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Pivoting To Survive: Businesses Need To Learn To Shift Attention To Their Customers

25 October 2011 Ken Yeung No Comment

Pivot ConferenceThe world of business has drastically changed with the introduction of technology. No longer are businesses in control of their message. We all know that. Control has gone out the window. Sure, we all know that technology like social media has given a voice to the customer, but simply being on social networks like Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ isn’t enough. It’s starting to be more about just having a page and occasionally answering questions that people post on there. We know that there’s so much noise out there and lots of people are talking, both customers and brands. Now we need to evolve the way we communicate–essentially pivoting our strategy and learning that customer service isn’t just a phrase, but should be a mantra.

Is anyone paying attention?

Earlier this summer, I wrote a post about some unsatisfactory service that I received from Comcast and felt that they were not touting their customer service credentials like I thought they had bragged about. And just last week, I was in New York City attending the Pivot conference curated by Altimeter Group’s Brian Solis (@briansolis). What did I learn from both of these instances? That brands haven’t been paying attention. By pivoting, brands will move away from their traditional paradigm of doing business and instead face one of where the customers are socially connected. They have the power and while your brand may like to control the message, it no longer was yours to control. The perception and impression that people will get from your brand is generated by what others are thinking and sharing with their friends and family, not you.

What I took away from the Pivot conference was innovation. Not just how companies will need to innovate in order to be considered relevant, but rather innovative with their customer service. In a guest post on Mr. Solis’ blog, Citibank’s Senior Vice President of Social Media, Frank Eliason (@frankeliason), whom many may know better as the originator of @comcastcares, penned a few observations about social media and customer service. The long story short: it’s a failure. Wait, why would I say such a thing? Social media is meant to give rise to a conversation, right? Technically, yes…but it’s not just about having “conversations”. It’s about having relationships with your customers and generating engagement.

Don’t call social media customer service 100% flawed.

In Mr. Eliason’s guest post, he opined that there were a few observations that he noticed when it came to social media customer service. What those were exactly are the following:

  • It all starts with trust
  • Stories are the most powerful way to create & reinforce change
  • Human connections are against the grain for many businesses, but imperative for social media success
  • Many people are trying to make money off business leaders who do not understand social media (and they are being successful at it)
  • We are so stuck on measurements, yet we are measuring the wrong things

Pivot ConferenceWhat this says is that brands need to pivot their strategy so that they’re doing better research on their customers’ behavior online and how the Internet has affected their buying mannerisms. Customer service is not about simply solving a customer’s problem anymore. It’s about getting to believe that you have some people out in the world that are interested in your product and your company in one way, shape, or form. And it’s perfectly fine to have social media help you out with that. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as having your brand with several social media profiles and then reporting to your executives about some mythical Return on Investment (ROI). That’s one of the things that brands need to be better educated on. I agree that in most cases, the bottom line is the dollar figures that keeps the lights on in your office, but with social media, by continually worrying about monetization of customer engagement, you’re going to shift focus away from your altruism and instead place it on ulterior motives (e.g., “why are you asking me to ‘like’ your page?“, “you want me to follow you on Twitter so you can increase your Klout score.“). If there’s one thing that you need to worry about when it comes to customer service: it’s sincerity. Be sincere about your efforts and people will be genuinely interested in helping you out.

Meet your socially connected customer.

In this day of age, the customer has become way more technology savvy. The socially connected customer is someone that you will need to pay attention to. They no longer will be reading about your products in a Sears’ catalog or reading it off of a billboard as they drive down the highway. Rather, you will be interacting with them through the use of several mediums: their laptop, tablet, and most importantly, their phone. Ignore the financial ROI of being engaged with your customers – just be out there! As Mr. Eliason said in his guest post, the human connections are imperative for social success. Your customers are now so socially connected, the purchases that they make will most likely be done thanks to recommendations by their friends and family. Soon after, that information will be published on other social sites, along with videos and photos and other relevant content, which is then spread virally and enhanced. Making a name for yourself and interacting with customers and sharing your stories will most likely result in better sales and lots of new business.

So brands, make sure that you understand what’s in store for you if you choose to pivot. It’s definitely a culture shift in how businesses are to view their customers, but whether it’s social film, gamification, building disruptive technology, etc., the human factor is crucial for any businesses’ success. By sticking with the status quo, you resign your company’s fate to one  similarly encountered by less-than-stellar brands.

Learn to pivot, engage and win.

Ken Yeung is a interactive strategist, project manager, and tech journalist. He's currently a Strategy and Research Content Lead at Orange Silicon Valley. Previously, he was the Bay Area Reporter for The Next Web, the Editor-in-Chief of Bub.blicio.us and a correspondent for Network Solutions' small business blog. These words are his own and not of his employer.