Handing over the megaphone: customer experience in the technological age

In the past, consumers would largely base decisions about the brands they chose to support on the information those businesses put out into the public sphere (read: their marketing). We know this—it secured our jobs. But now, in the technological age of consumer control, word of mouth has become an extremely powerful, and sometimes damaging, tool.

It’s been long known that your customers have a voice and that social media gives them a platform to talk about anything they want, to virtually whoever they want. And that includes talking about you. Social media has been impacting our lives (and jobs) for some time.

Most brands have responded by at least monitoring social media channels to keep an eye on what customers are saying about them. The shift more recently though has been to see more and more companies proactively join the conversation. We’ve seen brands begin to care more, engaging with their networks and really listening to what consumers are saying.

The Collective has done exceedingly well at continually engaging with its social networks. Acting on behalf of the brand, ‘Daisy the Cow’ actively comments, likes and engages with any social media activity a customer initiates. Over several different social media channels, including Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter, Daisy is a shining example of how brands are moving in a more engaged direction.

Just watching and responding to social media comments often places businesses in reputation recovery mode when customers aren’t happy. It’s encouraging to see so many brands now taking it a step further. By giving customers a direct channel for feedback to their business and actively getting into the conversation, brands are able to act on things in the first instance, not letting it get to the point of damage control.

Traditionally you, as the marketer, had the voice and your brand’s reputation was about whatever you put out there; you were on the megaphone. Now though, each and every customer is holding the megaphone. Not surprisingly, brands that are opening themselves up to feedback are the ones that are most successfully growing, as they are able to adapt to what consumers need and want.

So what is likely to happen with customer experience and how it will impact marketing in 2014?

Thanks to the increased value being placed on customer voice and the insights that this can deliver, we’ll see more brands actively looking to provide a direct line of contact for customers. The line connecting people to brands needs to be a short one, as customers will only offer feedback in a manner convenient for them.

The traditional survey has been the staple go-to for marketers for some time and many organisations are collecting screeds of data that is ferreted away in complex systems and doesn’t deliver any real value. What you want instead is customer insight; the sorts of gems that you can pick up and run with to drive improvement in customer experience. In 2014, customer feedback will come more closely into the marketing domain, and more and more brands will be innovating in this space to avoid ‘analysis paralysis’.

Surveys are getting shorter, respecting people’s limited time and attention, and marketers are switching to real time feedback. Everyone has a mobile phone and technology provides an easy way for customers to give feedback, although a word of caution on this. If it’s not easy, you’ll end up with low response rates and a skew to your insights. If providing feedback requires any real effort, you’re likely to only get responses from highly motivated consumers; those who are either raving fans, or the irate ones who strongly feel they have something to gripe about.

Either way, listening to (and acting on) the responses—the good, the bad and the ugly—is key to upping your customer retention rates, reducing churn and getting better bang for your marketing buck. In an ever-increasingly competitive environment, the most effective brands are those that are focusing on the customer experience in their quest to deliver a point of difference. I’m seeing this as having the greatest pay-off in terms of customer loyalty and retention, as well as more positive commentaries on social media.

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