Is measuring online influence bad for customer service ?

Summary : now that lots of tools exist to measure online influence (or whatever we think it is), businesses are perfectly tooled to target their messages and communication programs. Provided they get the notion of influence right. On the other hand there’s another trend that may be dangerous in the future : using a tool that’s adapted to one shot operations to systematically define the level of service and advantages a customer deserves. This may lead to decreasing the standard level of service and break the relationship with true loyal customers that will notice that his loyalty and financial contribution are less valued than the number of followers others may have.

Now that anyone can exist on the web, the worldwide network as become a wonderful platforms to measure one’s influence. And this concept has been brilliantly sold to internauts and businesses. The first need to become influent to exist, the second need to know who’s influent in their ecosystem. And guess what ? Agencies and vendors all have “the” solutions that will measure influence in an objective and undisputable way. Influent internauts will benefit from a kind of “recognition label” and businesses will be able to focus their efforts on those who deserve it (understand : serve influencers better).

Such an approach my distract businesses from what matters and lead them to failure.

Let’s start with influence. Influence on the web has been a very trendy topic for years but no objective definition of what an influencers is has really emerged. It’s not easy to do anything when no one know what it’s about. The upside is that anyone can use his own definition, what surely makes his solution unique. Is influence a matter auf audience size ? Everybody says no…but no one can neglect such an easy way to reach many people. But being listened is one thing, influencing is another. No credibility matters in the definition. But how to measure it ? Most of all, influence has to do with context : one can’t be credible on everything. A couple of example :

• Mary has tens of thousands followers on twitter. Influencer ? Yes for some, not for others that will say she’s “negatively followed”, because of our mistakes, hand people follow her to see ser fail.

• Robert has 200 followers? Influencer ? Surely not. But he’s a specialist of frog breeding in polluted urban environments. He’s very influent in his niche. But only when he talks about frogs.

• Kevin has thousands of followers and is very influent on digital marketing. All industry professionals recognize he’s in the top 10 list. But when he talks about restaurants, knowing his taste (or lack of) no one listens to him. Bad news for the famous 3 stars restaurant that offered him a free lunch, expecting a mention from Kevin.

So, we can use any criteria and even admit that one may be positively influent while negatively popular (people follow him to make fun…but they follow), one thing is sure, influence is vague and subjective.

But since there are a lot of services offering to measure influence on the web, businesses logically wonder what they could do with it.

What did we see these last months ? Events where anyone could go…provided their “Klout” was high enough (Klout is one of this tools supposed to assess how influent people are). Businesses also use such tools to prioritize customer service and even do “a little bit more” for some. Hotels are using similar tools to decide whether upgrading customers or not.

After all, there’s nothing bad here ? What can be reproached to a business favoring, among its customers, those who are the most listened to ? Those with the louder voice ? Nothing if we only consider it’s a communication operation. But, seen from the customer service side, they’re moving on a slippery ground.

A first discussion is about what makes business change their level of service depending on customer influence. Wouldn’t the norm be, for any business respectful of its customers, to provide the same service for any customer paying the same price ? Isn’t it like saying to average customers that even if they are ready to pay a premium they won’t be treated as well as an influencer paying less ?

That leads to discussing the difference between influencers and loyal customers. A couple of months again I hear ; “Ah… XXXXX got a great gift from….YYYYYY, even if never use their services and has few reasons to do. I’m paying them thousands of euros every year and what do I get in return ? ok… he has 6000 followers more than me”. Trying to turn XXXX into a returning customer is a good idea. Using him has an advertising support may also be useful from a short term point of view…but nothing more. The impact on loyal returning customers may be a disaster. Maybe YYYYY did not have any customer with more than 200 followers ? And do what ? Wouldn’t it have been a better deal ? Qualified people whose loyalty is rewarded ? I told to someone at the agency that organized this “instead a multi-usage influencer, did you try to match your influencer base with the customer loyal customers database ?”. The answer was : “What for ?”.

Let’s back to the discussion. Taking one’s influence into consideration to manage customer relationship may be a good idea provided it’s not used to systematically define what one deserves. In this case, two things may happen :

- having a dual customer service that will lead to less service for any customer. The only fact loyal customers feel they are less well treated than onfluents already decreases the perceived value of the service…as well as his will to keep paying for it.

- devaluation of loyalty programs, most all all regarding to how well non-loyal influents will be treated.

- I don’t even mention side effects on internauts that will try to become influents instead of loyal to a brand because influence is more rewarded.

How to prevent that ? Make sure that what is used for one-shot operations won’t become a standard and focus on influent customers rather than looking for influents that are not customers and pay more attention to what you’ll give than to you. Don’t forget to think in terms of  “shared value” and think first about those who make the organization live every day.

Influence is nice. But building a long term relationship based on trust, invest on quality and reward loyalty may even be more rewarding for any business.

One more thing…there are are people that are very influent in their lives and are active on the web (yes…I promise…such people exist). So the question is : are businesses looking for valuable relays or just to make the most of a given media. Other debate…

 

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