Debra Goldman was a friend of mine who used to think riotously out loud and write beautifully about what makes people behave the way they do as consumers. Debra imparted an insight into the topic that I'll never forget. On customers, she observed how smart they'd become about 15 years ago, and how finicky, and how time-pressed, and really, how hard it is as a seller of consumer goods or services to get it right with them.

Writing about how consumer expectations get tougher amid an environment of freer and quicker access to information, an ability to militate among several almost identically attractive purchase alternatives, and heaps of stress weighing down upon each of us poor buyers, her conclusion really clinched it for me. Isn't it a bit off, she thought, that as businessmen and women, as much as we need and hope for—and stake our business upon—people we call customers to come through our doors, browse our offerings, and pay for what we're selling, they're not at all the kind of individuals we'd like to share a back yard with?

At least a decade before the term “experience economy” surfaced, Debra—who died way too young in early summer last year—had precisely identified its origins in consumer behavior. The physical attributes of a product and its price no longer represented sufficient value to cause a purchaser to choose this versus that. It's not about what you're selling, it's about what he's buying.

Whether it's painkillers, credit cards, hybrid sport utility vehicles, running shoes, big-screen TVs, airline seats, or a three-bedroom, 2200-square-foot neo-traditional home on half an acre, people no longer just buy things themselves. In their minds, people are buying courtesy, time, convenience, ease of mind, care, and essentially, your ability to prove they were smart in selecting you to buy from—and if they don't get those things from you, they're going to be disappointed and go somewhere else for them.

When it comes to buying a home, consumers are buying at least six values from you that go beyond construction integrity and a floor plan they like: trust, adaptability, wisdom, vigilance, meticulousness, and constancy. Enlightened customer focus may feel optional, but it's not.

Our friends at Eliant, with whom we team for a third consecutive year to pack a special report full of ideas, tactics, and strategies that work—and lots of data to back it all up—tell us that better customer care: 1) need not be exhorbitant; 2) starts with simple common sense steps and commitment; and 3) needs top down buy-in if it's going to thrive across the spheres and silos of your organization.

We thank Eliant. And we salute Andersen, whose customer care commitment extends to a sponsorship that allows us to bring you this editorial report. We all hope it's of value to you as you deal with people you love as customers, but might think twice about choosing as your neighbors.

John McManus, Editor