You’ve heard it a million times. A happy customer tells a few people, but an unhappy customer tells…everyone. In the age of social media, those numbers, especially for those expressing discontent, are only escalating. In 2012, American Express released a study claiming that 46 percent of U.S. Internet users hit branded social media pages to express frustration about poor experiences.

This of course plays into the fears of executives who do not understand the value of social media nor its place in our modern society. “We can’t respond to them,” I hear executives declare. “If we do, we’ll invite more complaints and questions,” they’ll contend in defense of their position.

This isn’t as uncommon as you might think. I recently presented at a corporate conference where I received a question from someone in the C-Suite that gave me pause. The question went something like this, “Customers will complain on social media because it’s a natural thing to do. We know more people will say negative things than they will share positive experiences. What’s a company to do? What’s the point? How do we change behavior?”

The future of branding is shared experiences

The reality is that people will share their experiences at every step of the customer journey and throughout the customer lifecycle. In every moment of truth, touch points open and close and it is what they ask and find in each moments that decides the fate of their decision and your place within it. Among connected customers, websites may or may not play a role in providing guidance to prospects or resolution to existing customers. What will factor into every moment of truth however are the shared experiences of their peers and those who appear in blogs, review sites, communities, YouTube, and in the responses during real-time engagement across social networks and customer-facing apps.

The expressions that come back in those moments represent the real world, and they’re only amplifying in volume and magnitude. See, those experiences don’t disappear. They stay online forming a collective repository where expressions shape impressions. People trust experiences of their peers, whether good or bad, and without your engagement, you are the victim of a digital game of grapevine. Perception is reality. This is why now is the time to take part in shaping the experiences your want people to have and share. And, that takes an investment.

So how do we change behavior?

It starts by changing our behavior first.

Become the change you wish to see

Customers don’t’ see the roles and functions that define a business. They see one brand and therefore everyone who touches the customer must work together to deliver a consistent experience. When it comes to social media, customers are for the most part, only getting a glimpse of the brand, usually the lens of the marketing or communications department. This assumes that customers only want to connect for marketing or entertainment purposes. When you consider the multiple dimensions of the customer lifecycle and the expectations in each moment of truth, businesses are rather antisocial in their social media approach. It’s rather absurd that businesses think that social media is yet another channel for traditional marketing guised in a social promise of engagement and transparency.

Changing behavior takes understanding

We know that customers take to social media to share experiences for a variety of reasons:

  • Because they can.
  • Becase it’s cathartic and validating.
  • Because social media tests and rebuilds relationships.

So if companies aren’t investing in cultivating positive experiences, they are by default investing the active exchange of grievances and speculation.

 

According to a recent report published by SimplyMeasured, almost 99 percent of businesses in the Interbrand Top 100 Brands maintain a social media presence on Twitter. Yet, only 30 percent have a dedicated customer service handle.

 

 

Among the top 10 brands as measured by engagement, with dedicated customer service handles, response times ranged from 40 minutes to 20 hours.

Yes it’s a new expense. Yes it’s different. But we know that it works. Improving the quality and quantity of “word of mouth” starts with changing perceptions. Martiz and Evolve24 found that when people seeking help or expression discontent were engaged on Twitter by the brand, 32 percent and 51.5 percent loved it or liked it respectively. Of course they did! And you know what? It changed how they feel in that moment and over time.

A Risk-averse leadership leads to a complacent market

Does engaging customers on Twitter invite more complaints? Hardly. Research shows that people take to social networks to vent because their attempts at seeking resolution through traditional channels already failed. People are seeking solutions; if not from you, from anyone.

Shared experiences are powerful and they don’t always have to be negative. The solution is positive reinforcement or positive conditioning. People are busy. They ask questions or voice frustration in the moment because there’s usually something in it for them. The same could be true for positive reinforcement. If you want people to share their honest experiences, and you believe them to be true, then you must proactively foster the behavior you wish to see.

Positive reinforcement applies rewards to induce or encourage desired behavior. To work, it must be individualized and then promoted to greater audiences to demonstrate your good work.

Earning good “carma”

When Ford launched its 2013 Fusion, it understood that people would share both praise and displeasure. However, the company believed that in order to incite social acclaim and positive experiences, it would need to proactively invite and reward the desired behavior. To do so, Ford introduced “Random Acts of Fusion” to thank fans for essentially saying nice things.

From customized “thank you” baskets to pop-up car washes to test drives to having comedian Reggie Watts remix customer Tweets, Ford was loud and clear in its intentions. As evidenced by its hashtag, #backatyou, people were at the center of this campaign and reciprocity was the takeaway. Ford’s random acts of kindness weren’t really random at all. Everything was not only cleverly planned but also promoted across social media far and wide. The company found that in addition to expanded reach and priceless PR as a result, positive conditioning works. And over time, Ford’s continued investment in positive engagement will eventually contribute to a more meaningful, co-created brand where people and their experiences define what the blue oval means to them and their peers.

Behavior change is just the beginning. If you want people to share positive experiences and accolades, you have to intentionally invite and reward them to do so. Additionally you must alter the negative experiences of those in need. The old adage, you reap the seeds you sow, has never been truer. In a social economy, happy customers will tell a few, and unhappy customers will tell thousands. It’s up to you, your imagination, and your intentions to shift the balance and change the equation to your benefit now and over time.

The future of business isn’t created, it’s co-created. #backatyou

 

Brian Solis is the author of the book, What’s The Future of Business. He is also a principal analyst at Altimeter Group. AT&T has sponsored this blog post.