The old adage — “the customer is king” — came from a time when companies aimed to provide great customer service for their clientele. Great service was literally about serving customers. In other words, service was something done to a customer.
One of the consequences of the World Wide Web is that customer service has been commoditised. For example, Amazon provides outstanding customer service, whereby packages can be tracked, speed of delivery can be chosen, and it is all completely automated. Companies used to try and differentiate themselves by the quality of their customer service, but in this environment that becomes almost impossible.
Customers are no longer attracted to, or retained by, companies, due to the service they deliver. Rather, in order to become “sticky” or attractive to customers, companies now have to concentrate on the experience they provide. While a service is done to a customer, an experience is done with a customer. So, while Amazon delivers great service, it also provides an experience by allowing customers to write and, therefore, share reviews and opinions about particular books. For Amazon, the customer is no longer “king” but a partner helping them deliver great experiences for others.
The web is teaching us to no longer be passive receivers of goods and information, but rather, to be active participants. Websites require us to click, state a preference or provide a comment. This is seeping into all aspects of our lives.
For example, the biggest shows on TV today are reality programmes like The X Factor, Britain’s or America’s Got Talent and I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, etc. What these shows have in common is that they are no longer just passive viewing. It is the audience who decides the outcome. In other words, they are no longer simply entertainment shows for us to watch but, rather, vehicles in which the viewer becomes involved.
Herein is the point. Consumers today are empowered. They have a plethora of ways to talk directly to companies. Moreover, through social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Linkedin, or forums and blogs, and sites such as Trip Advisor, consumers can now influence the purchasing decisions of people whom they have never even met.
What used to be most important for companies was the image they conveyed. Millions of pounds would be spent by big firms, whose agencies would try and create irresistible messages. Consumers had little right of reply. Now, through the web, customers have an outlet and are literally producing millions of messages about companies every day. It is now less important what a company says about themselves and far more relevant what others say about them. Brand has gone from “image created” to “reputation earned”.
Brands were created in creative agencies, but reputations are earned through delivering great experiences. Today, even delivering a good service can still leave a customer cold. However, providing an experience, whereby a customer is involved, is always emotional because a customer is giving something of themselves. This involvement makes it more likely that a customer will talk about you and spread the word. This will not only enhance your company’s reputation, but will help to deliver referrals into your business by creating positive word of mouth in the marketplace.