not just about who offers the best compensation anymore (though that is still important). Employees today are increasingly looking for alignment between an organization’s values and their own.
As a result of this shift, we’ve seen the rise of employer branding and the employer value proposition, with senior leaders and HR functions increasingly thinking of their employees and potential employees as their customers.
In short, this means not taking your employees’ loyalty for granted and making a concerted effort to win hearts and minds over, just like you would with any winning customer strategy.
To put this into practice, engagement is key, and leaders need to ensure that they are listening to their employees.
More broadly, it’s about fostering a culture of excellent internal customer service, in your psyche and culture, which is only reinforced by putting greater emphasis on the quality of our communication and interpersonal relationships over time.
We know that companies that look after their customers tend to be successful ones. Therefore, an understanding of how internal customer service, and by extension customer service training for all employees, can have on building a culture based on excellence is incredibly powerful.
We live in a world of endless choices, where every interaction is valuable and meaningful. By taking tips from customer service pros, innovative businesses can apply their winning insights internally to drive positive outcomes in the long term.