>80% of people with Internet access are social media subscribers today
Next generation communication technologies and devices have irreversibly changed the way we communicate. Gone are the days of chatting in a park or on street corners. Our new street corners are our smartphones, where we use social media portals to communicate. For several hours a day, we use social media to find friends, chat, read, look at pictures of our last holiday, or seek advice on a product we want to buy, or complain, amongst a host of other things.
Historically, the explosive growth of the Internet over the past 5 years has resulted in connecting over 3 billion people (~40% of the world’s population). Google search engine was the first beneficiary. Next came the barrage of social media. Of those with Internet access, at least 2.5 billion have active social media accounts (>80%). All this in less than a decade!
There are many metrics for gauging the success of social media:
- Facebook has gone from 0 - $80 billion market in under a decade. IBM took 40 years, HP took 60.
- For all the subscriber base they command, social media companies are under a decade old. The speed of innovation has grown many fold.
- From the retail side, many a smartphone comes bundled with Facebook and other social media portals upon purchase.
- Physical “distance” has lost its meaning with social media. Two people communicating with each other in real-time may be located in different geographies, separated by continents even, but can still communicate simply and easily without the additional cost burden. This is a big one - at the same price and speed as contacting my friend a few 100 meters away, I can contact one who is thousands of miles away.
- More than 500 social media portals have been formed in just a few years.
- POTS is an expensive way to talk to each other. Going by standard 3G data rates, an hour long voice call from anywhere to anywhere (on say, Skype to Skype), costs a fraction of a penny. Compare that to 10¢ per min (or $6 per hour) that regular TSPs charge. So it is for videos, pictures and all else. [Write to me separately, for details on this.]
To summarize, social media is all-pervasive, incredibly cheap, helps find long-lost friends, share our lives, and has successfully created stickiness. There hasn’t been an occasion before where 2.5 billion people could be connected so effectively. This is the story of the consumer world.
The burning question then is: “Where are the businesses? “
I imagine that finding such a large set of consumers at one place presents unique opportunities for spreading the business brand, building brand loyalty, and engaging to keep customers happy. Instead, business are continuing to rely on traditional and fairly ineffective ways of advertising and marketing, or using 1-800 numbers for customer care. This, then, is the subject matter of this blog.
Social media has dominated as a personal time activity. Its relevance to the enterprise isn't well understood. Companies focus on communication within the enterprise, finding ways to save on voice and video calls, IM/chat, collaboration, etc., with tools like Lync and Jabber. But these tools enhance productivity within the enterprise and the customers aren’t there – they are instead on social media for their voice and video calls, IM/ chat, collaboration, or sharing and recording opinions.
As much as a company tries to improve its advertising and customer care operations, success appears to been partial. The web is teeming with ideas to improve customer service by adding more of regular media, like web-chat, IM, email, SMS, video, etc. to the contact center universe. But the biggest set of customers vent their frustration on social media. And that’s where they want their solutions too.
What I hear most often from clients these days is: “We just want to have social media profiles like our business competitors”. It has become a social norm like having a business card. When we ask them about next, they usually say: “We can update it as and when we get the time. It’s only a post to be uploaded. That’s it. We can do it ourselves.” Social media is still treated as unimportant and that stand can only hurt a business.
Social media has gained the most from the immediacy provided by mobile devices and mobile Internet. Everybody is interacting with everybody else in a geometric progression. One look at our own Facebook posts provides an indication – how many updates do we have every minute, every hour?
The dangers of not being in touch with next-gen consumers are highly magnified today. One complaint from one FB subscriber can reach millions of other subscribers in no time, hurting the brand value of the company. No company can afford to ignore the fact that from closed rooms to glass houses of the past, the reputations of businesses are literally made “out in the open” now.
Every customer interacts with a company, leading to experiences. In order to succeed, the enterprise must ensure that these experiences are superlative, not just satisfactory. All in all, it is best to consider “social” as yet another media channel through which customers contact customer care.
So what should a company do to keep up with consumers? As shown in the figure below, I can think of many ways.
Social media is a fantastic medium for the marketing and sales of products, but one should know how to use it.
It’s not enough to have some social media tools on your mobile, iPad or laptop and just spend 10 to 15 minutes, or schedule your posts every week/day, and expect loads of high quality leads in return. For any purpose of social media accounts (either for branding, creating awareness, or generating leads), you have to talk to your audience, communicate with your prospective customers, and engage people with your product/services. If you don’t have the time or the in-house team to manage social media campaigns, then you must find someone who can do it for you with the same passion as you have for your products/services. Many freelancers and creative agencies are available and can do it for a nominal fee. It’s necessary to have consistency in your communication on the content being published on social media channels.
Enterprises who continue to ignore this call will surely lose in the short term itself. It’s time for a leap of faith, or if I may say so, “socialize or perish”.
- Feeds from social media should be available to customer service representatives in real time, to react and resolve, even preempt complaints. By itself, this is a key factor for enhancing brand loyalty like never before – more bang for a dollar, I’d say – and this is what social media holds out for businesses by listening into filtered posts on popular portals like FB and Twitter.
- Push the negative posts to their customer care, for agents to respond within minutes. This addresses a big problem of consumers – 30 minute wait times at the customer care queues, and transforming that into offline interaction with consumers.
- Innovative customer care. For example, a VoIP-based voice call and message option for consumers through WhatsApp and Viber, saves money for the consumers, and transforms them into happy customers for the company.
- The company gains too. Instead of a country-specific Contact Center, a VoIP-based Contact Center is geography-independent. Thus, a single Contact Center could serve many small countries in Europe, APAC, etc.
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