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« SAP OnDemand = Means To An End | Main | George Steinbrenner is Customer Centric 2006 »

February 14, 2006

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Mei Lin Fung

Guided by Occam's Razor, going for the simplest way to resolve this:

Apply the Golden Rule - Do unto others as you would have them do to you

If you would be fine with being in your customer's shoes (REALLY) then its ok.

If not, then its not.

Joe Pine

Paul, in cases like this I always like to go to the dictionary.... The OED says that "manipulate" comes from the Latin for "to clasp with the hands", which directly relates to the first definition. The second definition is "To operate upon with the mind or intelligence; to handle or treat with skill", while the third is "To manage by dexterous contrivance or influence; esp. to treat unfairly or insidiously for one's own advantage". (Modesty forbids quoting the fourth definition.)

Therefore, definitionally, manipulation can be either good or bad. I agree with that operationally as well. (Of course, I once defended the use of the word "exploit" in a client's marketing materials....) And I'm not speaking in an ends-justifies-the-means way (although means are only ever justified by proper ends), but rather that one can manage an experience with dexterity and skill (as in any Disney theme park), even to one's own advantage, and thereby achieve an acceptable level of manipulation. That not only falls within the definition of manipulation, it's called business -- gaining value by providing value. ButI do like your use of the word evocation for acceptable manipulation, at least as it pertains to experiences.

One can also cross over a line and unfairly or insidiously manipulate. It's hard to say exactly where that line is, but it seems to me that the line clearly is when the customer gives up more value than he gains. In normal business transactions, customers gain more value (via purchase of a commodity, good, service, or experience) than they give up (monetarily), usually much, much more, as the benefit generally has to be pretty clear to get them to pay.

The problem now is that, again, it's hard to say where that line is -- but it's also clear that only the individual customer who makes (or does not) make the purchase can say, and that customers will differ. If they perceive the lack of value beforehand, they won't purchase; if they perceive it afterward, they will have regret. If they don't perceive it at all, one could say that then there was no untoward manipulation, but I don't believe that to be the case. (The customer sometimes is not only not right, but stupid.)

Companies that constantly practice insidious manipulation will have short lives, esp. in this day of transparency. Companies that practice acceptable manipulation -- evocation -- will be economically rewarded.

Joe Pine

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