The digital age has changed customer DNA forever. They have no patience with 9 to 5 and they're shredding the concept of after-hours and weekends. They have a voice, and that voice demands to be heard whenever, wherever.
Working hours, what's that?
Banks—previously such strict observers of "working hours" all over the globe—have risen to the challenge by embracing technology. Net banking and ATMs have virtually done away with the need to visit those hallowed brick-and-mortar portals. Mobile payments are being made directly from person to person, minimizing the need for even small amounts of cash. While this is great news for all of us as individuals, the risk for the bank is that it becomes a marginal player in the life of the valued customer.
This is the case with several consumer-facing industries, such as apparel, books, groceries, appliances, furniture and such—all of which can be ordered online and delivered while you are away at work. No interface or face-to-face conversation with the company required. Especially when you're working from home, you meet the shipping company rep rather than someone from the company you ordered the goods from. This is perfectly okay for the average buyer, except when something goes wrong!
Say you ordered blue curtains, but what you saw is not what you got. Colors on the digital screen often look different than when seen off-screen. Simply returning what's arrived is not the solution. Speaking to someone and explaining what you had in mind so you get the right product is. This means that online dealers need to have someone customers can have a live discussion with. Beyond a live agent, online dealers more than ever are finding customers who expect to engage in live conversations any time of the day. Research by Social Bakers, an agency that measures how well brands perform in terms of social customer care, found that the number of questions asked on brand pages on Facebook has increased by 85 percent over the last year, and that airlines had the best response rate of answering 79 percent of these promptly. "Working hours" is not a phrase that works anymore.
Engage, not enrage
Companies selling anything at all cannot afford to be out of touch with their customers. So while digitization may keep the consumer from physically visiting you, it has also forged a path for newer ways in which to meet up through social media. Businesses are following their clients where they go, meeting them where they hang out, not in their offices but online.
Have you noticed that the online store you bought something from recently keeps popping up not only when you google something but also on all kinds of websites that you visit? That's because The Web knows and tracks your online preferences. Personally, I find pop-ups asking to indulge in a live chat very intrusive—it's like a store attendant following you everywhere and asking, "Can I help you?" While it's good to know there's someone who can answer your queries, nobody likes to be stalked.
Smart businesses know how to keep track of the customer without being obviously there.
Keeping them engaged is in fact a bigger challenge than ever before since your customer can close that communication window with just a click.
Fly with the experts
Let us take an example of an airline that's effectively engaging with customers. Lufthansa has its fingers on the pulse of the customer, and potential ones, through an enviable Facebook presence. Contests, events, quizzes all have earned the airline something every self-respecting Facebooker looks for—likes! Over 300,000 likes (on the India page alone), and if even a small percentage decides to fly with it because of the online excitement generated, that's a big win.
Understandably, retailers and consumer-facing companies have a big Facebook presence. Coca-cola, Starbucks, McDonald's, Walmart, Levi's, Target, Nike, Kohl's are among those that have the highest number of likes. Twitter accounts of many of these companies also have a very, very large number of followers. Clearly, they have managed to reach out effectively to their potential customers using social media.
What to outsource
These are still early days for outsourcing social media marketing and engagement, but it makes sense to outsource at least some of your efforts to begin with. Look holistically at your social media marketing plans and start by assessing what skills you have in-house and skills you are lacking. You may decide to start with getting the design and development built by an outsourcer to get your framework up front.
Other areas to consider include:
- Savvy social media writers may be a skill your current writing team lacks, so content writing could be a place with clear payback. If you're content doesn't attract and maintain customers, you could be doing more harm than good to your brand.
- Analytics can easily be done by a third-party and is probably the least vulnerable to subjectivity. That will save precious resources that you can deploy towards strategizing and hiring in-house of local experts to manage the customer community.
- Customer experience management or customer care is another area to consider, especially if your customers are global and resident in different time zones. Be cautious to consider outsourcers who understand your business and your customer engagement model. Since the outsourcer will be "you" during customer interactions, you need to feel confident they can successfully represent your brand.
Needless to say, do monitor what's going on closely enough so you can step in when necessary. The important thing now is to be open for business all the time. Not just 24/7 but 24/7/365 and even up to 366 in a leap year! Business process outsourcing companies are gearing up to meet the demand when it arises. That will finally help harried executives to get their well-earned weekend off to do their own personal networking, online or otherwise.
Has your organization outsourced marketing and customer engagement yet?