Eighty-three percent of U.S. consumers say having a positive customer experience with a brand is more important than the product itself, according to an online Harris poll conducted for Lithium Technologies the week after Christmas.
That kind of experience is increasingly happening in digital spaces, where conversations are hardly discreet. Twenty-nine percent of the more than 2,000 respondents say they prefer to engage with a brand on its Web site, blog or social channels, compared to 17% who prefer in-store engagement and 16% who lean toward email.
“Almost two-thirds of them said, ‘I will stop using a brand if I'm treated badly even one time,’” says Lithium CMO Katy Keim. And, as you know if you’ve ever been on the other side of a negative tweetstorm, customers tend to be unforgiving and vocal about a negative experience. “Seventy-one percent of these people will not come back. They're going to vent to their family and friends. So, they're going to have a negative influence on others that are considering the purchase.”
What’s more, this trend has yet to crest. Lithium cites a recent IDG FutureScapeprediction that by 2018, 50% of customer support interactions will be digitized and will occur in online communities. That means rapid, relevant response is critical, since our lives increasingly revolve around texting on devices rather than trekking to the mall, composing emails or — remember this? — complaining on a support line.
“I read recently that the average adult checks their phone 46 times a day. Millennials check their phones 147 times a day. Now, that's every six minutes. So, we are getting acclimated to having instantaneous engagement in our pocket,” says Keim. “We're getting increasingly impatient; we want it fast and we want to be responded to.”
When expectations aren’t met in this real-time economy, consumers don't just move along to the next brand or service. The experience of “being ignored, taking too long to respond or not understanding who I am” can quickly turn a prospect into an ill-will ambassador influencing family, friends and unknown followers.
The more private email channel, which just a few years ago was the epitome of efficiency, now carries a reputation for having too long a lag time and for getting “ping-ponged around the organization,” Keim says. “It's not a resolution channel.”
As a result, some of the larger brands have been thinking about turning off some of their email channels, with the goal of driving consumers to social media and messaging apps that have been more effective, Keim says.
That’s not to say that email doesn’t has its place -- as do phones. “I wouldn't say the phone is dead. But what I will say is that consumers are finding it more and more appropriate and possible to answer a greater majority of their issues and questions on digital channels,” Keim says. “There will still be a role for the phone, but I think it will be greatly diminished in the next five years."
During that time, brands should be looking to be “moving from the why social to the how social,” she says.
“How are the processes? How does it measure? How is it staffed? How is it articulated in the organization?” she suggests as starting points. “I think as a result, it will become part of the operation, not just a social media team that sits out on the sidelines.”
Lithium has good reasons to blast out these findings — you can download its whitepaper here — given that it’s in the business of selling the software that enables social engagement.
In the end, though, it comes down to execution. Lithium points to Sephora as one customer that has been successful in social driving actual revenue, not just likes and followers. People who regularly connect with Sephora on social — specifically on their online communities — spend 10 times more than their average customers, it says.
And the bottom line about social has become the bottom line.
The whitepaper claims that consumers are willing to spend one-third of their disposable income — $100 per month on average — on brands they love based on a great customer experience. That adds up to about $31 billion to divvy.
“What's the big ah-ha here?” Keim asks, anticipating the follow-up.
It's this: “It isn't just that customers want to be loved and want to be connected. There is real financial impact,” Keim says. And there will be a massive disruption for brands who don’t figure that out. Being in the dark about social will lead to “a disruption on their income statement, not just their position in the market.”