Fully 88% of buyers suggest that social channels are strong influencers during the purchase decision process. A whopping 84% of Millennials trust their friends over advertising or sales messages. (Both stats according to a McCarthy Group report.)
Long gone are the days of disingenuous and detached Mad Men and corporate spinmeisters. The customer journey has evolved. Buying behavior has changed dramatically and irretrievably, to the point where customers exert much greater control and judgment, often informed by trusted, authentic, even anonymous sources.
New buyer behaviors demand an updated supplier response
Since 70% of the buyer’s journey occurs online before they ever talk to a sales representative or supplier, it’s important that buyers find what they are looking for, including positive feedback on your company and its offerings.
It doesn’t matter if you represent a business-to-business (B2B) enterprise, a business to consumer (B2C) company, or are business to government (B2G) focused, we are all headed toward a ‘people-to-people’ model. ‘Human-to-human’ (H2H) is what author and influencer Bryan Kramer calls it. Bottom line: people buy from people, and they place a high value on trust, authenticity, reliability, and other factors when making purchase decisions.
You and I have already adopted ‘the new way’
Think about your own digital behavior, the one you undergo when you purchase something online (or offline). Before you click the ‘purchase’ button or sign the contract, what do you do? I take a look at the reviews for the product or service to see what other users have commented about, what they like or don’t like about the core product features in comparison to their competition, ease-of-use, reliability, the company’s reputation, and their post-sale service.
Just as I rely on the brake lights of the car in front of me to signal that the driver is slowing down, I rely on feedback signals from brand sites, app stores, neutral reviewers, existing customers, and public social media regarding products or services before I buy. It’s this people-to-people reference and connection, this human feedback, that we all trust and follow.
We all look for the ‘star’ rating on sites
Businesses know we look online for their ratings and they know that we are following the advice of others when we make purchase decisions. It’s common practice for businesses to ask us to ‘like’ and rate their products on their website, on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Foursquare, OpenTable, or other social sites … and to leave a review if we are satisfied with their service. The power of people-to-people is self-fulfilling as it gains steam with every new review written and every decision influenced, and is growing at an exponential rate.
Don’t underplay the power of the people
What do you do about it as a business leader? People are going to say what they feel and sense and experience about your company or its products, so be involved and talk with them. You will get to know your customer better and ultimately, improve your product or service. If you’re not listening, you will miss great opportunities for innovation. More importantly, if the feedback is negative and you don’t do anything about it, your ratings will decline, and so will your business. Doing something about it will often lead to public kudos.
Cisco’s brand is ranked #13 most-valuable on the planet according to Interbrand (nestled between BMW and Disney at a $29 billion valuation) and we continue to monitor what is being said through social media, our websites, mobile apps, hosted online communities and discussion forums — as a way to learn from our customers what we can do to improve on even that amazing value.
Your competitors are already out there
Remember Tower Records and Borders? They were slow to adapt to digital music and online bookstores, causing their businesses to suffer. As a result they are no longer the top brands they were 10 years ago. Companies like these thought they knew best and didn’t evolve with the digital age, and didn’t listen and respond to their customers or changing market behaviors.
Your next potential customer is online shopping right now – investigating and evaluating well before their purchase decision – and they are comparing you against your competitors to determine who has the best product or service according to the reviews and social buzz. Many of them will make their decisions based on peer reviews and trusted neutral recommendations alone. Consumers are looking for social reassurance about their purchase decisions in order to reduce the risk of a bad experience – so you’d better be engaged.
Once damage is done, it’s difficult to fix
Once someone has posted an unfavorable review about your product, it is nearly impossible to rescind, and of course, the worse the feedback is, the more people will find and read it. We’ve all heard the brand meltdown stories — from the ‘United Breaks Guitars’ video with over 14M views or Amy’s Bakery FaceBook saga, both examples of what could happen and what not to do. Remember to listen to what is being said about your business and have a social media strategy in place before you need to handle any unflattering reviews.
“The Customer is King” (or “… Queen”)
Really, this is not just a marketing slogan someone dreamed up. The point is: your current customers are the ones who are in control — they will be providing feedback that prospective future customers will read and rely on — and the insight upon which those prospects will base their purchase decisions. Listen to this feedback and use it to guide improvements either in your product, your customer service, your policies and practices, your ease-of-doing-business, or some other aspect of your business.
At Cisco, we cultivate a group of Cisco Champions. These ambassadors are external experts who are passionate global champions for change. They share their perspective with the broader Cisco community of customers, partners, and prospects, and they offer their time to help others learn about and connect with Cisco in unique ways.
We also have a Cisco Customer Connection program whose members get direct access to our product development and engineering teams to influence our innovation roadmap, suggest product improvements and new features, recommend user experience improvements, and more.
These and many other activities augment our formal market research and informal market listening, sensing, and engagement activities – so that Cisco can respond with agility to emerging customer needs and shifting business trends.
Provide a feedback mechanism
If you don’t have a mechanism on your website for your customers to provide feedback, pro or con, they are still going to share it on Twitter, Facebook or somewhere else. It’s best to provide ways for customers to connect with you directly so they can channel that frustration or delight in productive ways.
We have multiple approaches … In the footer of Cisco.com we ask for and receive a wide range of feedback. We continually monitor what is being said about Cisco in the traditional media and through social media, and we have a strategy to provide appropriate actionable responses. We have social listening centers throughout the company, including one outside our CEO’s office, one in our Customer Briefing Center, one in the digital ‘nerve center’ with our core team, and multiple instances of social listening tools and reports accessible online. This allows all of us, from the general employee to our CEO, to see immediate feedback after any news release, business update, customer comment, product launch, or analyst report.
Use today’s tools to advance your brand
It’s people-to-people world out there! Ten years ago, FaceBook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn didn’t exist to connect people, give them a voice, or to empower them with a platform, a channel, and access to potentially millions of others around the world.
Today, customers are using these platforms (and more) to provide feedback that shapes your company’s reputation and brand value. Prospective customers are using these ratings and reviews to inform their purchase decisions. Start listening and engaging to help shape your company’s reputation and to position your offerings in the minds of new buyers all along their purchase decision journey.
B2B, B2C, B2G — it really doesn’t matter; it’s all P2P and H2H.