“The customer’s perception is your reality….”
There is an extreme power shift happening right now between brands and consumers, fueled by human emotion and the convergence of disruptive technologies. In the past, big businesses and organizations have always been privy to a Wizard of Oz type of respect from consumers, where the brand could uniformly broadcast its sales and marketing messages to all without question or much public dialogue.
Customers wanting to speak with the man behind the curtain reached out via channels closed to the general public’s view, controlled by scripts which standardized the service process and ensured predictable outcomes. But the time of the brand controlling its image from behind the curtain is no more.
The Power Shifts to the Customer
Through the power of search, social media influence, multichannel hyper-connectivity and the increased use of crowdsourcing and consumer reviews, the customer’s knowledge, opinion, voice and choice of words now equally determines the perception of a brand and its products and services. Even the most polished and creative messaging will not be well-received unless the consumer believes it to be true or connects with it on a personal level.
The shift from CRM to VRM (where the customer chooses and maintains their relationships with vendors on their own terms) will continue, as consumers and customers not only determine if, when and where they engage with brands, but also if they will share the brand or customer experience with others. Those companies that have the capabilities to monitor and view the customers’ social influence will be even more quick to answer when the individual with 50,000 Twitter followers tweets or posts a question.
Knowledge as Power
Through the incredible amount of product and service data and reviews now available online and via search engines, many consumers will now come to the customer service and support, or social media table, armed with more knowledge than the CSRs or other public-facing marketing and sales staff.
Companies and organizations will need to adjust in many ways: by giving their agents and staff the same or better real-time access to information through well-maintained internal knowledgebases, making current and consistent readily available on multiple channels, and being as transparent as possible.
Inviting and Engaging the Customer Conversation
Customer service and engagement can no longer be deftly scripted and controlled by brands. With social and mobile’s convergence especially, the balance of power has shifted to the consumer who can contact and question an organization at any time, call it out, compare it to others, advocate or abdicate – and take their friends, family, neighbors and other connections with them.
Organizations must be able to react both professionally, and humanly, to this new customer power and voice, and in a timely manner to inhibit a groundswell of other social consumers voicing similar concerns and complaints.
Your brand is not your own. It is now shared with your customers, and their perception is your reality.