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Tune in to your customers online

Tuning in to end-users or customers in real time is crucial in a world that moves at such lightning speed. One of the effects of a transparent and digitally connected world is that the tolerance levels of customers have shortened dramatically. They will no longer wait weeks for a response to a complaint. They’ll be on Twitter or Facebook complaining to their friends, and if they are creative enough in the way they express the complaint their issue could go viral and global frighteningly quickly.

As an example, the video streaming company Netflix was recently forced into an embarrassing climb-down after user objections became so deafening that they had to kill off an idea before they could launch it. The company had planned to spin off DVD rentals into a stand-alone service called Qwikster. Customers didn’t like the idea, and through social media their complaints went viral, causing serious brand damage within just hours.

Netflix spokesman Steve Swayze was forced to admit that the internet was a great equalizer. ‘We made mistakes that hurt our brand, and now we’re rebuilding step-by-step.’

When one person is able to assemble an army of hundreds of thousands, that person becomes a force to be reckoned with. Thanks to the increasingly savvy use of tools like Facebook and Twitter, the power balance between companies and customers has very much tilted in the latter’s favour.

For this reason the best leaders are now monitoring social media on a continuous basis, and using that to provide insights all the time. These insights can be the trigger for improving a single customer’s experience, recognizing a negative trend or even spotting an opportunity for a whole new product or service line.

I remember being regaled at a dinner by the marketing director of a chain of women’s sex shops about the use of social media for service improvement. Much to my amusement and discomfort, she told me about monitoring the conversations in chat rooms that often caused her to take action the next day. The one incident she spoke of that stuck in my mind was about two women chatting online about a shop attendant who had piercings in her lips, nose and ears. Both women, on the point of buying intimate sex toys, felt there was possibly something unclean about the attendant, and were put off their purchases. The next day the marketing director requested that all shop attendants removed their piercings while on duty in the stores, citing this exchange as the insight behind the action.

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