Kellogg World Alumni Magazine, Spring 2003Kellogg School of Management
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  Prof. Rich Honack
© Nathan Mandell
Richard Honack, Assistant Dean and Chief Marketing Officer
Theory & Practice
Faster than a drive-through triple espresso
“Nanosecond customers” don’t have time to wait for traditional business marketing models to catch up

By Richard Honack, Assistant Dean and Chief Marketing Officer

Can’t stand to wait more than 12 seconds for a Web page to load? Feel like time stops whenever the person in line in front of you pulls out a checkbook? Congratulations, you’re part of the “nanosecond culture,” a world moving at the speed of light.

Fortunately, today’s digital technology provides “nanosecond customers” with tools to negotiate this frenetic landscape. These customers are armed with mobile phones that double as cameras, “Speed Passes,” Palm Pilots, wireless laptops, multifunctional broadband plasma screens and the world of the Internet’s purchasing convenience.

It’s a dizzying array of technology that not too long ago would have seemed like magic.

These increasingly demanding people, whether retail consumers or operations managers on the production floor, want their purchases delivered the next day by FedEx or UPS. If they order a computer online they expect it to arrive within a narrowly specified, promised time, or else they won’t be there to receive it — and the manufacture can take it back. This kind of just-in-time customized service forms the backbone of Dell Computer’s sales and marketing strategy.

Even when the nano-speed crowd buys its daily dose of Starbucks coffee, waiting in line is no longer acceptable. Instead, they call ahead to order, charge the triple espresso to their Starbucks credit card and pick the drink up in the drive-through lane. Or, if customers want to enjoy the Starbucks in-store experience, they take advantage of the same high-speed services, plus wireless Internet connections.

Nanosecond customers are driven by the need for immediate service satisfaction since they operate in a world of perpetual flux. In fact, change happens so fast they can hardly keep pace with their own revised expectations of what the consumer experience should deliver. They seek convenience and immediacy because new technologies have empowered them with new capabilities.

These customers dictate the terms of their purchases by eliminating the middle person in key decisions, such as buying airline tickets, booking hotel reservations, buying automobiles, even finding a job. They can purchase or negotiate just about any product or service on the Internet, and they do it from their mobile phones, Palms or wireless laptops.

Entire homes, schools and businesses are going wireless to provide the nanosecond customer with even more ease of service. These customers seek out providers who best serve their values. In fact, the nanosecond customer is more “value driven” than “needs driven.”

Due to increased local and global competition, customers today have more choices. Competition comes from everywhere, not just the players in the local game. The differences in quality among these choices are diminishing, so providers who focus on total service and value gain a competitive edge on those merely fulfilling a need.

The “Mini Cooper” experience from BMW is a leading example of nano communications. Mini Cooper owners not only enjoy driving a fun car, but they become “insiders” who enjoy periodic gifts that the company sends them and regular emails about other “cool stuff” that they value. They are also treated to an enthusiastic service department.

Today, the hottest commodity is information, and customers have more of it than ever before streaming in from around the globe. People no longer wait for stock reports or news to show up in tomorrow’s paper. They want it now, on the latest delivery system. Providers who fail to meet this insatiable demand will be history, losing customers to faster competitors.

Marketers eager to attract and keep this new breed of customer must truly understand what consumers value and learn to play inside a new arena. If customers don’t find value in a provider, they will not hesitate to move down the option menu until they find the right psychological, economical or functional fit.

The rules have changed, and more importantly, are ever-changing in today’s nano-world.

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University