For all that social media is doing to change business for the better, it’s not yet enough. Interview any executive and ask them what their priority business goals are for 2013. I’m sure you’ll see some element of customer-centricity on the list. Yet the challenge that exists for any organization trying to get closer to customers lies in the definition of customer-centricity.  If getting closer to customers is a key objective, why do many businesses neglect the first mile of the customer experience? Sure products and services count for almost everything. But if and when a customer has a question, wishes to share ideas or provide feedback, or needs help, why is it often the beginning of buyer’s remorse or resentment?

Over the years, companies invested in automated solutions to improve the efficiency of inbound customer engagement. Sophisticated voice recognition systems alleviate the hardship of pushing a button to direct calls. Improved call transferring lessens the frequency of getting dropped. Web forms, click-to-talk applets, and email now ensure that the first round of automated replies you receive look more human than ever before. And, internal metrics are now designed to reduce the amount of time it takes to get our issues resolved, reducing the need to build comfort, confidence, and trust in each call. No, I’m not serious. But this is the reality that a majority of human beings experience to attain satisfaction or resolution.

The customer is always right—right now

Enter social media. Customers no longer require a “hotline” to express sentiment, nor do they need approval to do so. Everyday people express themselves through every channel possible. You’ve heard it before. A happy customer tells a few people, but an unhappy customer tells…everyone. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Yelp, blogs, Foursquare and a myriad of other social networks, customers now possess the ability to share their experiences and affect the impressions and ultimately decisions of an unprecedented number of peers each and every day.

If you’re reading this, you probably already get this. Yet, still today, almost seven years after the inauguration of the social media movement we know today, there’s still a disconnect between the importance of social networks and customer expressions and the ability for executives to appreciate the affect and the consequences of not engaging. It’s the difference between the function of customer service and the intentional result of customer satisfaction.

In the realm of social media, however, every comment either compliments or peels away from the sanctimony of an engineered brand. And, if the formula of happy customers telling a few and unhappy customers telling many more holds true, the collective of customer experiences are indeed indexed for others to find and consider in their decision-making cycle. One need not be a mathematician to understand that when someone searches about your company, chances are that without engagement or design, posts, comments and real-time conversations will work against you.  In February 2012, American Express published a report that found 46% of U.S. Internet users stormed branded social media presences to express frustration about poor experiences.

Imagine considering a series of brands related to a product category you’re investigating. In the first round of research, you find a series of posts, videos, and conversations that reveal negative experiences and the inability for the company to positively change opinions. Chances are that you’ll react accordingly.

In Part 2 of this series, we’ll discuss the disconnect between social media marketing and social customer service within the organization. We’ll also take a look at how the majority of time, money, and resources are invested in marketing campaigns and not in supporting customers. If customer retention is the new acquisition, a shift in the balance of marketing and support is desperately required.

How are you engaging your customers differently using social media? Has this approach changed the customer experience?

 

Brian Solis is the author of the new book, The End of Business as Usual. He is also a principal analyst at Altimeter Group. AT&T has sponsored this blog post.