Social media gives customers power over brands

Customers can air their complaints easily on social media and so companies must stay relevant through superior service.
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Customers can air their complaints easily on social media and so companies must stay relevant through superior service.

Not so long ago, customers were isolated. Their ability to voice their dissatisfaction with the service they received from business was severely limited.

The once feared television show Fair Go was just about their only option.

Today they can air their gripes instantly on Facebook, Twitter or other social platforms and build alliances with similarly disgruntled customers. They can take pictures wherever they go and record or even film their interactions.

Companies who choose to have a social media presence can’t just dip in and out of it, says Bruce Gordan, chief executive ...
JESSIE CASSON

Companies who choose to have a social media presence can’t just dip in and out of it, says Bruce Gordan, chief executive of ventilation company HRV.

Customers can compare prices instantly and do background checks on companies they might consider doing business with.

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That and the ability to buy offshore puts the onus on business to stay relevant through superior service backed by deep customer knowledge.

Social media is a great platform for communication and to reinforce conversations, says director of Hunter Law, Jane Hunter.
JESSIE CASSON

Social media is a great platform for communication and to reinforce conversations, says director of Hunter Law, Jane Hunter.

To succeed, staff need to have absolute clarity about the role they play with the customer and the value proposition they have to offer, says non‐executive director Mary Jane Daly. They also need to understand how that plays throughout the organisation.

"With social media if you get that wrong it's instantly going to be fed back to you and to the wider community," she says.

Organisations and individuals need to be clear about how they respond and rectify issues.

Bruce Gordon, chief executive of ventilation company HRV, warns, however, that if you fail on social you really fail.

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"If you are going to do it do it well," Gordon says. "You can't half‐heartedly do the online space, the social media space. You can't dip in and out of it."

Businesses are part of the conversation and it's about transparency and honesty, he says.

For Christchurch Airport chief executive Malcolm Johns it's not really a choice. There is no company in New Zealand that is not in the social space, he says.

"If you have a customer you are very likely in the social space. You may choose not to engage but your company is in the social space. If you don't get your head around that your customers will shape your brand."

Companies also can't own that space, he says. They can only participate. However, online and social media offer opportunities to do things better and build deeper relationships with your customer base.

"It's just whether you are prepared to trust your customers and give them a role in shaping the journey," he says.

Johns says he has used online communities to resolve customer complaints – just ask them and let them decide how an issue should be resolved. That requires trust and courage, he says, because you have to give away a degree of control.

"The majority of people will be reasonable and there will be people at each end," he says. "If you allow the online community to engage, generally they will self‐correct. If you act reasonably, by and large people will be reasonable with you."

Sina Wendt‐Moore, chief executive of Leadership NZ, agrees. In fact she says, recalling a lost luggage complaint resolved on social media in record time, online service is often better than through other channels.

"It's one way a company might respond and use it in a proactive way that best serves their customers," she says.

For professional services businesses, social media presents a unique opportunity, says Jane Hunter, director of Hunter Law.

Social media offers such businesses the opportunity to put themselves in the centre of the community at a time when competitive threats loom from low‐cost operators overseas.

"We've always got referrals by word of mouth but the format has now changed and is principally social media," Hunter says.

Social media is a great platform for communication, to reinforce conversations and as a first point of entry.

"The days of keeping information to yourself have gone," Hunter says. "The more you can put out there to help people inform themselves the better you will be regarded by the community.

"Putting it out there online is no longer an option for professional services firms – it's mandatory."

That means innovative online tools are needed. Businesses need to develop to stay ahead and to stay relevant, she says.

Mobile is another huge driver of customer service change, threatening the end of the 9-to-5 office. 

The knock‐on is pressure to reform how we work and to merge the demands of work and the demands of life.

"It's creating an interesting and challenging dynamic," Hunter says.

So in this dynamic environment, how do leaders focus on what really matters?

"My philosophy is simple," Johns says. "If it's not valuable to the customer, it's not valuable, full stop."

For Gordon, embedding customer centricity in the culture of the organisation was paramount and that is driven by online.

"We instil in teams a strong cultural drive in being willing to listen. I think that is something underrated here. If they pick up on or spot something they own it and sponsor it through to resolution or a learning opportunity.

HRV is also developing its online services allow customers to take control of information gathering and purchasing.

"Online is so ubiquitous that people are thrilled to see tools that exist for them to use at their own convenience in their own time."

In turn that builds up a profile and understanding for the company to serve its customers better, Gordon says.

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