[The other day a client asked me an open ended question about business and where I saw it going, and I responded with a long diatribe about customer service. Considering I already spent the time writing it all out, I thought I would post it as a blog post with a few changes.
None of these ideas are new, but I may describe them a little different than most. It's provides good insight on why I think social media is important, and even more important than that, trusting your customers.
And so the rant that started in me when I first read the Cluetrain Manifesto begins….]
Today people want honesty and transparency from companies they do business with. They want to connect with people not organizations.
No longer can companies do one thing and say another. No longer can we, (and maybe we never could) change consumers perceptions of brands through marketing or advertising, if the product doesn’t deliver.
Marketing and advertising is instead a vehicle to highlight better products and increase word of mouth, not a perception changer. Branding has much more to do with business practices than marketing. This is nothing new, DDB put out this great ad in the 60’s saying the same thing called. “Do this or Die”
Here is how I look at it…
Three things have changed in the last few years that change the way business is done.
People want to connect with “real” people -
The way to earn respect has changed. Just because someone dresses a certain way, or talks a proffesionally, doesn’t make them an expert. People don’t want to talk with someone that presents in a way that suggests they are better than the other person.
You can see this push toward “real” personal connections all around us. One example is in the recent preliminary voting. Incumbents were voted out of office as “people” not an organization or party, rejected the establishment and turned to the more common man they can relate to.
This isn’t because of social media. You could see it starting a long time ago, and really start flourishing when people started flocking to reality TV and online videos and escaped the canned imagery the major media system gives us. People are suddenly much more interested in Heidi Montag then they are in the latest TV star. (I was going to put a name in here of a famous TV actress right now, but couldn’t think of one. There are no TV shows like Friends anymore)
One of the great things about people wanting to deal with “real’ people is that they also understand people and businesses make mistakes. This does not mean the mistakes are ok. Instead people just want to know that companies and the people behind those companies are doing everything they can to make 100% of their customers happy.
People are smart, and they want to be dealt with that way, and excuses don’t do that. Instead they want to see how the company reacts, how it let’s them get involved, and mainly if anyone is listening and cares
Through the use of the internet they can connect and make changes in society that they never thought they could do before.
If they have a problem with a company, they realize they can become very powerful through the use of a online negative review, or by using social media to connect with others that feel the same way. The statement that “one person can make a difference” is more true then it ever has been before.
People are showing their power all around us. The obvious things are people going after companies on Twitter or other social media platforms, or the less obvious are organizations like the Tea Party. Suddenly a group of people very loosely organized have realized they have more power then a political party.
The scary thing is that businesses are in the same place as the political parties. People feel like they are being treated wrong and are not being listened to by organizations and are now willing to do something about it. They don’t except good enough anymore, they expect the best, or will use their power until they get it.
The key is for companies to look at this new rise in power of the individual as an opportunity and not something to hide from. They should not make excuses; instead businesses need to find solutions to the problems.
These solutions do not mean giving into people online just to make them happy. Instead companies need to be focused on using these complaints as opportunities to improve the process. Find out what went wrong, and how to fix it next time. People expect to be treated like a partner, but it doesn’t mean you have to give into them all the time. Partnerships don’t work that way. (Ok, some marriages work that way.)
Sure sometimes the complaints are going to be unwarranted, but a lot of the time you will see consistent themes running through the complaints. No matter how much it pains a company, or goes against their business practices, those issues need to be addressed. Companies can no longer say, we won’t or can’t change. Everything needs to be flexible and options for improvement encouraged.
When looked at in this way, each complaint will slowly make the company better and the complaints will slowly subside. When this happens consumers realize that they do have a partnership, and once that happens a lot more good things will be said online instead of bad. Through the proactive care of customers, companies will develop partners online that will defend them against attackers.
People want and expect transparency from everyone, including businesses
The last phase that I see is that people expect transparency from the people they do business with. If they are truly a partner and are giving companies money they expect to see what is done with their money.
Right now you see a big backlash against the banks and CEO’s because of this. People are asking, “Why are they getting paid so much?”, “What are they doing with my money?”. I’d contend that most of this is happening because of a lack of transparency on the businesses part. People have no idea how much the CEO works, let alone who he is and what his background is. They don’t understand why the banks are making so much money, because they don’t understand how banks work, and the banks want to keep it that way.
With that in mind, if a company is going to take someone’s money, what can they do to show them it is being put to good use? What can the company show them that will make them comfortable with the decision? And if someone complains, how can a company follow up publicly to show them how they are improving?
Since people want a connection and partnership with the brands they visit, they also want to be part of the ride and thanked for taking part. How would you feel if you were one of the first customers of a new business and they wrote you to tell you that they have been growing like mad thanks to great customers like you? Would you feel part of the team? Would you be more willing to recommend people to that business? Would you have a vested interest in seeing them succeed?
Companies should be asking how can we make our customers a key part of our business, not how can we get more customers for our business.
The book that first recognized this shift is The Cluetrain Manifesto. It was written in 1999, but saw all this coming and is worth a read. But the underling foundation of that book is that “markets are conversations”, and I like the next step of that which is “markets are relationships”.
What kind of relationship do you have with your customers?