With the profusion of technologies and innovations, the points of contact in the customer/brand interface have multiplied in bewildering fashion. Consumer take-up of new tech solutions is now so rapid as to be quasi-immediate. And the reason? Simplicity and customer benefit.
Being in contact with their brand whenever and however they wish, based around their own lifestyle (in the street, shopping, cooking dinner, watching TV, on the beach, in the metro...) has become a standard customer expectation – and even a requirement – and a basic “trust driver”.
To successfully weave their way into this context-based customer relationship, businesses need to abandon traditional “closed model” mindsets that seek to control everything, including their customers – these same customers now possess more tools of influence than ever, enabling brands to achieve unheard of levels of penetration.
Being easily accessible everywhere and via whatever contact channel or conversation app the customer chooses has become a must for satisfying and holding onto customers. This means that effective and innovative businesses need to adopt a “context-based strategy” pretty quickly but everything depends on the trust and contribution of customers themselves.
Vanessa Boudin-Lestienne goes on to add that, “for the past few years, we have been convinced that customers have seized power and we are investing in this process. It is customers themselves who are driving their relationships with brands. They now expect interaction in the relationship and more pro-active behaviour on the part of brands.”
The importance of word-to-mouth in customer relations has gone through the roof with the advent of digital technology. It has now become a strategic necessity for brands to boost their number of recommendations, generate and develop communities of brand advocates and incorporate customer feedback and peer-to-peer reviews… in short, what we now term User-Generated Content.
“The customer has become a genuine “consumer” who is more involved than ever in the type of relationship that s/he has with their favourite brands.” Although the exact figures vary from one sector to another, peer recommendations now drive between 50% and 90% of customers’ final decisions.
Brands are beginning to gauge the importance and impact of feedback, i.e., the customer opinions that can be used to forge the communities on which Customer Relations are built. Feedback has become the primary means of influencing customers.
Despite the fact that they have never and will never meet – and may not even particularly like each other – the users of an online service will always trust each other more than they will trust a brand. Why so? Well, we are more likely to believe someone who is like us than someone who is simply paid to sell us a product and this is the very basis of the Trust economy.
Throughout the vast reaches of social cyberspace, brands are battling for influence in order to get and keep web users’ attention, but they are now also in direct competition with their own customers who are much better versed in the codes of the “social web”.
The new generation of “NATUs” have grasped this fact and incorporated it into their business models.
These businesses have replaced intermediaries by apps, are very active on the social web and are beginning to get into instant messaging. They offer their customers direct, transparent and constant contact by inviting these same customers to be proactive using their preferred channel of communication.
As Vanessa Boudin-Lestienne points out, “Airbnb is now the second largest hotel operator on the planet with an estimated value of over USD 30 billion. Their success is the direct result of the trust they have secured from users online and the community that these same users have helped to build and develop.”
The “decompartmentalisation” of personal and professional exchanges being driven by Facebook in the West and WeChat in the East has normalized the transition from social media to social business.
“Mentalities have changed and users now accept brand interaction on the social networks and via messaging more naturally. Customers want to be able to interact with brands just like they do with their close friends and the private sphere now has an unprecedented influence on the type of exchanges we are having no matter what the context is.”
Vanessa Boudin-Lestienne believes that “one thing is absolutely certain: now more than ever, brands need to know how to be present to initiate “THE” conversation that is going to unlock value.”
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