This post is only important to you if you value customers and are confused by what's happening in the social world. Most of the large companies we deal with are already doing a form of what is suggested in this post and small, local market companies don't really need to. It's the mid-size companies competing in national or international markets that need to pay attention. So if you're a mid-size company that thinks customers aren't worth your time and social is a fad, save yourself some time and go read something else.
I wrote about Digital Divisivity on An Economy of Meaning. The calls, emails and Skypes began pouring in shortly after. "Digital Divisivity" describes people's inability to compromise and negotiate -- basically an inability to use simple social skills -- in the modern digital world.
Take-Aways for Customer Service in the Age of Digital Divisivity
I'll start with the Take-Aways first because I know your time is precious. And none of this is really new, it's simply more important than ever. NextStage has developed some calculations, what we call WatchValues, to help onlines determine how Digitally Divisive their customer-base is. Below are some simplified while serviceable versions you can use.1
- Research the customer before responding to their customer service request. Look up their history with your company. How long (in years) have they been a customer? Have they rarely or never complained? That forms an equation:
(Customer time in years)/(number of complaints) = Their personal value to your company
The bigger that number, the more you want to make it right by them. Remember, not make it right by you, make it right by them!
- Do a two-to-three level deep social background check before responding to their customer service request. Are they active on lots of platforms? Do they have lots of fans, followers, friends, contacts, ...? Do their fans, followers, friends and contacts have lots of fans, friends, followers, contacts, ...? How often do they tweet, post, pin, share, comment, ... per day? How often do their friends, fans, ... tweet, post, pin, ... per day? Another equation forms:
(Number of platforms) * (number of fans, friends, ...) * ((number of friends' friends, fans' fans, ...)/10) * (frequency of tweets, comments...) * (frequency of friends, ... tweets, comments...) = Their social value to your company
Again, the bigger that number, the more you want to make it right by them. And again, not right by you, right by them.
- This is where it gets weird due to social and cultural psychology in the Digital Age:
- Are the majority of the customer's comments, tweets, ... negative? Then don't worry about it.
- Are the majority of the customer's comments, tweets, ... a fairly even mix of positive and negative? Then don't worry about it.
- Are the customer's comments, tweets, ... an even mix of neutral, positive or informational? Then be afraid. Be very, very afraid.
- In your copious free time, do the above for a random sampling of your customer population. This exercise will give you a baseline to consider when you evaluate customers when they contact you with a customer service request.
And now, the post...
Instantaneous information access is at the heart of Digital Divisivity because it's allowed everyone to believe they're right, not just correct but morally, undeniably right, hence the social skills that allow people to get along are less and less developed.
After all, if I'm right, then you're wrong and I got my information faster than you got yours (a major selling point in mobile technology) so that proves I'm right, right?
Some researchers speculate that traditionally required social skills and understandings (what social scientists call social awareness, cognitive psychologists and others call theory of mind, etc) will disappear completely if the present social and technology curves continue.
Is anybody out there surprised?
So no sooner had I published Digital Divisivity than I got calls from folks I've known a number of years. Two stood out to me due to the language and emotion demonstrated when these folks shared their experiences. Both were experiencing customer service issues with online companies they'd been dealing with for years. They talked with me about it because NextStage does lots of research into online social methods (you can look through my iMedia columns to get an idea) and wanted a reality check.
The Back Story in Brief
In both cases, several times a year and for several years running, each placed orders with the separate onlines. Not always the same orders, not always the same dollar amounts, but always placing orders several times a year for several years. In short, both cases are of repeat, long time customers with documented purchasing histories.
Are the onlines going to get rich off of these two and all others like them? Certainly not! Both people are what we call rent money. They and the hundreds or thousands of customers like them are the ones who keep the lights on, the water running, the daily expenses in check and so on. Nobody's buying champagne when their orders come in, but lose enough of their type of orders and your business is doomed, dead, gone and busted.
And this time and in both cases, the onlines botched up their orders (they didn't ship the requested items). Both onlines were notified via email as soon as the orders were received and inspected. Then both onlines botched up fixing the orders (didn't respond to phone calls or emails). In the end, both onlines wanted these long time customers to return the unordered merchandise at the customer's expense. No mention of making the order good, only that the customers should return the unordered merchandise at the customers' expense and the customers would receive a store credit when the unordered merchandise had been safely returned.
Anybody reading this have time during their day to fix somebody else's mistakes? Aren't we doing enough of that as it is at work and home? Anybody here want to make their day a little more complicated when what you really want is to make it easier (remember this, it plays a part later)?
