Monday, January 17, 2011

The case for ignoring your customer

I quite often hear of organisations which take the quite deliberate action of ignoring what their customers say about them online.

They reason that either:
1) They tried engaging and a group of antis came to dominate the conversation, (many brands gather themselves some long-term enemies)

2) There are only ever negative comments - and they 'already know' what customers don't like (think utilities - stuff that you take for granted until something goes wrong).

Both of the above represent a door closed on innovation.

Imagine, if you will, that all those complaining about your org or brand are in reception at HQ. In their hundreds or thousands. Would you ignore them, their feedback and their ideas?

Why then, when they have taken the time and trouble to tell you (and their peers) what they think of your products and services, would you ignore this crowd at your online door?

If thousands of newspapers and magazines had published negative comments, would you ignore them? Why ignore all those published online - collectively delivering huge reach and much greater trust.

And if a cohort of angry antis seek to dominate the conversation, think again about their concerns. Why are they so angry? How has your connection with your customer broken down so badly? Could you fix the damage of decades of mass broadcast comms with some human-scale peer to peer conversation? Could you show a brand is just a representation of the activities of people? Good interactions with people shift perceptions about brands.

It may be tempting to ignore the lone-but-noisey anti-fan - but something makes that person do what they do. No one sets up websites, twitter accounts etc and keeps building them over sustained periods without a pretty strong set of reasons. Are they reasons that matter? You'd best find out.

Further - disengaging with all your online customers as a result harms you, not them. All you leave behind is anger and a record revealing your ignorance which remains unchallenged and which stays on record for ever.

3) The third group who ignore are those who believe they know better than their customers. Some luxury brands take this view.

It comes from the belief that super premium brands are there to lead, not follow.

Those that believe this should take a look at their company history and ask themselves if they haven't at any point changed their products, servicing or marketing in response to customer usage, perception or complaint. Social media monitoring just writes that process fast and large.

In short I don't see a case for ignoring your customer. When you do so you are saying:

We know better than our customers - all of them, always.

And not even Steve Jobs would claim that.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone so I may have to tidy it up later ;-)

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  1. Social media marketers are always pointing out why to use social media for your business - increase sales, reduce customer service costs, develop brand loyalty, etc. but unfortunately these aren't always possible goals for a business, depending on who they are and what they do.
    You're right, though, that everyone can benefit from listening to what is going on online around their brand, industry, competitors, etc. It's a wealth of information that has different potential for each company and each department within that company.
    While I don't agree that the customer always knows what he/she wants (who would have thought to say that they wanted to have applications before they existed?), but they do know what they don't want, the questions they need answered, other products that they want to compare. I agree with you -- why wouldn't you listen ??

    Thanks, David for the post

    Michelle @Synthesio

  2. I'd call it (the fact brands ignore customer's criticism) the biggest mistake they could ever do.

    To ignore criticism only leads to more anger and it can escalate to unsuspected levels. As Michelle points out, listening is crucial to get valuable information to get to know your client. Use that knowledge to answer back, I'd add that nowadays brands should not only answer, but answer fast, clearly and honestly.

    Arrogance only drives disengagement.

    If you don't know, either how to listen or how to answer, wouldn't be time to give up that arrogance and get professional help? Otherwise maybe a leading brand would end up leading no one.

    Hopefully you are convincing more brands to do this David :o)

  3. Great point David.
    Customers offer their opinons for free through social media and there is no reason why a company should ignore these. Granted sometimes it's just people ranting through social channels, but other times they are providing valuable ideas for a business from a customers point of view.
    I'm not sure why, but I see this conversation coming up a lot lately and I find myself constantly reminding people that by just listening (and I really mean actually listening) to what is said in social media you can gain major insights on your brand, your products, your customers, your competitors and even your industry. There is no reason that any brand should not be listening to social media today.

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos


The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?