In 2019, Expect More FoFO Folly From Brands

If brand marketers knew that companies lost $75 billion in 2017 because of poor customer service (according to a New Voice Media study) I can only pray that they would take the appropriate actions to at least stop the hemorrhaging.

Unfortunately, in 2019, I think we’ll get more FoFO. The acronym is usually applied to  people experiencing symptoms who will not see a doctor to discuss them because they have FoFO--a fear of finding out what’s wrong with them.

In my experience, both personal and professional, brand marketers suffer extensively and needlessly from FoFO.

Three decades ago, customer service was strictly a cost center for businesses, and lowering costs meant pushing call centers to low-wage, overseas markets. Such moves were shortsighted because call centers are among the tools brands can use to strengthen customer loyalty, turn every customer interaction into a growth opportunity, or lose a customer forever.



A singular brand-owned online forum would be one place to start honest dialogues with customers, because social media, as it turns out, is not the powerful tool that serves as a direct, immediate communication channel between businesses and their customers. Instead, social media channels are noisy, nasty places with poor analytics, and they tend to cause more FoFO. Check out the comments on Verizon’s Facebook page to get a taste of unassuaged customer rage.

The following list contains my predictions about what we can expect in terms of brand interactions with customers in 2019, and it ain’t pretty:

1. Brands remain averse to customer feedback. Cable companies, mobile service providers, and airlines are notorious for the frustration they cause customers, which gets compounded when customers call for help.  

No amount of bad press or social-media abuse has made brands in these sectors improve, leading consumers to believe their voices don’t matter. 

2. Consumer trust will continue to fall. See prediction one. If you look at 2017, 14% of people didn’t believe a brand was actually going to take note of any review they left online.

In 2018, that’s up to 45%. Brands aren’t doing anything to overcome or change that increase.

Brands need to start taking notice and demonstrate to their customers that they are, at the very least, listening. So many companies are so focused on marketing and customer acquisition that they ignore the loyal customers they already have.

Customers are so used to being disappointed by brand interactions that a brand can really distinguish itself by pleasantly surprising them with a prompt redress of their grievances.

3. Brand reputation managers will become more critical in management teams. Why? Because brands ignore or outright dismiss customer criticism.  The focus in 2019 will continue to be on crisis management vs. proactive solutions from brand marketers.

4. A few brands will innovate from customer feedback.Too many companies have FoFO because they see it as a risk instead of an opportunity. A few brave brands will stand out in 2019 by using criticism from their customers to improve their products and services. This will not be the norm, but rather a differentiation.

5. Increased use of AI. We’ve all been in situations where we know we’re not talking to a real person. How can AI help brands without harming the customer relationship?

Brands set themselves up for failure when they depend too much on bots, but they can invest in the ones that find legitimate comments and complaints and automatically feed them into a proper forum for meaningful dialogue. A lot of these platforms can analyze comments and provide metrics on where exactly the problems are so brands can address them.

Relying on AI for direct customer service interactions, however, is a fine line to walk. AI must be used very carefully and strategically. Consumers have never felt more disconnected from brands, and AI alone will not bridge that distance very effectively.

As you can see, I don’t have high hopes for brands to get their acts together and empathize more with their customers, but we can still dream of a FoFO-free marketplace.

See you in 2019.

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