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Defining and Understanding Customer Diversity
In marketing and market research, we seek to identify the "character" of our customer, resulting in a profile that is the equivalent of a job specification. Springing from this is a prescription of practices geared to this definition.
I frequently find that the small business owners and managers I work with in my Internet business consulting fall into one of two traps in understanding their customers. Lacking persuasive evidence to the contrary, they assume their customers' minds and attitudes pretty much mirror their own. If they avoid this trap, they may fall into the second one which is believing that "the customer" has certain characteristics, habits, and desires. The result is the same, a tacit assumption that in all the important ways to their business their core customers are clones of one another. This leads to executing a business plan that fails to recognize the diversity of the customer base.
An understanding of type can help broaden these definitions to cover the different ways people perceive, different ways they make decisions, different styles of relating to the external world, and different learning styles. While defining a core customer may continue to have value, segmenting that customer understanding to include additional types of customers will enhance the ability of the business to connect with and better serve more people.
The Old Ways Die Hard
The impact of the old scientific management/engineering model of human nature has impacted much more than the human resources profession. It has significantly impacted and impaired public education through the educational bureaucracy failing to understand that "normal" brains come in radically different forms with different needs and learning styles. Those who get caught in the sieve of their unidimensional "best practices" teaching model are channeled into special education classes or left to drop out of school when the opportunity presents. Despite the massive investments in education, legions are being left out of the education process. (For one example of how an understanding of personality type can make a difference in education, see Jane Kise' article on "Problem Students" )
Another example is health research that often fail to consider possible correlations between personality type and disease and disease promoting behaviors. I recall recently hearing a report of a long term study of nurses that found a propensity to be afflicted with certain types of disease. The study implied that there is something about the nursing environment that is linked to these diseases. A link not explored was the fact that the nursing profession appeals to certain personality types and thus there exists a potential disease correlation with personality type.
Everywhere one looks it is possible to find examples of long-held and honored practices that are based on concepts of human nature formed in the first half of the previous century.
The notions of natural "norms" for human behavior and environmental determinism persuade us to see "education" in its many forms as the solution for a broad range of problems. Yet accumulating scientific evidence from neuro-psychology and the Myers-Briggs model urge a new paradigm based on the insight of our inherent diversity and the significant degree our genetic makeup determines our personality and behavior.
We are going through a period of discovering the limitations of our time-honored tools of educating, influencing, molding, and shaping others. We are discovering how this new paradigm impacts our lives - professionally and personally. We are being forced to adapt and learn new ways of perceiving, new ways of judging, and new ways of managing.
Thanks to Jeanne Marlowe, INFP, for her valuable editorial counsel and support.