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How do customers experience your business models?

My only experience with AT&T is as a customer. But even as an outsider I can tell that the company has huge organizational silos (albeit with a workforce that finally understands customer-friendliness). Every transaction for each of my multiple AT&T services appears to require interfacing with a completely separate information system and likely business unit that often has no record of what’s happening in the other accounts.

When you force prospects and customers to work with you through your silos, you won't seed a rich harvest.

For examples:

I get three bills. When I ask for one bill I am told, “All your services have different cycles and that would be a mess.”

After moving to a new residence, I returned the U-verse device (which enables TV, wireless internet and the land line connection) from my former address to the AT&T wireless store, where I was told, “We don’t accept U-verse returns here. You have to go to the UPS store.” In this same visit I asked about modifying my new U-verse bill, as the installer could not install the land line phone for which I was being billed. “We don’t do that here.”
I went to the AT&T website to pay a bill and there was no place that describes what I am to AT&T – a customer of multiple services. Forced to connect to the webpage for each service, I inevitably confuse passwords and user names (as they were set up at different times) and get locked out of their system, requiring a phone call and long wait time for a live voice who can unlock my account.

As my husband says, “When you have to deal with AT&T you just breathe deeply and know it will take an hour out of your day.” He’s spent a few proving to AT&T that we actually moved, cancelled the old service and returned the box.

I bring up AT&T because too many companies with multiple businesses are designed to deal with their customers from the inside out – working with customers the way their business is structured. They are unable to create an awesome customer experience because they never think from the outside in – how their customer might want to work with them. The homepage on an inside-out company’s website says it all.

Go to Granger’s home page. Despite having different target markets, with different needs from this industrial products distributor, there is no opportunity for the user to identify which “tribe” he belongs to (e.g., manufacturing manager in a chemical plant versus project manager for a commercial construction company doing high-rise buildings). Therefore, the website is not tailored to his tribe’s needs which are in part different than those of other groups. Instead, the “here’s what we have, who needs it” approach to web design forces the user to search and hunt. Best case, the value promise for a product is never tailored to the user’s context, making him more likely to shop on price. Worst case, the user never sees some products that might be amazing, as he never knew to search for them. 3M does it better.

You know from websites like Granger’s that it’s organized internally by product group. If Granger has market-focused managers responsible for the entirety of the portfolio for one target market, they likely have little real clout, at least for website decisions. Companies with multiple target markets that remain product or technology-driven are dinosaurs. New information technologies are leading us in the direction of mass personalization–not just of messaging but of offerings as well. If Granger cannot get the first cut right on its website – way-finding by target market – how will it ever catch up when niche distributors enter vertical markets with a more tailored offering?

Granger might argue that its scale creates barriers to entry. Ha! With cloud computing, new companies have access to best-in-class affordable IT operations. And with the specialization the information age has fostered, new companies also have access to best-in-class back room distribution services. And manufacturers would love to have additional channels for their products. Barriers to entry to Granger’s business model in other words are melting away in today’s networked world.

Is your business and website designed from the target market’s perspective? If not, engage in process redesign from an outside-in perspective. The more complex your company and the more target markets that you serve, the more valuable this exercise will be.

When you make customers’ lives difficult by running the company the way it’s easy for you – rather than more enjoyable and less frustrating for your customer – you create the worst kind of customer, an angry one.

More articles by Kay Plantes

Kay Plantes is an MIT-trained economist, business strategy consultant, columnist and author. Business model innovation, strategic leadership and smart economic policies are her professional passions. She resides in Madison, Wisconsin and Oslo, Norway. For more information visit her website - Business Model Innovation and read her most recent book - Beyond Price.

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. WTN accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.

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