Online customer experience ratings and critiques will become common across B2B industries, as they already are for consumer companies. It's time to prepare.
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If your business is on social rating site Yelp, you either love it or hate it. You may love it because it's candid, raw, real time, with a multitude of opinions on individual experiences. You may hate it because you've delivered less-than-exceptional service over the years and didn't really care what individuals thought or said, as it didn't dramatically impact your reputation--until the distribution of those opinions was magnified by Internet economies of scale.
Yelp brings critical mass to opinions, perspectives, and experiences with a direct and very relevant economic value-add (EVA) to the recipient. The EVA for the consumer is manifested in the reduced risk of making bad buying decisions. If the organization chooses to make customer experience more of a cultural and strategic priority, it will benefit financially from the online repute. Conversely, if the organization chooses to ignore the customer experience, it is a move toward its peril, particularly since the search engines value Yelp comments and the keywords will make those comments high ranking for relevance when anyone searches for your brand, or for keywords highly associated with your brand.
So if you are not in a consumer-centric world, why would you care about a consumer experience rating site such as Yelp? I would submit a) we're all in consumer-centric industries, as relationships are between individuals and not logos, and b) forget the tool for a second; the experience rating is headed for the corporate world. Today, business professionals in a variety of industries, such as healthcare providers, law firms, and architects, are being rated and discussed online by the businesses consuming their products or services. And those discussions are influencing engagement and buying decisions by other prospective clients for increasing amounts of both short-term transaction dollars and long-tail reputation capital.
In my most recent book, Return on Impact--Leadership Strategies for the Age of Connected Relationships(ASAE, 2012), I've identified 10 unique psychographics--in essence digital buying habits. Think of these as unique buying patterns individuals go through when making buying decisions online. For example, what they read, what they consider of value, what influences their thinking and call to action. Past buyers of your products and services have a very distinct motivation, use distinct taxonomies, and prescribe to a different buying process than other types of buyers, such as FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) buyers or educated buyers. For example:
-- Price/Discount/Value Buyer seeks to maximize value for the investment of time, effort, and resources; is motivated by perceptions of bargains and uses discount, free, low-, and no-cost taxonomy; uses a general buying process of online value search followed by evaluations from multiple sites offering similar value; uncovers most favorable bargains in comparative sites.
-- Expert/Educated Buyer seeks to be informed and make a deliberate next step in a logical process; is motivated by facts and value; uses fact-finding taxonomy; uses a general buying process of online product search followed by a "pain search" (where specific search language is used to address a challenge) in blogs and forums; uncovers most credible information from forum readership.
Only when you understand the online behaviors of your target audiences can you align that which they need (versus want) with the value that you bring to improve their conditions. Beyond the value that you can add, it is critical that you change the lens to focus on the value that is being perceived, received, applied, and impacted. How are they better off because of your products or services? That outcome is the only thing that matters, and unfortunately, organizations that lose sight of that critical point get berated on experience-rating sites such as Yelp.
So what's the answer? How can B2B organizations begin to think and lead differently when it comes to the experiences they create in the hearts and minds of their constituents? Here are three not-so-simple ideas (if they were simple, you'd be doing them already):
1. Put customers at the center of all that you are. I'm not talking about "customer service." I'm talking about transforming the culture to really think about the products, the services, and the overall experience. Experiences begin with the very first time a prospective audience is exposed to your brand, proactively (such as visiting your website) or reactively (such as being recommended or referred by someone else).
2. Attract, develop, and retain a customer-centric culture. I define culture as vision delivered. Is the vision succinct enough for the talent you attract to clearly understand and act upon? Do you have appropriate training and development processes and tools in place to consistently drive the delivery of that vision? Are the right metrics and incentives in place for the culture to continuously get better? Are they empowered to fix short-term problems for the sake of long-term benefits?
3. Make the comments matter. Customer comments on rating sites such as Yelp are actually a blessing in disguise. You want them to comment because if they go away and don't say something--good, bad, or ugly--that's when you should worry. If you think of the input as a gift, be savvy enough to develop a loopback mechanism for the comments to actually matter. If they complained about their experience, follow through (a process versus follow up, a transaction) to better understand which aspect of the process failed to impress. Then do something about it and go back to them with an update and ask for another opportunity to re-earn their confidence.
Customer-centricity must become the dye in the fabric of your organization, not just a patch, a slogan, or a mantra as wall art in your office. In my experience, it will take more than an executive's sheer will to transform the organization. It takes the courage to fail and learn from those failures. Keep in mind, every interaction is an opportunity to elevate your brand equity or dilute it. Which path will you choose?
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