As I've mentored entrepreneurs to get on their customers' wavelengths, I developed a taxonomy of different value constructs. This amounts to a prediction language that anticipates what will sell and why customers will buy it. It helps the entrepreneurs to stay on course, to stop getting upset and to avoid setting themselves up for failure. The more successful they become at providing what others want, the more they can value themselves and honor how they perceive themselves as valuable. This in turn makes them perceived as more valuable by the sales prospects and customers.
- Some customers are looking to keep their experience to a minimum. They are wary of getting ripped off. They perceive value in bargains, discounts, cost savings and freebies. They are not situated to appreciate higher quality, better services or what else they could get by paying more. They get ripped off often because they lack the sophistication to see through offers that are too good to be true. They relate to providers of goods and services as enemies to guard against. The providers who play at this level circle their wagons too. The customers appear as disheartening enemies who fail to appreciate an added touch, extra effort or better quality. Both sides perpetuate a stalemate like a long standing feud by honoring the perceived value in distance, hostilities and mutual contempt.
- Some customers are looking for added value, higher quality and better services. They are wary of getting cheap replacements, shoddy workmanship or the runaround when demanding answers. They perceive value in getting the expectations met, demands satisfied and standards complied with. They get disappointed often because they come across as "customers from hell", tyrants who are impossible to please, and bullies who take pleasure in intimidating others. They relate to providers of goods and services as subservient misfits who lack the power, position and resources to get their own demands met. The providers who play at this level raise their own standards to meet the challenge of these demanding customers. The customers appear as worthy opponents in continual contests to win their respect, loyalty and trust. Both sides perpetuate a power game by honoring the perceived value in quality efforts, added services and quick responses.
- Some other customers are looking for solutions to their particular problems in the context of their current situations. They are wary of getting bombarded by useless services, features and complications that do nothing for them. They perceive value in whatever makes a difference in their experience, on their own terms and according to their unique context. They get disappointed often because they need to get individual attention, really understood and engaged in authentic dialogue with customer service personnel who have gotten burned out by such attentiveness. They relate to providers of goods and services as advisers, colleagues and consultants who can bring their own understanding, perspective and experience to bear on their problem. The providers who play at this level continually discover how to be of service to each customer's set of problems, situational constraints and contextual influences. The customers appear as valuable explorers looking for solutions in ways that make others seem like valuable helpers. Both sides perpetuate a conversation by honoring the perceived value in each other's understanding, experience and perceptions.
- The remaining customers are looking to collaborate and contribute to the success of their collaborators. They are wary of getting over-served where they cannot repay the kindness, keep things even and join in the producing the outcomes. They perceive value in getting valuable people knowing each other, thinking together and combining their resourcefulness into innovative outcomes. They get disappointed often because the world socializes, educates and employs people to serve those who pay for getting served by unilateral transactions. They relate to providers of goods and services as platforms for contributing and co-creating value. The providers who play at this level continually experience win/win solutions, mutually beneficial arrangements and unexpected outcomes from the complex interrelationships. The customers appear as providers of goods and services, no different from the providers in essence. Both sides perpetuate a collaboration by honoring the perceived value in each others contributions.
Perhaps obviously, this taxonomy aligns with the kinds of market providers and the kinds of tribes I've recently explored. I doubt this framework scales to the enormous scale of entire economies or phases of history. Rather, I suspect that every kind of customer and perceived value exists in every economy and phase of history. Back when wandering tribes encountered the first agriculturalists with surplus food to sell, there probably were bargain hunters and the rest. Likewise when fur trappers traded with tribes on the North American continent, it's likely that the trappers encountered every kind of customer also. As economies have become more complex, the opportunities for every kind of customer and perceived value would increase.