and its customers are in a symbiotic relationship. On a weekly basis, customers give Amazon not just their money, but also their interests (through browsing and clicking) and opinions (by rating products). In return, Amazon delivers myriad purchases conveniently and quickly to doorsteps around the world, and makes useful suggestions about what its customers ought to read, listen to and buy next. For many families, this arrangement works well enough that Amazon earns its own line item in the household budget. Indeed, Amazon should probably add its customers, and the steady stream of data they generate, as an asset on its balance sheet. Imagine if it did what that would mean to how much more attention and care we would all receive?

Perhaps that's not such a ridiculous idea given the hyper-connected world in which companies now operate. Customers are normally not accounted for in financial reports, but the shopping habits and opinions of the millions of Amazon shoppers form quite a robust piece of intellectual property. The time may have come for companies to recognise their customers as assets and contributors, not just passive consumers. Further, if organisations want to prosper in the digital age, it is time for them to build and recruit management teams that understand these facts and have real digital acumen to deliver on this opportunity.

New digital technologies, those known as CASIM (Cloud, Analytics, Social, Internet of Things, and Mobile), are enabling a new and higher-order type of relationship between companies and their customers. Companies can use CASIM technologies to increase their presence in customers' lives - hanging out on their mobile phones, participating in their social networks, letting them rate and review - and gathering data all the while.

Big data analytical capabilities allow companies to crunch and process all this free data, turning it into useful insights that can help nurture strong and lasting relationships. Where and when do customers shop? What types of products and services get purchased together? These are just the tip of the iceberg. Intimately knowing customers allows firms to improve internal operations and better serve them.

This is a win-win situation, but it requires a change of mindset and skillset for many executives and corporate directors. Customers are already there, eagerly sharing opinions on Yelp and TripAdvisor, helping design advertising for Danone yogurt, sharing their Nike+ enabled runs on Facebook, even developing Apps for Apple. But most established firms are hesitating when it comes to this type of customer intimacy as it means releasing some control.

Some companies are taking radical steps today to build the technological capabilities needed to capitalise on their customer assets. But it will require a savvy leadership team and board to genuinely profit from this massive opportunity. 

Illustration:Peter Lubach

Steve Potter

Steve Potter is the CEO of Odgers Berndtson US and sits on its Global Board. He has spent over two decades as a founder, CEO and senior executive of several financial services executive search firm...

Barry Libert

Digital Board Advisor at OpenMatters – USA



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