Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Social Consumer Study: What It Means to Customer Service Professionals

“The pen is mightier than the sword,” wrote Edward George Bulwer-Lytton in 1839. Little did he know what was to come with the advent of social media. Around the globe, customers – friend and foe alike – share their experiences using indelible digital characters all across the social channel. We are experiencing a customer-driven revolution where companies are no longer defined only by what they say about themselves. Rather, customer experiences are a major force defining the strongest brands, and the Achilles heel of firms that fail to deliver on customer expectations.

The Social Consumer Study: What It Means to Customer Service Professionals
In the summer of 2014, Don Bulmer and I conducted an extensive survey to better understand the make-up and impact of the social customer. As part of our role as research fellows with The Society for New Communications Research (SNCR), we investigated the factors that inform, impact and shape trust, loyalty and preferences among digitally connected consumers. We tested the belief that tapping into the emotions about and awareness of a brand’s values (human/social) are likely to inspire positive action and loyalty from consumers. The findings from The Social Consumer study reflect a number of surprising insights, informed by 927 survey respondents mostly from the U.S. with about 10 percent from rest-of-world, with great distribution and balance across age and gender.

This ground-breaking study covered a number of important topics, such as: what defines trust in the eyes of a consumer; the characteristics of the relationship factors between a consumer and a brand; whether corporate social responsibility (CSR) influences consumer behavior; how strongly do perceptions of a brand’s “making a positive difference” shape consumer preferences to purchase or affiliate with the brand; the rewards (e.g. product offers, discounts, CSR) that consumers favor most from brands; and the impact of rewards on a consumer’s digital behavior. The full paper can be found here.
This week I presented the findings at the Society of Customer Care Professionals Annual Meeting (SOCAP).  This gathering of customer centric leaders spent three days talking about how to improve the customer experience journey.  It was a wonderful conference full of ideas and best practices – and social played a strong role in many of the conversations and sessions.  Here are just a few of the findings which customer service professionals found particularly intriguing:
The research confirms that a positive customer experience is the single most important factor in creating and sustaining customer loyalty among the respondents.
Slide1 social consumer survey

Once someone becomes a customer, positive customer experience is the leading indicator of whether the customer will become loyal to the company or brand– by a very wide margin. A positive customer experience is even more important than price in retaining the hearts and wallets of customers. This is especially important for companies to understand and support (as the chart above indicates) because how a customer is treated in the store, on the phone and online is more meaningful than the product offering or the overall reputation of the company. It is especially interesting to note the contrast between the impact of rewards programs and strong customer care experiences.

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