Social media is undoubtedly changing the relationship companies have with their clients. In the past, when we wanted to know what customers or clients think, an organization would go out and conduct extensive focus groups or, more likely, make a hopeful guess and then create a product or service based upon that guess and hope it sells. But this is all changing. Customers and clients are intensely talking about the brands they like on blogs and in online communities. They are expressing their joys and frustrations on Twitter and other instant channels with our without your invitation. So now the challenge has moved from the act of formalizing feedback cycles through structured customer insight groups, to keeping up with the insights that are freely and frequently being offered 24X7.
Recently a study of 1300 American and multinational companies conducted by e-Consultancy found that less than half of the respondents had implemented a clearly developed customer engagement strategy. However, the study showed a high level of awareness of the need for such a strategy.
Executives are beginning to appreciate the importance of engaging customers online and to invest heavily in methods to capture the customers’ attention and retain consumers’ interest. However, one common misstep in the process is that companies often (too often) believe they know what the customer wants from them. They then often skip a critical step in the planning process – namely to ask the customers or clients what their needs and expectations are from the company. Instead, there is an inclination to either ignore the social channel, or to take it all at face value – and put equal weight to every tweet or opinion.
While ad hoc customer insights are decidedly important, not all clients are created equally. Some generate more revenue for your company or have a larger footprint than others and therefore should be given more attention than others. Due to the sheer volume of feedback from the social channel, the tendency is to focus on the “squeaky wheels” without heed to their impact on the large client ecosystem. Often times, the social channel feedback is centered on tactical issues – a problem with customer service, a broken product, a frustrating single experience and do not focus on the more strategic issues that may be more important for the business to get a handle on.
Key clients would be well served by a customer engagement program that combines an informal and formal inquiry process. And, it should start with understanding where the prospective user base’s current process or experience gaps are – what keeps them up at night or causes issues, problems or inconvenience.
A driving goal of any social media program should be to use the digital channel to accelerate a business process and make it easier for the customers to interact with your company. Therefore, it remains important to explore, through both the social channel and more traditional insight programs, the points of customer discomfort and/or need.