“Businesses must recognize that the voice of the customer is more powerful than ever before. Whether Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Yelp, review sites, product forums, blogs, or Pinterest, your customers are sharing their experiences on platforms where audiences can find what others are saying about you.
Your customers and prospects will inevitably find the negative experiences others have had. Customers will uncover the one horrendous review rather than the incedible experiences others have had.”
BRIAN SOLIS What’s The Future of Business? (2013)
As I’ve been writing for a while now on this page: there’s been a coup in business; the customer has taken power.
When I first started writing (and tweeting) about this phenomenon two years ago, many business leaders were sceptical. If they still are, they need to retire to the farm. In Kenya, mobile technology, social media platforms and one of the world’s youngest populations have combined to create an irresistible tidal wave of empowered customers. Latest figures suggest Kenya has nearly 31 million mobile phone subscribers; 16 million Internet users; and close to 2 million active social media users.
What have the responses to this wave been? I can discern some distinct phases.
The first is the DENIAL phase. This is where CEOs dismiss social media and generation Y as passing fads that are focused on social trivia and petty chatter. Nothing to be taken that seriously, and certainly not in the upper echelons of business. If you or your company are still in that phase, please wake yourselves up before the market puts you to sleep permanently.
The second is the ENGAGE phase. This happens when a freshly aware enterprise plunges into social media and starts trying to converse with customers. There is a predictable sequence: first, a volley of abuse from frustrated customers given a channel through which to vent; then a period of silence when the company licks its wounds and wonders what to do next; after that, some investment in training of dedicated social-media handlers; followed by banal, semi-automated responses to complaints.
As this phase continues, a precious few enterprises figure out that there is a better way to be on social media; that you engage in conversations, not one-way communications; that you listen, apologize and learn, rather than ignore or offer platitudes. Some of our Kenyan leading lights have reached this point, where they are active on social media in the proper way.
But: this too is not the end-game. As renowned digital strategist Brian Solis points out in his new book, the third phase is to reinvent the whole customer experience to be fit for the social business era. It isn’t just about reacting well to negative experiences; it’s about steadily creating positive experiences. In his words: “Yes, it’s time to invest in proactive experiences. If we do not, we will be forever tethered to the unproductive dance that is reacting, responding to, and solving negative experiences.”
Few businesses have made it to this PROACTIVE phase: the one where you go into the fundaments of your organization to reinvent completely the way in which customers experience your product and its people. The future of business belongs to those organizations that create excellent experiences in the first place, not just those who can manage the fallout from bad ones.
So if your organization has graduated to the ‘Engage’ phase, congratulations: you’re on the right track. But please recognize that the journey has only just begun. The real game is being played out by those who believe that a great customer experience is a fundamental right and an essential strategy, not a marketing ploy. It’s not about being clever with social media; it’s about building a business that generates great interactions routinely and continuously.
As I have written here before: the best social-media strategy is to have a good business in the first place.