Preparing for the fourth stage of social customer connection

The way brands connect with customers on social media has evolved over time. The four stages of social customer service adoption can be equated to the three ancient wise monkeys that see, hear and speak no evil.

The more perceptive will have already spotted an issue with the mathematics, but it is entirely intentional so bear with me.

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See, Hear, Speak

The first stage of social customer connection can be characterized by unseeing, covered eyes. This is the era when businesses ignored social tools. Some even implemented misguided (and ultimately futile) attempts to ban the use of Facebook and Twitter in the workplace.

These businesses, like infants playing hidey-boo, closed their eyes and pretended social discourse was not taking place online.

This was quickly replaced with the era of hear no evil. Companies confidently inhabited social networks, but only to broadcast messages as they had always done on traditional channels. Rather than listen to customers on social, brands used these platforms as a means for marketing material.

Then a growing number of businesses, as described in The social customer service gap, became as active and social as their customers. They listen, help and engage rather than just promote and sell. They are conversing publicly and they to do so positively. They speak no evil.

The fourth stage is characterized by our missing simian. It turns out that the ancient Japanese proverb included a fourth monkey, called Shizaru or do no evil.

The fourth stage

According to Forrester, the three universal drivers of customer experience are effectiveness, ease and emotion. In other words, the customer must get value without hassle and they must feel good about it.

Even so, feelings have largely been ignored in favor of the more tangible aspects of doing business. However, feelings are actually the most impactful.

Data from the first wave of the Forrester 2015 Index demonstrates that emotion is the number one factor in driving customer loyalty across 17 of the 18 industries they studied.

And in their Trends 2016: The Future of Customer Service report, Forrester stresses that in addition to making customer service easy and effective, business must forge an ‘emotional bond’.

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Thus the fourth stage of social customer service adoption is the most profound. It is characterized by open interaction and emotional connection.

Emotional engagement

Although Forrester is emphatic notes the need for emotional engagement, their examples, strangely, leave me cold. They cite an airline IVR that detects when customers are calling about a flight delay about which they just texted you.

And they praise retail stores for predicting future buying behavior. But these examples miss the depth of feeling customers are looking for today.

Scott Magids, Alan Zorfas and Daniel Leemon, contributors to Harvard Business Review, get much closer to defining emotional engagement.

Their research uncovered hundreds of emotional motivators, but they identify ten that are high impact. Some explain our connection with brands such as Waitrose, which create a sense of well being, belonging and a belief in environmental and social causes. Others are more ego than ecocentric, creating an emotional connection through thrill and individuality.

Like Forrester, their research concluded that emotional connection equated to higher value customers. In fact, fully connected customers were 50 percent more valuable than those that were just highly satisfied across a sample of nine industries.

As digital levels the playing field on effectiveness and ease, customers will increasingly gravitate towards businesses and brands that they can emotionally connect with. While this is clearly not an overnight transition businesses should prepare now. Here’s how:

  1. Don’t second guess your customers

It’s time to understand what your customers feel. Ask how your customers feel in order to understand their experience. For example, United Airlines asks what emotion best describes how their customers feel about their trip and asks them to select from a list that includes delighted, appreciated, indifferent and even angered. Meanwhile, Verizon, like many others, use unstructured feedback to analyse sentiment through the unfiltered voice of their customers.

 

  1. Re-evaluate your purpose

 

Customers are increasingly connecting with businesses that have an emotional dimension. Everlane, an online clothing retailer, doesn’t differentiate on price or style, but on transparency. If you like that slim fit shirt then check out the factory that it was made at, how much they paid to transport it and how much profit Everlane actually takes.

 

Businesses such as Everlane, Toms shoes and We Walk The Line have a distinct advantage in forging an emotional link. In a study of over almost 10,000 customers, US PR agency Cone Communications discovered that more than 8 out of 10 customers consider a company’s social or environmental benefit and 5 out of 10 would boycott a product from a company that they discovered were irresponsible.

 

But you don’t have to be a social enterprise to have purpose. Build your purpose by understanding customer emotional motivations and then tailoring your messaging accordingly.

 

  1. Go beyond marking

 

But of course, this has to go beyond marketing. Everlane would not be enjoying it’s extraordinary growth were it not for it’s approach to supply chain, customer service and ethical approach to suppliers. Each function and customer touch-point should be examined and the difficult job of aligning processes, systems and culture towards the emotional drivers must begin.

 

The Inevitable Fourth Age

 

Corporate spending on technology has maintained steady over the last decade while consumers spend five times more. Digital is changing the dynamic between business and its customers forever. The corporate walls are down and every aspect of our business is open to scrutiny from customers who will exercise their spending power on businesses with whom they resonate emotionally.

It has always been the right thing to do the right thing for your customers commercially, socially and environmentally. As the fourth age approaches, it will no longer be optional.

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