Two decades ago I informed a dry cleaner after she had damaged my clothes and refused to reimburse me how I was going to tell everyone I knew about her poor customer service. She responded by laughing loudly and informing me that as just one customer I didn't matter. She then spun on her heel, exited the storefront, and left me alone drowning in her wake of indifference. Her attitude was truly shocking to me having been raised in the "customer is always right" era, and I spent countless free moments entertaining elaborate daydreams of marching up and down in front of her establishment, large sign in hand, successfully thwarting her customers. But, in the end, truthfully I could do little but relay the incident to friends and family, and throw away the ruined sweater.
I learned a valuable lesson that day… that a customer is only right if the business chooses to treat them this way. Later that year I learned another lesson after viewing numerous television commercials with the same dry cleaner marketing themselves as a "quality dry cleaners." I learned that a company could brand themselves in just about any way they wanted to regardless of the true quality of their product or service. But, that was 1991 and the balance of power between companies and consumers has now greatly shifted.
In retro days, companies held the honor of defining and establishing their "branding" and the privilige of occasionally delivering low levels of customer service without fear of great repercussion. Consumers had little input outside of their sphere of contacts due to the lack of outlets for voicing their opinions. Today smart companies are realizing and acknowledging that social media has altered the business arena and consumers carry the loudest most visible protest sign ever!
Word-of-mouth has always been a powerful marketing tool but with consumers being given so many vehicles to voice their opinions to the masses via social media, word-of-mouth now greatly defines the reputation and branding of today's businesses and the types of products and services they provide. It also strongly influences the level of service and quality a company delivers to its customers.
In this new world of business thousands of customer service agents from companies now "man" the walls and feeds at Twitter and Facebook, addressing customer's comments as quickly as possible with a level of assistance reminiscent of the 80s when customer service was king. (Ahhh, remember that wonderful decade when Nordstrom's permitted a set of tires to be returned even though they'd never sold tires?!) But, I digress...
Today companies are notified via Google Alerts when their name is mentioned online, and they regularly check their reputation on the internet at relevant sites. This not only affords them the opportunity to address the comment/complaint and administer "damage control" in front of anyone who's interested, but also permits the business to eavesdrop on the conversations of millions, and take measure of their own reputation and the opinions of their products and services as a whole.
Smart businesses are meeting this shift in the balance of power from company to consumer head-on. They are active on the social media sites, monitoring their customer's comments and complaints, gathering important feedback on their products & services, and obtaining valuable information on their clients, competition, and even their own employees.
Savvy businesses are taking it one step further and balancing this shift in power by utilizing social media to their advantage to: provide stronger and more efficient customer service; solidify and maintain their branding/reputations with their own blogs, tweets, and postings; and utilize the valuable research data obtained through consumer feedback to improve and grow.
On the flip side, old-fashioned thinking businesses are not participating or doing so half-heartedly while voicing excuses such as: "We don't have enough time or resources", "Social media is just a fad" or "Only young people are active on those sites and they don't have the buying power." Notes: At 190 million visitors a month Twitter is not a fad, and Facebook reports the fastest growing segment of people joining Facebook (a site that challenges Google for the number one visited site on the internet) is women between the ages of 55 and 65 years old.
Let's face it... your business, the types of products/services you provide, and the level of customer service you deliver are being talked about, and your branding is being defined online whether you're present or not. In fact, if you lack online presence this is part of your branding and reputation. Wouldn't you rather be an active participant in defining your branding and reputation? Or do you still believe it's 1991 and your one unhappy customer doesn't matter?!
Social media has changed the business arena, are you a player or a bystander?