One thing is certain amid the economic uncertainty faced by brands—truly listening to customers is a key to surviving and thriving beyond the crisis.
The average lifespan of companies listed on the S&P 500 has decreased from 60 years in 1958 to 18 years today. History shows that companies flourish when they listen to their customers and fail when they don’t.
The pandemic and the peak convergence of social media and mobile technologies has led to a sea change in customer expectations about brands. Uneasiness with in-store browsing coupled with rising online comfort means consumers want their interaction with brands to be effortless—from browsing to buying to receiving their purchases.
That desire for ease prevails in their post-purchase preference to use major social platforms to resolve problems, offer favorable or unfavorable comments, and share good or bad product experiences.
Brands that want to compete in this new landscape need to listen to customers more closely than ever. This means scrutinizing social channels 24/7/365 to be able to respond in real-time. While the channel on which consumers receive messages is important, the speed at which they receive these messages could be the difference between escalation and resolution. Our Crisis Impact report found that 53% of consumers expect a brand response within an hour.
THE SOCIAL IMMEDIACY OF CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIPS WITH BRANDS
Our habitual social distancing is in stark contrast to the perceived social immediacy between customers and brands online. “Consumers not only expect brands to be present on social media, but also expect a speedy and personal response to their social posts or messages,” writes Gerald Smith in his book “The Opt-Out Effect: Marketing Strategies that Empower Consumers and Win Customer-Driven Brand Loyalty.”
Smith offers an example of how one socially empowered customer addressed a disappointing drive-through mix-up. Here’s part of the Twitter stream after blogger Jeff Jacobs got the wrong order at Culver’s, a Wisconsin-based burger chain:
Thanks, @culvers Gville SC for double butter bacon burger delivered in the drive thru line. Except that I ordered a tenderloin.
@jeffreypjacobs Whoops! We’re sorry. Would you please give us the details here http://bit.ly/RXUkUh so we can help make this right? Thanks.
@culvers done. thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts.
@jeffreypjacobs We appreciate you reaching out. Since we goofed, your next Value Basket is on us. DM and follow for details.
The issue was resolved in just 37 minutes because the brand monitored Twitter, discovered a less-than-satisfied customer, joined the conversation, apologized, and made it right.
As easily as that incident was solved, the tweet could have been ignored, been amplified to Jacobs’s 108,000 followers on Twitter, and taken off from there. Take that seemingly innocuous incident of a drive-through error multiplied by a million, and you have the beginnings of a serious reputational threat.
Smith noted, “This brand recognized the power of this customer at this moment in time and the ease (due to digital) at which this customer assumed a more assertive posture in the customer-brand relationship.”
LISTENING TO CUSTOMERS ADDS VALUE TO BRANDS
Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers are all active participants on social who want to learn about products and services from brands and want to hear what others have to say. When it comes to reviews, they are influenced by negative reviews much more so than positive takes.
Brands that listen well to both supporters and critics soon realize the value in real-time feedback that helps communications teams diagnose emerging issues and identify opportunities to make the most of positive experiences.
Social media, for better or worse, is word-of-mouth on steroids. But the upside is significant when you listen to consumers, meet their needs, and make them happy. Satisfied consumers can become some of your best unpaid brand ambassadors and influencers, and if you're not actively listening to them you'll never know the size of their following and whether or not they can influence your brand reputation positively or negatively.
Consumers who feel heard are more loyal, more willing to defend your brand, and more likely to increase their spending. A report from Applied Marketing Science found that consumers who receive responses to their tweets are willing to spend 3-20% more on average-priced items.
The capability to listen at scale defines best-in-class organizations. The ultimate objective is for people to feel they were heard.
YOUR BRAND IS WHAT CONSUMERS SAY IT IS
Brands that have prioritized listening to consumers often take it a step further and loop feedback into business decisions. These brands are known for taking bold steps to react to consumer demands while balancing business objectives.
At other times, brands can be totally unaware of the origins of a groundswell of customer negativity online. They can even stem from your social media advertising campaigns.
Brands at Risk found that nearly three-quarters of respondents read the comments on the social media ads they come across in their news feeds.
Brands can’t simply cross their fingers and hope for the best.
LISTEN, ANALYZE, AND ACT TO PROTECT BRAND VALUE
Being aware of consumer sentiment and pinpointing the issues that matter to them is critical to staying relevant for brands that choose to engage on social media. Poor product experiences, questionable affiliations, company scandals, and more can trigger an upsurge in negative mentions and harmful content.
Consumers are on edge right now and especially sensitive to being heard by brands. They want to know that their needs are understood, and they want the satisfaction of a rapid, thoughtful response.
To find ways to connect with consumers where they are now, you need more than a traditional approach. Seeing an early-warning advantage helps you move beyond a traditional approach and into one that uses both artificial and human intelligence.
Technology distills the huge volume of content and conversations into something manageable so it becomes clear what really matters to consumers. The human expertise, then, works to understand the context and nuance of the digital chatter. This allows the technology to “learn” the needs of the brand and its consumers—helping to get ahead of concerns and turn them into actionable insights.