What drives customer perception? If the client is always right, how do companies know what is wrong?
There is nothing new in the concept that corporations want to understand and engage their customers. All successful businesses know this.
However, the way in which they do this has become a tantalizing question.
In the past companies have very much controlled the way they engaged their customers. This was usually with the aid of expensive advertisements in newspapers, radio or television about their products. Success in customer engagement was measured in simple terms, by sales numbers and return on investment figures.
Eventually, companies started to become savvier and included customer consultation in the research and development phase of product development. Some employers however still expertly navigated the gaps that these exercises presented between the experts involved and business demands versus consumer suggestions.
Other companies started using online forums to engage with their customers. However, this often proved limited as customers did not wish to open up in a virtual public environment.
As the importance of consumer engagement grew, the business employed marketing teams, whether internal or external, to analyze consumer interest, for example by holding product research groups.
That was all before the World Wide Web.
The Internet has significantly changed the way that we measure and manage customer engagement. While companies have always known that the key is to listen, today companies know that it is important to look very carefully. Consumers, thanks to Google are a lot more informed, and their voices carry a lot further thanks to social media. Companies will ignore this at their peril.
Today’s consumers are not only a lot savvier, but they also have extremely high expectations. They want to know where products are made, ethical standards and safety measures involved. Also, the phenomenon of the “consumer experience” has emerged. This includes the development of “touchpoints” were consumers and companies interact. Companies have lost control of the conversation over their brand because of the new online power of the consumer who can google and get involved, which means that there no longer any place for companies to hide their secrets.
The points at which companies engaged are now called touchpoints and corporations endeavour to carefully managed and massage these in order to maximize the experience and image their image. From employer branding to celebrity brand endorsement, brand loyalty is crucial. It is not just about the end product but the experience at those very important touchpoints and how we talk about them.
The digital duopoly
Businesses have of course attempted to respond to this “intrusion” with their own insidious means. Facebook and Google are now described as a digital duopoly. They have increased their profits astronomically this year by collecting information on their users that enables companies to refine and target their advertising as never before.
Predicting future consumer behavior
Once again technology has taken a role here with the development of algorithms that supposedly will predict our buying tendencies in the future.
There’s still a place for old-fashioned word of mouth
If the whole concept of “big brother” technologies is a bit too much to think about, keep in mind that despite all the advances in the brave new world of online sharing, the most powerful consumer means of endorsement still comes down to old-fashioned, word-of-mouth.