Digital is often mistaken for mere technology. But like the printing press, factory line and automobile, it’s a social phenomena. A phenomena that is changing our behavior and how we do business.
Brian Solis described this new generation of users as the connected consumers. Consumers shaped by mobile, social media and the web. These are a new generation of empowered consumers that have different expectations.
The connected consumer has an audience through social network. An audience they can express their pleasure or dissatisfaction to. This puts most companies one disgruntled customer away from a PR disaster.
The connected consumer also has near instant access to your competitors. This further empowers them to expect exceptional customer service.
The balance of power has shifted from company to customer and the connected consumer knows it.
So how do we keep this new generation of customer happy?
To answer that we need to understand what they want.
In a report, Razorfish identified six things the connected consumer desires from a brand. These are:
- To feel valued.
- A brand they can trust.
- A consistency of service.
- Relevant offerings.
- More control.
That is a tall order for any organization. It involves significant changes in how we do business both online and off.
But let’s turn our attention to meeting those customer expectations online. What do we need to do to please connected consumers when they engage with us via our websites or social media?
We begin by looking at how we can show users we value them.
Showing You Value the Customer
Too many organizations see customers as nothing more than cash cows. Unfortunately, this shows in their online presence. From begging users to “share this page” to overlays asking them to signup for a newsletter. It is obvious that most websites just want something from us.
It’s fine to ask users to take action, but we need to earn the right. We need to show them we value them, before we ask something in return.
Take, for example, the accounting software FreeAgent. They want users to recommend their product to friends. But they recognize that this recommendation has associated value. Instead of begging and bullying the user into sharing, they offer a trade.
If somebody you know signs up for FreeAgent, both you and the friend get a discount. Refer enough friends and FreeAgent ends up paying you!
Not that referrals is the only way to show customers you value them. Sometimes a simple thank you is enough or compensating them if you make a mistake. It’s the little things that add up.
Something as simple as adding your phone number to your site goes a long way. Nothing screams “I don’t value you” like a site that has gone out of its way to hide their phone number.
Make use of social media to speak to your customers. If you want customer feedback don’t just post a faceless survey, but have conversations with customers, too. Listening to customers is one of the best ways to show you value them.
Finally, if you want to show your customers you value them, make sure you handle them with efficiency.
“Your call is important to us”, “we will endeavor to respond to your email in 2 business days”; “we only man our social media channels between 9-5 on weekdays.“ Comments like these don’t project an organization committed to efficiently dealing with your enquiry.
One disgruntled British Airways customer got frustrated when they failed to respond to him on Twitter. In the end he took out a promoted tweet condemning the company. This was picked up by the BBC and tech blogs, becoming a serious PR disaster for the company.
Fast, efficient support is important, but it is not the whole story. Being efficient is also about not wasting the users time. Unfortunately this is something we do all the time.
Take for example site performance. Users have little patience with a slow website.
Steve Jobs summed up the situation when he pressured one of his developers into making the first mac boot faster. He argued that if they could just shave only 10 seconds of the boot time, this would equate to many lifetimes of saved time over a year. A faster mac, he argued, saves lives.
That might seem a little melodramatic for your website. But the principle that performance wastes users time does stand.
Not that performance is the only way we can waste users time. Think about how much time you have wasted closing those annoying “rate this app” boxes on your mobile. Or filling in form fields that are completely unnecessary. Fields that are all about keeping the marketing department happy, not meeting your needs as a user.
Not forgetting those checkboxes. You know the ones. The ones where you have to uncheck it to avoid spam. That not only wastes the users time but also erodes trust.
Building Trust Online
The connected consumer is slow to trust, astute at seeing through traditional advertising, and they look instead to our behavior.
For example this new consumer has little patience for the use of dark patterns. Dark patterns are user interface techniques designed to manipulate or trick the user. The email checkbox I mentioned earlier is one example, but there are many more:
- Adding items to shopping basket without permission
- Disguising ads
- Spamming your friends on social networks
- Hiding delivery costs
- Use of jargon to hide unsavory policies, such as privacy
The list could and does go on …
Privacy is a big area for connected consumers. They understand that servers sometimes get hacked, but they have no time for companies that sell their data or use it to manipulate them. This will completely undermine any trust connected consumers once had in a brand.
Here are some strategies to take to build trust with your customers. The connected consumers may not trust brands, but they do warm to the people behind the brands. Don’t be afraid to show the people that make your organization great. Real people and stories help build relationships with your customers.
Build trust by being consistent in what you deliver. Surprises will undermine trust, so make sure you’re dependable.
There are many ways you gain a reputation of consistency with customers. In fact, being consistent in your design is one of these ways that matter.
Many websites are a confusing mess of old and new designs cobbled together and navigation that changes, categories that are inconsistent and layouts that vary too much throughout.
Then there are the sites that decide they want to be different. In an attempt to stand out from the crowd they abandon terminology used by the sector as a whole. Or, some adopt a design which departs from best practices. Users either adapt to these confusing interfaces – or more likely, they leave.
But consistency isn’t just a design issue. It’s critical to be consistent in the level of support you offer across the platform. Is your social media support as good as your telephone support?
Then there is the consistency in the quality of your product. Do you tend to bend over backwards for new clients and then get lazy when they have been with you for a while. The connected consumer is not stupid. They spot these inconsistencies.
Consistency applies to content as well. So many companies launch a blog and then post to it at random intervals. That or they have a news section last updated in 2013.
If you want to build a loyal following you need to be consistent in the content you are putting out there. Consistent and relevant.
The connected consumer has to deal with more information then anybody else in human history. This means they are ruthless about what they read.
Nowhere is this more true than with the content you push out. Send an email to a connected consumer that they don’t feel is relevant, they won’t unsubscribe. Instead they will just mark it as spam and that will damage your ratings.
Social media is similar. If your social media channels are nothing but a stream of press releases, people will unfollow you.
Everything you produce whether in email, social media or on your website has to be user centric.
The connected consumer is not interested in your message or your brand. They want content that is relevant and helpful to them. Content that answers their questions, that makes their lives easier.
If they want to stop receiving your content, whatever you do make sure you give them that control.
Give Control to the User
Nothing will infuriate a connected consumer like a lack of control, whether it’s control over what they receive or when they receive it.
If you want a user to signup for your newsletter, make it clear that they can unsubscribe in one click. Nothing annoys a connected consumer more than logging into an account just to unsubscribe from email marketing.
Also, if users want to opt out of your service and close their account, be gracious about it. Making it difficult for users to delete their personal information will only antagonize them. This will lead to public complaints and ruin any future chance of them returning to you.
A Challenging Audience
You may be longing for the days of mass media and mass market, remembering the days when you could broadcast at consumers and not pander to their every whim.
Unfortunately, those days are gone. The connected consumer now rules. If we don’t learn how to offer them exceptional customer service both online and off, our businesses simply won’t thrive.
Get more ideas on how to take on the “connected consumers” of today in HOW U’s Brand Strategy Development course.