"One note of caution. Once you begin engaging with your customers in a collaborative way, the relationship changes. You are no longer customer vs. brand; you are working together for something new, something better for the future. As mentioned, this type of interaction creates strong customer advocacy and loyalty, and customers won’t react kindly to a termination of this unwritten contract. Be in it for the long haul."
In addition to being "in it for the haul," i.e., an ongoing, possibly never-ending conversation with customers, companies have something even more important to consider before jumping head first into social-media driven discussions with customers -- are they really willing to listen?
Remember, conversations with customers will not be about the weather conditions at corporate headquarters or how the CEO's daughter did at her soccer game. No, conversations with customers are about real business issues, tough issues. And you know what? Customers want companies to not only hear their input but to act on it as well.
Is your company prepared to make changes to your distribution channels because of customer input? Is your company ready to scrap the new feature that product development has been working on because customers now want another feature instead? Are you ready to lower the price of your product or change the way you package it?
How a company decides what customer input to act on and that input that can be ignored is critical to the customer/brand relationship Carroll speaks of. So a couple of things to consider.
Who in your company is having these conversations with customers? Is it your sales department through customer service channels? Is it marketing? Or is it your outside PR agency? Most likely, many people within your company will be having conversations with customers via social media.
So the next question is this: Are you sure they're all saying the same thing? Does your mid-level marketing person really understand your company's brand essence? Are you confident that the intern at your PR agency is sticking to your company's marketing messages?
That's why before a company decides to embrace social media as a means to communicate directly with customers, it should be able to answer a core set of questions:
- What segments of your customer base are you trying to reach?
- How do they live, work and play?
- What do they expect from you?
- What is the lexicon of different customers?
- What information are customers looking for?
- What formats must you develop to reach them?
- Where do your target customers look for information?
- What do they respond to?
- What does it take to get them to participate?
And once you answer all of these questions, there's one final question you must ask yourself: Are you willing to do something in response to your customer's input?