Social Customer Care: A Horse and Cart Approach

by Vanessa DiMauro

 

Let’s face it: Customers are not created loyal. It’s not in their – our – nature. An intriguing offer in our inbox or a fast-talking salesperson can woo them – us – and change our buying habits. Add social media, where better deals and recommendations are just a click away, and loyalty is even more elusive.

Social shoppers have seen the future and they like what they see. Social platforms help them gather valuable data about products and services, comparison shop and integrate other customers’ experiences and knowledge into their buying decisions. No wonder many companies are terrified of social shopping! It means accepting the enormous challenge of providing great customer satisfaction through social customer care.

At first, social customer care seems very daunting. It’s new; so many firms struggle to think about it the right way. How can they grow revenues and profits while continually investing in customer satisfaction? Customer sat expenditures are often considered a “nice to have” but not an essential part of the business – and so are among the first areas cut when times get tough.

This is flawed thinking. Customer satisfaction is the key to customer loyalty, and it’s worth real money. The evidence for this approach is overwhelming. According to the Harvard Business Review, a 5% increase in customer retention (customer satisfaction leading to customer loyalty) can bring an 85% increase in company profitability.  The longer a customer stays with the firm, the more profitable she becomes, thanks to reduced acquisition costs and larger purchase amounts.

Companies get confused about social customer care. They think it’s a technology project, when it’s really creating a relationship channel. To understand what that means, let’s climb in the “way back” machine and examine another kind of relationship channel and a simpler kind of sale — a peddler, his horse and cart – to explore what social customer care means.

In those far-away times, the person who drove his horse and cart from neighborhood to neighborhood learned about his individual buyers. This strategy was coupled with a genuine interest in his customers. He learned about them as people, about their lives and businesses and families, so he could serve them better in the future. Mrs. Smith was expecting guests next week, so he needed to have party goods for sale. Mrs. Donovan was not feeling well, so ingredients for a remedy or a balm might be helpful. Our peddler might even know that Mr. Tracy across town was looking for someone like Mrs. Lamberti’s husband, a man with specific skills and his own tools.

The peddler created both a commercial and a social relationship with his customers. They looked forward to his visit each week. He had what they wanted, and the interactions were usually pleasant and sometimes very valuable – just ask Mrs. Lamberti! Many a grandparent has waxed poetic about these good old days, believing they are gone forever. But they are not. Today’s social customer care strategies offer a tremendous opportunity to re-introduce these values and use digital tools to provide better customer care, building relationships that lead to stronger customer loyalty, increased purchases and higher profits.

Creating social customer care requires both a change in mindset and in day-to-day operations. Business processes such as product fulfillment and customer service may need modifications to be more responsive to new customers – and newly-empowered staff. Dynamic, interactive approaches which encourage repeat sales and cross-selling will require new levels of rapid, efficient response.

Social business tools such as online communities, social media, collaboration platforms and in-depth customer analytics can help accomplish these goals. But it will take knowledgeable staff – real people – to carry out these tasks and move customer care relationships forward.

Social customer care is more than just basic customer service. It means creating ongoing, detailed and sustained conversations with customers, prospects and even those who are “just looking.” Through online communities and other forms of social interaction, there are more opportunities to foster sustained dialogue, ask “tough” questions and follow up on issues raised. Instead of relying on verbal communications that dissipate as soon as the words are spoken, there is a written record of questions, responses, opinions and comments. The challenge is turning this detailed anecdotal information into data, and then using that data to improve results for both the customer and the business.

This is where online communities are emerging as the ultimate customer care platform – the digital successor to the peddler and his horse-drawn cart!  A properly-designed online community creates opportunities for customers and vendors to engage in substantive dialogues over time – not just at the point of sale. Today’s online community platforms turn the content of those conversations into actionable information. Then it’s up to the company to take action on what those customers are saying – positive or negative.

If businesses are willing to invest in the processes for learning about their customers’ needs, wants, likes and dislikes without censorship – creating a social customer care program — then long-standing relationships will result. Going back to the peddler, his cart and his customers, sometimes it is the simple ideas that work the best.

This post is in: Best Practices, Customer Intimacy

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  • http://www.facebook.com/shephyken Shep Hyken

    With all of the technology available today, it is important to keep up. However, we can’t lose sight of what made the customer want to do business – and continue to want to do business – with us in the first place.