By Bruce Kasanoff

Our view of the business world is pretty stark: there’s never been a better time to be an entrepreneur, or a worse time to head an industry-leading company.

Why? Because a chasm is opening up between smart customers and companies that seem to act so, well, stupid. The former have been empowered by a tidal wave of smartphones, apps, and wireless devices. The latter haven’t really changed much. (You may have a smartphone, but the big companies will still keep you on hold for ten minutes.)

At many leading firms, the term “relationship” doesn’t really mean much. Few companies have yet to build a culture that values relationships more highly than, well, anything.

This is why we see such a huge opening for entrepreneurs. There is an immense opportunity to start new companies powered by smart technology and built around a culture that understands the value of relationships and values them highly.

Think in personal terms for a moment. If you had a friend who constantly asked you the same questions, and never remembered your answers, would you consider him to be smart? Nope. Loyal? Nope.

After a while, you’d probably start to wonder about his sanity. That’s what’s happening today in the “relationship” between companies and customers.

Companies force customers to do business with them on their terms – carry their loyalty card, buy when they’re open, and spend significant time repeating the most basic information: name, account numbers, passwords, and more, every time they transact on the Web, over the phone and in-person.

It makes no sense to be so obviously oblivious to your customers. They can sense they’re not seen as individuals, and that their wants and needs are neither addressed
 nor understood.

When we tell people the name of our new book – Smart Customers, Stupid Companies – we always get the same reaction: first a smile, then a nod of the head. People instantly, and intuitively, know there is a giant chasm opening between customers and companies.

For those of you who understand the value of relationships, and who put relationships first in both your personal and work lives, we urge you to act like a startup and disrupt your industry. It’s time to reinvent the way we all do business.

Michael Hinshaw and Bruce Kasanoff are co-authors of the book Smart Customers, Stupid Companies. They blog at SmartCustomers.com

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