When social customers reach out, brands need to respond

Two interesting pieces of research came out this week, each focused on the change in customer behaviour online, and the ever-growing importance of social CRM and social customer experience.

The first piece from Fishburn Hedges, which we picked up via econsultancy, highlighted that more than a third of UK consumers (36%) have engaged with brands through social media, which has doubled from 19% since August 2011 and equates to 18million people.

The survey suggests that the increased interaction is driven by the widespread belief among respondents (40%) that social media improves customer service, compared to only 7% who feared it would harm service.

Furthermore, 68% of those who have engaged with brands through social media believe that it “allowed them to find their voice.”

More than two-thirds (65%) also believe that social media is a better way to communicate with companies than call centres, and interestingly, more than a quarter of the 55+ age group had dealt with a brand on social media, rising to 49% of 18-24 year olds. (A break down of age groupings can be seen in the image below.)

The second survey is from customer intelligence agency Indicia, which highlights the growing trend of what it calls BIOR or ‘brand in their own right’, which is apparently how 20% of consumers see themselves.

BIORS understand the value of using social media to communicate their preferences and data in the hope of attracting targeted offers from brands.

More men (23%) consider themselves a BIOR compared to just 16% of women, with almost a third of BIORs aged between 18 and 34. BIORS also have looser purse strings and out-perform non-BIORS in six of 11 spend brackets (e.g. £751- £1,000) particularly in the higher spend categories of over £1,000 per month.

These research pieces reflect the evolving nature of the consumer, which we have referred to on this blog previously as the social customer. (you can find out further information in our guide to social CRM here)

In brief, the social customer is dynamic, hyper-connected and can shape business and brand reputation by defining an organisation’s value, relevance and reputation. As a result, social customers have compelled organisations of all types to be more customer-centric and have transformed the way in which organisations need to communicate with and, most importantly, listen to their customers.

Put simply, the social customer now owns the relationship, and every organisation needs need to earn his/her trust.

The social customer is also a driving force in the development of the online economy, which is rapidly growing and currently contributes 8.3 per cent to the UK economy. This is more than the healthcare, construction or education sectors.

UK consumers also buy far more from online retail sources than any other major economy and this is expected to continue expanding by 11% per year for the next four years, reaching a total value of £221bn by 2016. Compare this to growth rates of 5.4% in the U.S. and 6.9% in China.

Taking these points into consideration, the question becomes: are brands ready and able to listen and engage with social customers? Those that have evolved their approach to offer an open and relevant response will gain advocates and prosper, those that have not will miss out on a growing opportunity at best, and risk damaging the brand’s reputation at worst.

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