I was at a friend’s dual celebration of birthday and wedding anniversary recently, and as part of the occasion someone had prepared two fantastic cakes, which were both amazing to behold and a delight to eat. While the appearance was all to do with the icing, the taste and nutrition were defined by what was under the icing — the cake itself.
The recent market buzz around engaging the social customer is a welcome and necessary reflection that the game has changed. Customers don’t just want to be in control, they now have the tools to do so in a way that can bypass the best marketing and PR efforts of the enterprise. Customers now trust each other and people they perceive as independent far more than the enterprise’s own view.
Technology has fundamentally empowered the customer and exposed the enterprise, with shortened cycle times and rising expectations. Customers can legitimately ask the “why” question: Why have you not shipped it when you said it was in stock? Why are new customers getting the same product as me for less? Why does your contact center not know more than I do from online research about your products? It is set to accelerate still further as mobile technology becomes a predominant access method.
Icing’s Nice, but Cake Is Vital
The newer trends emphasize this power, eliminating the “is this just me” part of the question by sharing experiences and perspectives across geographic, socio-economic and knowledge barriers as part of the wider customer community.
It is a great step forward for organizations to listen and respond to activity in the social media space, and even better to embrace and nurture community amongst its customers — but this should not mask the underlying need to deliver on your promises. The richness of the icing needs a firm cake to rest on, or it quickly becomes apparent for what it is.
We do not have to look too far to see examples of organizations that have engaged in the social network of their customers but are powerless to change the underlying makeup and processes of the organization that are still driven by internally focused measures and priorities. Social media is not a one-way street. Companies need to use social channels to build relationships with their customers, to engage and connect without imposing their rules on the community and allow these invaluable relationships to have an impact on their business. It requires time and effort, which might start with the marketing and/or PR departments, but which can then resonate throughout the company, ultimately creating a more customer-conscious brand.
What the Connected Consumer Wants
The connected consumer puts even more emphasis on getting the core competencies right when interacting with customers:
- Execute well, all the time. The enterprise needs to engineer and execute customer experiences and core processes so that they are reliable, predictable and repeatable. Keep the ordinary ordinary: I should not have to celebrate the fact that a plane left and arrived on time; it should be normal.
- Act quickly when you get it wrong. By managing your processes and interactions, the system will be able to spot exceptions for what they are and flag them for proactive care. Customers tolerate mistakes; they can’t tolerate not knowing about them or not dealing with them. I should not need to chase you; if I ordered it express then I probably meant to do that and am upset enough that it is late without having to chase it.
- Respect me and my values. Don’t treat my time, preferences or money with any less respect than I would. Value me and the things that matter to me — notably my time and what is going on right now. Don’t try to sell me things when I have just raised a problem with you. If I say I need a replacement card by Friday as I am going on holiday, don’t just ignore it and invoke the standard procedures.
- Be joined up. It is no longer acceptable for channels to be managed as silos. I do not want to repeat myself each time I contact you. Why are you sending me marketing promotions of savings products when I have just contacted you for a loan and you can see that my account is empty?
Re-Orienting Around the Customer
Interacting with the connected customer often originates in the marketing-led side of the organization that is looking to detect and respond to brand perception in the social media space. This is highly commendable and important to action, but marketing is not the same as customer engagement across their lifecycle, including sales, support and lifelong loyalty. It is important to re-orientate the enterprise around the customer, meeting their goals and expectations with the right people or systems with the right capabilities — at the right time. The social channels then become a natural part of the conversation — empowered employees networking with empowered customers.
Maybe I am just moving into the grumpy old man stage of life, and I love to see all the glistening icing and sweet decoration — but please don’t forget the cake!
Steven Thurlow is CTO of Sword Ciboodle.