Thursday, October 22, 2009

How social networking can influence your customers.

Post 352 – Have you tried to deal with the airlines, the phone company or any other large, traditional business lately? Instead of delivering an exceptional customer experience, on- or off-line, they tend to stumble with what seems to be a lack of accountability, caring, competence, or the understanding that in any business, the net new customer acquisition cost is substantially higher than the existing satisfied customer retention cost. Furthermore, satisfied and dissatisfied customers now share their experiences with each other and the general public online in real-time. This can make marketing’s job that much easier or more difficult in reinforcing brand value or in trying to repair it. Customer service in these companies usually means following standard operating procedures and providing scripted answers delivered to angry customers with artificial calmness. To an upset customer, these generic responses often seem highly inappropriate. According to Dr. Oz, the opposite of anger is empathy, not calmness. Empathy training would help service employees calm angry customers, thus increasing their long-term loyalty, and even changing them into referring evangelists.

When was the last time you conducted an informal survey with your customers? Not just about what frustrates them the most in doing business with you, what makes them excited about using your product or service, or what specific problems or challenges they’re trying to solve (all of these are viable questions) but instead asking which social networking sites they use most often, i.e. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Slideshare, etc; and if they’d read any customer reviews of your products or services online, or if they’ve learned something insightful about your current or prospective product offerings in a blog?

Social networking is bringing corporate transparency to a whole new level. Using Twitter, you can now send a message that will reach many of your customers in a matter of minutes. As David Nour, a coauthor of a forthcoming new book, ConnectAbility, says, “Many of the traditional communication methods are endangered species. The velocity and veracity of news traveling on social networking sites mandates that you get more hands-on and consistent in your interactions with your distribution channel and end customers … start investing more time, effort and resources on the overarching customer experience. Delegating your customer interactions to “the mailroom” while you comfortably command and control from “mahogany row” is a receipt for crisis in the making. Social networking and Web 2.0 will fundamentally and forever shift your business to a more customer-centric model. Bring the power and promise of this platform for mass collaboration into your business, and you’ll accelerate profitable growth, top talent acquisition, and strategy execution.”

For smart companies today, marketing means focusing much more proactively on one-to-one relationships with customers, whether on the corporate website or blog, or through a multitude of social networks. Customers no longer want to be sold to. They want to be engaged, to be given options, and they want to minimize the risk of their decision to buy by being reinforced by others who’ve had previous positive experiences.

Nour says the challenge now is to engage and influence what your customers are thinking, reading, and doing. This involves learning what they find of interest and how you can identify, build and nurture a consistent, value-based relationship with them. It’s no longer enough to have a passing relationship with the mass audience that you want to buy your offerings. In addition, you need to connect with them as individual consumers with unique requirements that are impacted whenever they use your products and services.

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