Friday Jul 05, 2013

Customers Are Celebrating Their Independence

fireworksHere in America, we recently once again celebrated Independence Day. Amidst all the barbecue and fireworks, some took a moment to contemplate freedom, what it means, how precious it is, and how grateful we are for it. These days, your customers and prospects can do the same.

There was a time not so long ago consumers were not liberated. They had perceived choices, but not real choices. Brands often operated with outright contempt for them. Corporations granted themselves near-parental authority over them, punishing with fees or other penalties for “bad” behavior.

It didn’t matter if the product or service was lousy. Companies didn’t have to listen to complaints, much less do anything about them. No need to value the customer, their time or their patronage. If a brand lost some of them, who cared? It was “give us your money, and we’ll give you the least and worst we can get away with yet still stay in business.”

Not a pretty picture for the consumer; no power, no voice, no recourse. It’s jarring how many companies still try to operate the way they did before…the revolution. But there was indeed a revolution, one that gave the public their freedom from arrogance, hubris, and neglect. It empowered and connected them so that together, their voices and the force of their collective will could no longer be ignored.

Overdramatic? Maybe. But now that we’ve been living in the post-social era awhile, we tend to forget or take for granted that social media literally facilitated the fall of dictators and altered the course of world history. It’s still doing that today. So maybe it’s not overly dramatic at all to point out just how different the world is for consumers and brands now vs. before Facebook and Twitter.

Today, horrible products, horrible service, bad experiences, etc. get called out quite publicly. This happens almost instantaneously, while the consumer is enduring the bad experience (that’s when they’re most motivated to talk about it). This anti-PR is distributed in the blink of an eyelash to a vast, pre-built network of friends, and friends of friends. If you’re lucky, it’s only on one social platform, but it could just as easily go out on several.

Mobile, snowballing rapidly when it comes to digital and social usage, facilitates this even more. We spend 130 minutes a day with smartphones and tablets, and 84% of us can’t go one day without using our mobile. The customer is always on, always connected, always communicating, no matter where they go. You will not dodge a bad recommendation bullet if you deserve one.

The consumer is also now free from lack of information. 70% of consumers research online before buying in-store, after using about 10.4 sources of info to decide. Anytime, anywhere, from a variety of trusted sources, they can learn about you, a product you sell or the service you give. 82% of the 18-34 demo says friends’ posts directly influenced their purchase, and 53% recommend products with tweets. Your reputation is now everything. Everything.

Ironically, now that consumers are free, they’re willing to give you private data about themselves! But they no longer have to give something for nothing. In return, they expect better, more personalized user experiences and service. Tech listening tools give companies anticipation engines with which to know (and care) who the customer is and what they like. If you can use that data to teach the customer better personalized solutions, even better.

Social having turned the world on its head, now customers are the ones making sure you behave. They not only care that you’re conducting business the way they think you should, they even care about your corporate values. Companies with a culture and philosophy that resonates best with their target audience will win. Your customers are looking for honesty, transparency, and humanlike qualities.

But in this revolution, there are no losers. There’s plenty of reason for customer and brand to celebrate the public’s newfound power and independence. Corporations are being “encouraged” to be better at everything they do. Success now rests in the quality of the products, the attentiveness and care of the customer service at every touch point, and the well-earned trust of the customer…all things that, done right, result in additional longevity and prosperity that wouldn’t be there were it not for the empowered consumer.

@mikestiles
Photo: stock.xchng

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