A time-traveling marketing executive from 2006 would hardly recognize how we communicate with our customers – and each other – in 2011. Back in the autumn of 2006, Twitter had barely launched out of beta, and Facebook was merely a curious plaything for teens. Now, a scant five years later, Twitter has been essential to several political upheavals, and all manner of companies, from the mom-and-pop diner across the street to the largest multinational corporation, compete fiercely for “Friends” and “Likes” on Facebook.
The result? An entire generation of consumers who have learned, through direct experience, that the old rules of broadcast (with the ethos of ‘one message to many recipients’) have given way to the rules of the network (specific messages to each recipient). And this in turn has permanently raised the expectations of consumers who now demand personal attention to their personal, unique needs and problems, and they feel entitled to it in a timely, authentic and personal way. In the same way that people expect a rapid response from their friends to their (sometimes overly personal) Facebook musings, consumers are expecting the same from the brands that they’ve let into their lives.
For example, one savvy 30-something professional I spoke with recently had a problem with her credit card being inexplicably declined as she tried paying for a meal. She called the bank’s customer service telephone number listed on the back of her card, and was met with an impersonal briar patch of IVR computers, long holds, and innumerable transfers to any number of call centers around the globe. After an hour of this runaround, she hung up in frustration and did what any savvy 30-something professional would do in late 2011: she tweeted about it.
Using the proper hashtags and directing her tweet at the bank, she complained about her incredibly frustrating experience to both the source of her angst and the world at large. People started replying to her tweets, chiming in with similar, negative stories of this particular bank and its service. Then something unexpected happened. The bank replied to her tweet and offered to set things right. A management representative from the credit card division of the bank contacted our surprised heroine directly and solved her declined card problem quickly and efficiently.
So satisfied with this genuine and swift response was she, that she immediately took back to Twitter to announce that her problem had been solved, and that she would be recommending this bank to her friends should they ever encounter problems with their own credit card companies.
Quite a positive outcome from a simple 140 character response.
So before researching all that cool new technology hovering over that 18-24 month horizon, you need to ask yourself and your organization a fundamental question: Are you ready to live and breathe the new relationships and customer expectations that come with these new technologies? Anyone can launch a shiny new technological widget, but with the organizational commitment to back that widget up with customer-centered communication that is authentic, credible and relevant, that widget only stands as a testament to how they really “don’t get it”. But for those companies that are willing, ready and able to make that commitment, the rewards could be substantial. And they wouldn’t need a time machine to see the future, since they would be helping to usher it in.