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Stop Pitching Woo—Start Delivering Fantastic Social Customer Experiences

The huge clouds of hype around social customer relationships may have led you to buy into the idea your customer is desperate to begin a passionate long-term relationship with your brand. But let’s face facts: Your customers aren’t looking for an LTR. Far from loving you, they’ve never been more critical of you.

A customer’s love for a brand is nothing close to the unconditional positive regard we give and receive in relationships. The second you slip, deliver a disappointment, stop giving them reasons to engage, or stop acknowledging and rewarding their participation, they’ll drop you in a heart beat. Today’s brand-consumer relationships are not balanced. Make no mistake, the consumer is in control—never before have consumers been so empowered. Social media today lets customers broadcast their sentiment over brand experiences—good or bad—to enormous audiences.

Because of this major shift in power, consumers are now in a position to deliver a whopper of an ultimatum to businesses: meet expectations, or die. Does that sound like someone who wants a relationship with you?

In fact, today’s consumer-brand dynamic is decidedly lacking in many of the characteristics we normally associate with relationships. There is little forgiveness, zero privacy, and customer love is 100% conditional. Fail them, and they split—there’s no kissing and making up with social customers when you disappoint them. Further, they turn others against you when they go. Fifty-seven percent of social customers say they won’t buy any more of a company’s products or services after a single negative experience and 40% say they are also likely to warn others to stay away after a poor experience.  And with social media at their fingertips, they can exercise those inclinations in just 140 little characters.

This brings us to the zero privacy part. Where the real substance of any personal relationship is what happens between the two parties privately, there is no privacy in the consumer-brand relationship any longer and that makes all the difference. The hard truth is, your business has never been so transparent. The effects of a single bad customer experience today—online or off—can be hugely damaging.  Any customer experience, be it in a call center, in-store or online, can be amplified through your customers’ social networks in an instant.

Brands still approaching social media as an afterthought, a bolt-on to their customer experience, can count on tough times ahead. The social customer experience is fast becoming the battleground on which brands live or die. But there is a silver lining—the social media blade cuts both ways. If you do deliver positive customer experiences, your customers are increasingly happy to tell their friends. Fifty percent of social customers say they are likely to share positive customer experiences, and indeed they do. And social media lets them do a bang up job of it.

The reason social media has been adopted faster than almost any new technology we’ve known is that it takes an age old natural inclination and makes it very fast and easy—the sharing of experience. We’ve been sharing our experiences with each other since day one, it’s what makes us human, and that includes our consumer experiences. We’ve always relied on family and friends for recommendations. Indeed, as we might expect, 71% of consumers say friends and family are among the top three ways they became aware of new products and services.

People have always socialized around their consumption habits. Social media just lets them do it faster, more easily and with hugely greater volume and reach. Your job is to ensure that what they have to talk about is nothing short of great.

How? Naturally, the types of experiences you deliver will depend on a myriad of things—your business, your offering, your customers, your industry. Your particular market, value proposition and key differentiators will determine the nature of the experiences you deliver.

But while social media continues to morph into an increasingly customized and complex discipline, no matter what your business or industry, if you do just four things this year to set the foundation for a winning, sustainable social customer experience strategy, do these:

1. Don’t fall for social media fads. Of course you need a presence on the most popular social networks, it’s foolish not be where your customers gather. But brands will always face limitations when engaging with customers through public social networks like Facebook. They simply don’t offer you control over the way your customers experience your brand—and remember, those social customer experiences are your most critical social media asset. They’ve got to be great if your social customers are going to buzz about them.

2. Build an owned, on-domain customer community. Your community can and should be fully integrated with the Facebooks and Twitters of the world, but when you bring your social customer experiences on-domain, you can change things, test and innovate and very importantly, you can learn.  Because when social customer experiences happen on your domain, you own the data they leave in their wake. You can spot trends, find out what customers want and need and make data-based decisions about how you iterate on the next generation of experiences you deliver. What’s more, you can take these customer insights back into the rest of your business to inform sales, marketing, customer service and PR. If you continue to depend on public social networks for your social presence, you’ll never gather the data you need to remain competitive. 

3. Enable peer-to-peer interactions.  Once you have an owned customer community, you not only have control over the experience, access to all the data, but also the ability to enable the very behavior social media is designed for: human interaction. One of the defining pillars of the word social itself is, “the interactions of persons forming groups.” Enabling peer-to-peer interaction is a must-have for any social strategy. Without the ability to interact with each other, your social customers just plain aren’t being social—or, at least the full force of social will remain out of reach for your brand. When customers can have peer-to-peer interactions—talk to each other, share experiences, advice and solutions—that’s when you’re on your way to a possible game change.

4. Put trusted content at the heart of your social strategy. Once you’ve got your customers talking to each other, now you’re creating UGC—that all important user generated content. Trusted content is the currency, the lifeblood, the fountainhead of all social endeavors. Without it, you’re nowhere. We know by now that consumers trust each other more than they trust brands. Your job is to encourage and reward them for all the valuable UGC they produce, for creating the trusted content you need to build a credible social presence—authentic enthusiasm, crowd-sourced ideas, out of the box suggestions, and innovative solutions.

It’s time to stop chasing relationships with your customers. Stop pitching woo and start delivering fantastic experiences. They don’t trust much of anything you have to say anyway. Ninety percent of consumers say they trust the opinions of their peers when it comes to purchase decisions while just 14% say they trust anything a brand has to say.

When they fundamentally don’t trust you, it begs the question, is a ‘relationship’ with your customers a real possibility to begin with? To be sure, you’ll never have customers clamoring for a relationship, while you’ll always have customers clamoring for great experiences.