Not so long ago, a business could create a customer service department – let it handle complaints, returns, and whining. Some businesses were better at this than others - but in most cases it didn’t create customers who were delighted about your business. We say it “worked” because customers couldn’t do much about anything anyway – we couldn’t make a difference – now we can.
Do you realize that a single dissatisfied customer can bring a large corporation to its knees? Perhaps you’ve heard of Jeff Jarvis’ experiences with Dell? The short version is that he purchased a Dell computer and immediately had trouble with it. The company’s customer service was horrible so Jeff wrote a blog post that was read by many. Soon, Dell horror stories were coming from all sorts of places. These actions sent Dell scrambling for damage control. Fortunately, Dell has learned from this experience and now its customer service is apparently better.
What’s changed? Your customers are now part of a loosely connected tribe. They talk to each other, tell stories and meet in internet forums. Ten years ago, this wouldn’t have been possible on a large scale. Now, one bad customer experience can snowball into a viral nightmare for any business.
Think about it, you can find internet forums about products ranging from crayons to computers - filled with discussions about products, services and the businesses behind them. No longer can you view a customer in isolation – he/she is part of a tribe – a potentially powerful tribe. This tribe will spread good messages about your company or bad messages – but rarely neutral messages.
The lesson is clear, when you start thinking of your customers as a tribe – one that you lead and care for – rewards will follow. If you choose not to change with the future – ignoring the power of your customers in the context of today’s social networking environment – your business is already behind the competition and you’re risking its future.