The Four Rules of Success with the Agile Consumer

This post is based on ideas from my latest book, The Agile Consumer. To learn more or purchase the book, you can read more on my website.

As I was creating my latest book, The Agile Consumer, I’ve defined four rules that apply to the agile consumer. Understanding these will help you navigate and succeed in this agile world. Let’s explore each in more depth.

Rule #1: They are at the center of endless choices

Gone are the days of brands having the luxury of being one of two to three products sitting on a shelf. Consumers now have near endless choice FOR any type of product or service they want, and many are increasingly customizable to the format, payment style, and delivery method, and delivery timing  that is most desirable to them.

This gives the buyer an incredible amount of power and puts increasing pressure on brands to provide better service, more options, and a seamless delivery process. It also means that retaining customers, while it has always been important, takes on increased importance. Once you win someone over, you can keep them with the right experience.

Rule #2: Consumers want to be co-creators

Crowdsourcing is a way that consumers are increasingly willing to provide ideas and feedback to companies to help get better products or services, often being incentivized to do so with the opportunity to enter a drawing on receipts from a CVS pharmacy, Safeway grocery store, or a buy one get one free Egg McMuffin from McDonald’s. This increased willingness to share opinions is a trait of the modern, agile consumer. It’s not always necessary to launch with a finished, polished project anymore if you can get suggestions for improvement from your customers on an initial rollout.

Instead, getting the buy-in of loyal customers early on in the process of developing a product or service not only wins over hearts and minds who want to be part of something successful, it also helps you develop better initial outcomes because you’re getting feedback along the way. We’ll be talking more about this in the following pages.

Rule #3: A sale doesn’t end at the cash register

Those of you already deeply involved in customer experience already know this at a brand and company level. It’s not enough for any brand to just get a sale anymore. With longstanding traditions like lifetime warranties from Sears’ Craftsman tools, and the level of customer service Nordstrom has provided since the early twentieth century, it never really was.  But in this age of plenty—options, customizations, perks and so on, a one-time sale is okay, but it’s much better to get a repeat buyer or at least someone who will refer you to other potential customers. 

Anyone who has ever done sales knows this as well. It’s much cheaper to get more business from a current customer than it is to win over a new one.

In a world where what we buy is increasingly software-supported, customers expect a product to include support, whether they buy an extended warranty or not. Apple, which launched its current operating system, OS X, in March 2001, charged for upgrades over its first decade in existence. In 2013, however, software updates became available free of charge. I have to admit, as an Apple user, I’m surprised they ever expected people to pay for software updates on an annual basis in the first place. My expectation for my investment in the Apple ecosystem—after all, I have a phone, computer, tablet, and even a watch—is that they will “take care” of the software updates in exchange for my adoption of all things Apple. 

This means that I expect to have access to the latest features, security updates, and other things that companies used to be able to charge for on an ongoing basis. Instead, offering those things is a brand’s price of entry to a set of consumers.

Another current trend is a move to a subscription-based lifestyle, exemplified by brands like Adobe, with its Creative Cloud, and HBO with its shift away from a solely cable television-based model. In both the Apple model and the subscription model, the customer is at the center of the experience. While this isn’t what consumers consciously talk about, it’s now their expectation. 

Rule #4: Consumers aren’t willing to wait

Consumers don’t want to have to work hard for something they feel they already bought. For instance, if you buy software, you expect it to work. If it doesn’t, you want instant support. The same thing goes with a car, a coffee maker, or anything else. Buying a product is buying the experience that goes along with that product. If the experience of using the product is difficult or cumbersome, the product isn’t perceived as good, regardless of how cutting edge its features might be.

Think about the experience of buying a new Apple laptop, which I recently did. The box has only about 2 elements in it: the laptop, and a charger. As soon as you flip up the cover of the laptop, it turns on and asks for a few simple pieces of information. There is no instruction manual to go through, no lengthy process of setup. As long as you have an Internet connection available, you’re set up in a few minutes.

By understanding and applying these rules you can have a stronger relationship with your current and future customers. 


This post is based on ideas from my latest book, The Agile Consumer. To learn more or purchase the book, you can read more on my website.

Greg Kihlstrom