Photo: True Ventures blog
It seems like just yesterday when a single happy or disgruntled customer held influence over about 10 people. In 1983, when this statistic was first quantified, the corporation had been the centre of the solar system. But suddenly, there was a new star in town with all the power of a sun – the customer.Smart corporations quickly built out their customer service departments and positioned themselves to rapidly respond to customer problems and questions. These companies realised that by engaging with their customers at the moment a bad or good opinion might be formed, they were creating an opportunity to influence that opinion and create sustainable competitive advantage. Even the lowliest of products (think: tubes of toothpaste) got 800 numbers printed on the packaging.
The Hurricane of 1983 was the Calm Before the Storm
Today, we are seeing another enormous shift in customer influence, only this time it’s a thousand times larger than what we saw in the 1980s. When this wave crashes against the short, it will forever alter the landscape.
Can You Say, “Thirteen Thousand per cent?”
In 2002, the writing was on the wall. Jeff Bezos famously said, “When you have a bad experience offline, you tell 6 people, online you tell 100 people.” That word-of-mouth leverage, 1 to 100, was the genesis of Amazon’s legendary customer service.
And Jeff had only scratched the surface.
Now it’s 2010. The current statistic? One vocal customer reaches 1,375 people— that’s a thirteen-thousand per cent increase since 1983. Today, one single customer can truly elevate or damage your reputation.
One things is for sure: You can count on your customers (all generations of them) to communicate about you, because a cultural shift has made it easy and appealing to do so. Expressing opinions is satisfying and addictive (See: Congress). Customers have a lengthy menu of ways to get attention, channels to broadcast on, and are delighted to use these social tools to make their points.
This “social swell”—the way customers interact and behave—has become a tsunami. So today, it’s not just that you CAN create a competitive advantage in customer support, but that you MUST.
Can you know this and not change your customer service strategy? Not without sleep aids.
The Social Enterprise and Total Customer Responsiveness
Social media channels like Twitter and Facebook originated to help people connect with each other. Businesses quickly understood these channels as gathering places for customers and began to look for tools to help them listen and fine-tune their products and services.
The opportunity for business quickly became obvious. Here was a way to broadcast information and push messages out to a pool of current and potential customers. Companies began to develop the social tools and staff to manage the social landscape.
This casual engagement, however—this “ambassadorial” process—doesn’t address the best opportunity that exists for business. The best opportunity for business is to use technology to connect every customer with influence with potentially every person in your company.
At Assistly, we call this Total Customer Responsiveness. And we see it as the opportunity to deliver robust, efficient, and low-cost customer service through company-wide social engagement. We see an opportunity to turn the entire corporations into a customer-driven organisation, where efficient and pragmatic problem resolution becomes an occasion to engage the entire corporation. In this worldview, the customer is no longer a passive viewer on the other side of a TV or browser, but is treated as a resource connected to any meaningful aspect of your company – from sales and marketing to product development and the executive suite.
This is the new world that Assistly inhabits.
New Tools Will Drive the Evolution
As companies create a new culture of pervasive customer support on a myriad of channels, they require a different tool—a tool that has an enterprise-level operational structure, with the ability to manage and track issues, analyse customers, operate efficiently at scale, automate processes and ensure that issues don’t fall through the cracks. This is service as engagement, and it’s anything but casual, because unresolved problems have far-reaching consequences on corporate reputations, and in the end, the bottom line.
Customer service tools must now make a rapid evolutionary jump, a process known in biology as punctuated equilibrium. The plodding, incremental “upgrade” thinking that has been the norm for 30 years simply won’t work. There is no way to incrementally develop a tool to help companies deliver service at scale in the “social media as business” culture. Older tools with social networking bolted on won’t make the grade. A new tool is required, one where all the players can operate seamlessly, efficiently, and at an unprecedented scale. The stakes are too high for anything else.
The New World Order
The good news? Technology is here to help. By deploying new tools, like those we’re building at Assistly, into this customer-centric ecosystem, you will be able to connect more directly to your customer and deliver top notch service at a profit.
It requires you to rethink your approach to customer service, and adopt new tools like the ones we are building. You’ll operate in real time on your customer’s channels. You’ll differentiate on service. You’ll use dart-accurate metrics and be able to see your data in enlightening ways. You’ll deploy customer service throughout the organisation, turning your entire company into a customer-driven organisation. You’ll watch the voice of the customer permeate your company, and see a cost centre begin to turn into a business driver.
History’s Lessons Lead Us Back to the Customer
In the 1980s, the companies that embraced customer service were the ones that went on to become the winners in every sector of the economy. These companies became attached to their customers, figuratively and literally, and parlayed that connection into long-term sustainable advantage.
Customers today are everywhere, on lots of channels, wielding unprecedented influence and unprecedented power. They are talking to each other, and talking about you. How you respond to this change – and the tools you employ to make your customer service efforts cost-effective – could make or break your business.
recognise and manage this fundamental force—the new customer—and you will have the world by the tail.
This post was written by Alex Bard, CEO & Co-Founder of Assistly, a True Ventures Portfolio Company, and originally appeared at True Ventures blog. It is republished here with permission.
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