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Guest comment: Building authenticity and trust through customer engagement

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by Richard Anderson

Customers have always been at the core of business, but the expectations of consumers and business customers are soaring. Getting closer to customers is now a prerequisite for success in the twenty-first century. The combination of the social media revolution and the current economic uncertainty reinforces the view that it is the empowered customer who is now in control of the business relationship.

Customer feedback makes the online shopping experience quicker and easier for shoppers. Brands displaying user-generated content (UGC) provide the peace-of-mind required for customers to feel confident in their purchasing decisions.

Displaying simple and transparent ratings or reviews from customers on product pages is an important first step, but engaging customers in those conversations and using that insight is the lynch-pin for companies that want to become truly customer-centric.

Transparency leads to transformation, and by going beyond using social media and review platforms as a single channel ofcommunication to truly integrating them into all facets of the organisation, brands can create a community of trusted and authentic influencers.

How to get it right

Companies have traditionally had a level of control around customer and influencer engagement. In a global study by IBM, chief marketing officers (CMOs) highlighted four trends as pervasive, universal game-changers – namely the data explosion, social media, proliferation of channels and devices and shifting consumer demographics.

IBM’s research also revealed that CMOs are still focusing on the transaction, rather than building customer relationships, and using customer data for segmentation and targeting purposes. By not creating advocates, these organisations are missing the opportunity to learn from the other phases of the customer lifecycle.

Thanks to voice-of-customer programmes and the growing demand for user-generated content (UGC), customers will now define a brand with or without its input, so it’s up to the company to engage in that conversation and take that feedback on board and integrate it seamlessly across all aspects of the business. By putting customers at the core of the brand, companies can constantly realign themselves to best suit their audiences.

Facebook now boasts over 800 million active users and the average user posts 90 pieces of content a month, while Twitter processes around 250 million tweets a day. Even though only a percentage of this content involves a brand or product, the impact on businesses is immense.

By taking all feedback on board, no matter what the tone, these brands ensure they are responding to customer opinion and allowing it to shape the organisation’s image and future in much faster and more agile way then ever before.

When talking about brand and product experiences, vocal commenters tend to be very polarised, either extolling love or severe dislike. With the proper tools to monitor, analyse and share this feedback, innovative product improvement ideas, as well as flaws, can be found just as readily in positive reviews as in negative reviews. Companies can opt to treat negative reviews as a gift, as this can provide the intelligence with which they can better the brand for customers, turning critics into advocates and ultimately driving more sales.

UGC is not only an asset for a company’s marketing department, it’s invaluable across the entire organisation – from product planning and development to help shape future products, designs or features, to customer support teams who can more quickly act on developing issues once a product or service is in the marketplace.

Which brands are getting it right

· Dell is recognised worldwide as an early mover and thought leader in social. As a company it highlights how to go beyond just traditional customer engagement, and deliver true transparency and authenticity. When customers approach Dell, they usually speak with servicepeople. For those customers that are hardcore gamers or really into technology, they will often know product solutions better than the service person they’re speaking to. Rather than just receiving generic messages, Dell extends the conversation to include product engineers, who understand the product and can communicate in a way that is authentic and accurate. In this case transparency means people can go into the company and speak to those that know best, even if they aren’t on the customer service front line.

· Urban Outfitters takes a similar approach. When customers ask questions about specific products online, often the product designer will respond directly to the question. The brand also takes user-generated content to the drawing board. If customers take pictures of themselves wearing products in a certain way, the design team creates new items of apparel to better align the retailer with its audience and its ever-changing fashion choices.

· Leading manufacturer QVC noticed through customer-generated content that a top selling product, an ice cream maker, was getting a 1.3 rating. Some 10,500 of the products were sold but because it was inexpensive, return rates were very low. Social data revealed that customers were actually throwing the product away. Therefore, QVC decided to stop selling the popular product, putting the customer at the heart of the manufacturing process.

by Richard Anderson, VP of client services in EMEA at Bazaarvoice

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