By Vanessa DiMauro, Published November 6, 2014
“The pen is mightier than the sword,” wrote Edward George Bulwer-Lytton in 1839. Little did he know what was to come with the advent of social media? Around the globe, customers – friend and foe alike – share their experiences using indelible digital characters all across the social channel. We are experiencing a customer-driven revolution where companies are no longer defined only by what they say about themselves. Rather, customer experiences are a major force defining the strongest brands, and the Achilles heel of firms which fail to deliver on customer expectations.
In the summer of 2014, Don Bulmer and I conducted an extensive survey to better understand the make-up and impact of the social customer. As part of our role as research fellows with The Society for New Communications Research (SNCR), we investigated the factors that inform, impact and shape trust, loyalty and preferences among digitally connected consumers. We tested the belief that tapping into the emotions about and awareness of a brand’s values (human/social) are likely to inspire positive action and loyalty from consumers. The findings from The Social Consumer study reflect a number of surprising insights, informed by 927 survey respondents mostly from the U.S. with about 10 percent from rest-of-world, with great distribution and balance across age and gender.
This ground-breaking study covered a number of important topics, such as: what defines trust in the eyes of a consumer; the characteristics of the relationship factors between a consumer and a brand; whether corporate social responsibility (CSR) influences consumer behavior; how strongly do perceptions of a brand’s “making a positive difference” shape consumer preferences to purchase or affiliate with the brand; the rewards (e.g. product offers, discounts, CSR) that consumers favor most from brands; and the impact of rewards on a consumer’s digital behavior.
This week I presented the findings at the Society of Customer Care Professionals Annual Meeting (SOCAP). This gathering of customer centric leaders spent three days talking about how to improve the customer experience journey. It was a wonderful conference full of ideas and best practices – and social played a strong role in many of the conversations and sessions. Here are just a few of the findings which customer service professionals found particularly intriguing:
The research confirms that a positive customer experience is the single most important factor in creating and sustaining customer loyalty among the respondents.
Once someone becomes a customer, positive customer experience is the leading indicator of whether the customer will become loyal to the company or brand– by a very wide margin. A positive customer experience is even more important than price in retaining the hearts and wallets of customers. This is especially important for companies to understand and support (as the chart above indicates) because how a customer is treated in the store, on the phone and online is more meaningful than the product offering or the overall reputation of the company. It is especially interesting to note the contrast between the impact of rewards programs and strong customer care experiences.
There were more than 900 open-ended text responses for this question. Some examples of the detailed responses included:
“Excellent customer service is so rare these days that a good experience, especially when fixing a complaint, will make me loyal… A link to reviews within the description is also helpful. A bad website will turn me off just as fast as bad customer service. If I don’t like a company, I won’t go back, no matter what the price.”
“Customer service keeps me loyal to a company. If I have any issues, they address them and don’t act as if it isn’t important.”
“A company that acts like a person and not just a company”.
“Companies with great customer support and organizations that follow up with their consumers to ensure they have delivered the intended product or service.”
Outstanding customer service also plays a strong role in establishing new customers. When we asked about the factors that lead to a purchase decision, a company’s customer care program was third on the list – above referrals by friends and family. In fact, 68% of prospective buyers consider a company’s customer care program to be moderately to very important.
Other findings of note: Women are significantly more likely to be influenced by information they learn regarding an organization’s positive impact on society. Specifically, women place more emphasis on the degree to which a company commits to operating with a conscience, what the media reports about a company, customer reviews and ratings, and advertisements.
The rich picture that emerges here is that social media needs to be a strong part of the customer care experience. Not something that is tagged on, but fully integrated into the support processes. In the past, call centers and social media efforts were separated – but they are (and need to) be brought together under a single umbrella. The customer expects that their online and offline interactions are seamless within the company.
An especially important point made at the SOCAP conference is that the people running the social media accounts need to have a strong customer care background. The reason for this is because they are more likely to encounter the frustrated customer than the call center, as people often turn to digital customer care when they have exhausted all other options. And, it is a public exchange between the social media team and the customer – broadcasted to the masses and findable through search.