by Michael Maoz

Absorb the lesson of the Theseus Ship and you have all of the tools to advise the Marketing team when they ask IT help to create great customer experiences. None of you had the gift of suffering under the tutelage of Mr. Hadley Ellis Alcott’s course in Greek literature, which he named, Modern Shadows Cast by the Ancients. Therefore, here is the essence of the Theseus Ship: the question is asked by x if, since the ship with which Theseus set sail from the port of y was battered and repaired, from stem to stern, above deck and each plank below, and from uppermost sheet and mast to the lowest of cleat, there was no piece of the ship that could be called original. Though to the eye of the beholder standing ashore as the ship pulled into the harbor nothing had changed in the ship’s appearance from when they had first cast off until the moment many years later that they lay anchor years later, in fact nothing was the same. That so, was it fair to call this the ship of Theseus, or was it in fact a new entity?

What has any of this to do with IT assisting marketing, and marketing working with operations and customer service and a chief customer officer? Well, in the enterprise we gather information about the prospective customer, or the persona of a customer, we build segments that we enrich with as much data as possible, and we market to these entities in the hope of making them customers. We gather even more information about those who we do bring into the funnel as customers. We have captured them as a customer in a particular moment in their evolution. If it is a business, then the business evolves. If it is a citizen or student, they evolve. If it is an individual, or a family, they too evolve.

Often we fail to notice the changes, or fail to recalculate and recalibrate the relationship. A business grows, it expands, it moves to another location, takes on a new focus. The same with a consumer. Styles, experiences, interactions with our products and services, interactions with other businesses, travel, tastes, changes in attitudes, wealth or lack thereof, education – there are hundreds and often thousands of experiences that have changed the customer in a cumulative way to the extent that it is no longer possible to think of them in the same way, or as the same customer, we encountered all of that time ago. It is in the ongoing detection and response to these shifts and micro-changes that keeps relationships going.

To those aboard Theseus’ ship there is an implicit understanding that the ship and its crew are different in profound ways as a result of what life has thrown at them. Standing on the shoreline awaiting the return of the crew, nothing had changed.

What kind of organization are you? Do you recognize the Theseus Ship for what it is? And why, or why not? The answer is usually apparent in the responses that we get to marketing offers, or to customer satisfaction surveys, or attrition rates and profitability. Tracking the changes in the customer and the implications for your business makes the best companies great at customer loyalty.
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Gartner, Inc