Summary : Lots of things are being said about the revival of the customer relationship made possible by social media and that’s a good thing, a more human way of doing things, less mechanized, aiming a building a richer and fruitful relationship for everybody. But businesses should be careful of too easy things and smoke and mirrors. We hear lots of things about “fans”, “passionate”, “engagement”, suggesting that if a business shows as much interest to its customers as they show to the brand, a positive impression is generated, the company improves its image and sells more. But thinking that it’s all about communication and good feelings is a dead end. Most of customers are not passionate nor fans but…simple customers. In the same way, internauts who try to pick brands up on the web are not always potential customers but only people in search of recognition and favors. In short, customers expect businesses to keep their promise and use the web as a channel to remind it to them. Keeping communication and service separated, thinking that there’s no link between communication and quality programs is a big mistake. The lower quality is the more the web is stragic to gather feebacks in order to improve quality.
Bringing good feelings and more intensity in a relationship is good but should not make overlook what matters : the product, its quality and its appropriateness to the demand.
It’s mpre and more said that customers have to be considered as partners, stakeholders, and have to be involved in co-building and co-decision programs what aim at maximizing what all parts take from the relation. Customers love brands and want a strong relationship with them…and brands should give them as much love in return because their purpose is to make customers happy. So everything seems to be perfect in a world where love and respect are getting the upper hand on basely material and financial concerns.
Ok. Now let’s top kidding. Even if the final result will be the same, we should not mistake ourselves about the mechanisms at stake.
1°) Customers are a business partners that have an impressive nuisance potential…
Collaboration between customers and suppliers is nothing new? What is new is that, now, it can apply to small individual customers, not only to B2B relationships. Why did the customer become that worthy of attention ? Because he can spend more money than before ? Not at all. Only because he’s now able to shout louder that before its love or hate…and even to gather with others to make even more noise .
Is business becoming more human ? No. It’s just about a more balanced relationship. And those who can harm always deserve more consideration.
2°) Some customers are true lovers…
Some brands have real fans, people they must capitalize on. Their paradox is that they seldom expect anything in return : they never complain and ask for few interactions. A simple “thank you” is enough and they feel as is they were vested with a mission. They talk a lot around them and spread the word.
3°) But the wide majority only expects you to keep your promises
Average customers aren’t passionate but are motivated by the passion of….well done work. They bought a service or a product and only want the brand to keep its promise. This kind of relationship is less exciting than with true lovers but it’s closer to reality : it’s about people who want their problems to be solved. If you keep your promise their are lots of chances your customer have other things to do than talking with you.
And, if custumers want to be more involved in the conception of products that’s not because they want to help, nor any kind of charity but because of a more selfish expectation. They want brands to offer them products that fit their needs. Period.
4°) Others want attention gifts
What to think about thoe that engage with brands while being not a lover or a deceived customer ? They’re looking for recognition, gifts, advantages or even a job. Give them what they want and they’ll surely spread the good word. But they won’t open their wallet. That’s a growing kind because of some web 2.0 related myth like the right for anybody for online celebrity and recognition that whet lots of ambitions.
5°) Perfection does not exist
A conclusion could be that a business that does a perfect job, that has perfect products don’t need to engage and collaborate with its ecosystem. It would be a big mistake. First because perfection does not exist and a reponsive, human and personnalized onlive service will always be needed to fill some quality gaps. Second because being in touch with the market makes any business more responsive and helps having offers that fit what customers actually need.
6°) Think about service and quality before social media.
Being on the web is more about service than communication. What implies two things . The first is the need to link your customer care programs with you social media activity, the one being a channel for the other. The second is being able to learn from what people say on the web within your quality program. If this is not done, you’ll have to make more and more “social things” not because customers will ask for it but because the gap between the promise and the actual experience will have widened.
And we all know that investing in quality costs less than dealing with non-quality.
Customers have actually become business partners. And, in business, it’s always dangerous to mistake the (sometimes fake) attention that comes with the need for quality for friendliness and that more engagement can be a sustainable answer to quality issues. A customer, a partner, is someone who want to get something worth the money he spent. The rest is only means, not a purpose…