Customer service is more important than ever
Remember the old adage about customer retention versus acquisition? It costs less to keep a customer than to get a new one?
Time to think again.
In the Age of Digital Divisivity, you can piss off a first time visitor and it won't go against you (and the number of times a rotten design has turned visitors away is way more than you think).
The first time customer quickly forgets and is psychologically shopping elsewhere before their next click. Remember all the time and money onlines use to spend figuring out why visitors bounced? Stop worrying about visitors that bounce. They're not going to pay your rent anyway, and those who will buy from you will do so regardless, probably one time only and then go away to the next big savings of a penny or two at the next online that catches their eye.
But piss off the long time customer and you've opened yourself up to a world of woe due to Digital Divisivity. The long time buyer thinks you, the online, owe them for their loyalty and you just screwed up.
Are you an online owner reading this and thinking you don't have to worry about one lost customer because the whole world's clicking on your door? That use to be the case. But my advice to you is to start paying attention to what's happening in the news and in online social research. That online population is more concerned with getting things right or being right than getting things done and you have neither gotten things done nor been right.
And if these long time customers you've just failed decide they don't like you? Consumers raised in an immediate accessing, online society don't let up until there's blood -- preferably real -- on the table. People don't just want their pound of flesh anymore, they want your blood running down their flews.
It's not about product or offering any more
In case you've been in an online cave for the past few years, let me share that it's all about Relationship and the relationship they thought they had with you failed. In an age when everybody has ten thousand friends and followers that they don't really know and couldn't give a dang about, you were the one that counted and you just screwed up. So what do you think they're going to do now? You think they're going to repay you with kindness? Think again.
They're going to cry on the shoulders of those ten thousand people who are now, suddenly, much closer friends than you are or ever have been because those ten thousand virtual friends will Like and Comment and Retweet and Pin and Instagram and Vine that failed customer's pain because they have nothing better to do.
And each time they Like and Comment or Retweet or Pin or Instagram or Vine that new found best friend's pain they've made it real. They've shared it and they did it first so therefore it must be true and you hurt their best friend.
The long time buyer will now take time to look elsewhere for the products, services, whatever, you had supplied. In the past, this didn't happen. Long time customers never look elsewhere if the online botches things up because the devil you know is better than the devil you don't know.
But that was before Digital Divisivity.
Now the devil is time and everyone knows that devil all too well.
As onerous as looking for a new supplier is, the long time consumer is now psychologically lost. They've already calculated that the time in failed customer support will take longer than the time looking for a new supplier. This is where wanting a simpler day (as in the above's "anybody want to fix somebody else's mistakes?") comes into play.
Check your customer support logs. Are they going down? Digital Divisivity may have already hit you. Are they going up? Digital Divisivity is about to hit you.
Consumers have enough distractions, many of which are attempting to get their business from you and you just handed it to your competitors. It's less expensive time-wise for consumers to take a chance on a new provider than to fight customer service when customer service has proven it doesn't want to serve anymore.
In short, buyers aren't looking for product any more, they're now looking for service. Digital Divisivity dictates that consumers get products and services ASAP (nothing new there, really). After all, isn't getting something ASAP the penultimate test of information in the digital age, he or she who gets the information first is right and forget about whether or not the information is correct?
Translate that to product or offering and you have either overnight or download. And if it's overnight, free shipping will close the deal every time.
Get ready for extreme responses
Digital Divisivity dictates extreme responses, not subtle or managed or reasoned responses. Consumers want what they want and, as Billy Connolly says, "...they want it now, they want it yesterday and they want f?cking more tomorrow!"
So, if you're an online, large or small, don't worry about getting new business. There's an increasing number of brand nomads and Digital Divisivity dictates their number will rise.
You really need to keep the customers you have. They will bring new clients to you. They will cull the brand nomad herds for you.
This you know. What don't you know?
What you don't know is that when Digital Divisivity causes those long time customers to become brand nomads, they will take everyone they ever knew with them. In their minds, you're ignoring them and they have friends and followers just as digitally divisive as they are and none of them are going to be ignored.
And there goes both acquisition and retention because your customer service screwed up. And Digital Divisivity indicates you only have to screw up once.
Because it's not about product any more, it's about service and relationship and consumers are too busy and too bothered already to put up with your mistakes.
Sucks being an online, doesn't it?
1 - These equations are simplified for this post and will still work pretty well. You can estimate some variables so long as they're believable estimates. The real equations have been developed over a few years research. Contact NextStage directly if you'd like us to calculate your company's or organization's WatchValues.
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