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Real success in social media comes when brands must look at things from the customer’s perspective

social media

Over the past decade, the consumer landscape has shifted as customers have become more empowered to find and share information about the brands they interact with every day. Where brands once had a great deal of control over the information they shared and how they interacted with consumers, social media has now tilted the balance of power to the customer.

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Now, consumers have the ability to share their opinions about their experiences with brands and make their interactions with companies, products and services transparent to their friends, colleagues and family. A one-way broadcast has become a two-way dialogue that’s guided by both the company and the customer.

At the same time, consumers have become more demanding. Having tasted the efficient and personalised service they can get from the likes of Amazon, they demand that every company treats them as a market of one – as an individual with desires, needs, and tastes of his or her own rather than as part of an amorphous mass market.

Stuck in old paradigms

Against this backdrop, many companies are struggling to meet the demands of customers on social media because they have not understood the ways social and other digital channels are changing consumer behaviour. In a world where customers demand consistent and personal service across every touch point, brands cannot simply graft a social element to their customer service without making fundamental changes to their businesses.

To succeed in social media today, companies must accept that they need to put the customer in the centre of their businesses. Though many claim to be customer-centric, most brands are still very much focused on their internal operations and products rather than on what customers really want and need.

When they take this company-centric approach to social media, the result is often frustration for and friction with consumers. Rather than using the tools the social web gives them to listen better to customers, many brands instead fall back on the processes and systems they use in their stores and call centres.

Reading from a script

In the old paradigm, companies tried to funnel customers through support and service processes that were most convenient, logical, cost-effective and easy to manage from the perspective of their business and the way it was structured. The customer experience was secondary to efficiency.

But these sorts of heavily scripted customer experiences don’t work in a world where customers expect to be listened to. These failings become especially apparent in social media where other consumers watch as the brand answers queries and provides support.

Thus, it looks awkward when a social media rep tweets a customer the same canned response to a question he sent to the last 100 people who asked for help. It reflects badly on the company when someone asks for help and the brand ignores them. And it’s disastrous to fob a customer off with a suggestion that she calls the contact centre.

Social media must be active, not passive

Against this background, marketers should be taking a closer look at how customers use social media and adapt their strategies. One important insight is that social media is no longer the connected customers last resort when he needs help with a service issue – it is the first port of call.

Where customers used to turn to brands’ social media channels when they were frustrated by their branch or contact centre service, they now want the convenience of online support and help on tap. With social being mobile, immediate and transparent – brands need to marshal the necessary resources to be responsive to their customers’ needs. Rather than fighting this – as many brands do – marketers should embrace it as an opportunity.

Some options for businesses to explore include: having a repository of FAQS, video how-to-dos and visual guides to which they can refer to customers when they need help.

A key issue is that customers want to be heard and taken seriously. Most people are reasonable enough to understand that not every request of theirs can be met, but they want some sort of acknowledgment and assurance that their complaint or query is being attended to.

Part of a journey

It’s also essential that brands think of social media as a part of the customer journey – one that customers view in the context of the brand.

Responses to social queries in the pre-sales phase and post-sales support all directly tie to future purchasing decisions and recommendations to friends and family.

Against this backdrop, social media isn’t just an add-on to other corporate sales, service and communications channels. It should be treated as an integrated part of the enterprise, one that is changing the way people seek out services and products and choose to shop.

To make the most of social — and thereby stay relevant to today’s digital consumer — brands need to orient their businesses around the customer. A customer-first approach isn’t just about social media, but it is a good place to start really listening and conversing with customers. Potential benefits of getting it right include more customer loyalty, lower customer support costs, and a better brand image.

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