Is the social customer a social monster ?

Summary : the social web and the emergence of the social customer raised the promise of a more productive and qualitative relationship between customers and businesses. In fact we can see that the empowerment of customers may remove all kind of responsibility what harms the constructive nature of such an approach. Is this, for businesses, the price to pay to make the most of and with their most positive customers or will the day come when they’ll say ‘stop” because the benefits are not worth the efforts made ?

While becoming social, the web allowed anyone to have a voice and gave everyone a little share of power. Consumers, voters, fans, lurker can speak, join or start a conversations. For the benefits of all : internauts were going to be listened, taken into account and be more satisfied. For businesses and all kind of institutions this would allow to use dialog to tighten relationships, listen, explain… In short the conversation would bring immeasurable benefits, an incredible added value as the result of a win-win relationship made possible by collective intelligence and wisdom.

And it worked. Everyone saw the benefits of being in gear with one’s environment, listen and learn to continuously improve and deliver more value to others and to oneself. Same benefits for the customer, become stakeholder, who’s now actively or passively involved in the design of what he’ll consume tomorrow and can get a closer and more responsible service everyday.

So we’re living in a perfect world when everybody get on well, is positive, care about others and where people win together.

Sure ?I’ve been observing for a while the way the social customer engage with brands. Or rather shoot at them. And I often see a kind of violence in the voice that upsets me.

Of course, customers are always right. If they’re deceived they have the right to complain. But that does not mean being insulting or aggressive…what often happens.

It’s easy to understand why tension sometimes happen during a crisis. Anyway, since it happen in face to face conversations there is no reason for it not to happen on line. For example when weather issues impact transportation. But is attacking the best way to deal with the situation while the business itselft is facing a case of absolute necessity that prevents operations to happen normally ? Should customers be as understanding as they want businesses to be ?

But even is normal circumstances, how many times can we read on a brand’s wall on facebook : “you suck. Your product is shit..”. Same on twitter. Without any explanation. Sometimes anonymously. Would would go into a shop to shout the same kind of things and then run outside ?

The ability to speak, sometimes anonymously, virtually (physically out of reach from the person one is talking to) while being sure to be read and that what has been said will stay online and influence a brand’s reputation in the future make some people feel powerful and even causes a feeling of impunity. It leads to behaviors that have absolutely nothing to do with the perfect world I described above. It has became so easy to gratuitously harm that people’s least constructive and positive instincts found a perfect room to express themselves. While businesses are being asked to listen and take people into account, people refuse to do anything in order to understand businesses and admit that sometimes they share a part of the responsibility, they misunderstood, that things are not black or white, that the business had to deal with a major external cause.

Sometimes I come close to a shop, a restaurant and I check on some networks what’s said. “They suck”. “Very bad business”. No explanation. No argument. I’m sure the author of the message should feel very proud but acting like “I’m the customer. F$%@ you !” really upsets me.

All this reminds me of another kind of discussion I had last year. A journalist told be “we were expecting a lot from reader’s comments on our articles. Bottom line, you can do you best to write a well documented and objective article, you’ll get nothing more than 10 pages of insults and discussions that turns the debate into a slaughter. There is room for anything except ideas, arguments and listening. How disappointing it is. And you’re talking about the wisdom of crowds on the web ?”

Giving a voice anyone a voice and ability to state without assuming or proving, to criticize without trying to understand, I’m not sure that the social web improved the quality of the relationship between brands and customers.

That said, the opposite also happens. We all know very positive cases. Know the question is about knowing if the value made because, with and for the ones is worth the time spent to put up with others. If, to do things with 10 “win-win” customers a business has to put up with 20 toxic ones. If the web will remain a big place for customer relationship management or if this relationship will move to secondary channels dedicated to some designed customers with whom it’s possible to have a very qualitative relationship and conversations. If analytics tools will manage to separate customers to take into account and customers that should be left grumbling.

To end this post, I would like to give props to all the people, let’s call them community managers or anything else, who manage customer relationships and the conversations between businesses and internauts on line. As a matter of fact when I see what they have to bear everyday I often wonder how they find the energy to do their job with the same passion day after day. I wonder if, one day, their manager will say “let’s give up…you don’t deserve being talked to this way”. Jobs that are done facing the customer have always been hard ones because employees are directly in touch with frustration, deception, sadness…and have to handle it. I would love that  things more digital would not mean making them harder and more violent for those who have to do such jobs every day.



Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

Recent posts