b3177128“Before social media, we shouted at our TV sets,” says social strategist and author Shel Israel. Now, we have a voice to tell companies what we think online. In our recent webinar, Shel explained how companies can listen to and act on this customer feedback to build a better business — for the company and the customer alike.

By spearheading your company’s push toward customer centricity, Shel says, you’ll become an internal hero. Here are five takeaways from the webinar.

Customer centricity is an organizational shift

Don’t focus your efforts on specific departments or tools — customer centricity means building your entire business around the customer. Stop asking, “How do I connect with my customers on Facebook?” and instead look at your entire customer environment holistically, says Shel. Every place where your business and customers meet is an opportunity to learn from them: on your site, on social networks, in your stores, on the phone — everywhere. Your end-goal is not to set up a Twitter account or install customer reviews. Your goal is to gather as much actionable intelligence on your customers as you can, everywhere.

Shel pointed to an example from our client L.L.Bean to illustrate the interplay between customer intelligence and customer centricity. The retailer noticed through negative reviews that customers were complaining of a cashmere layering sweater’s itchiness. The sweater is intended to be worn over other clothing, but this wasn’t clear in the product description. The retailer updated the copy and photo, and the negative reviews stopped. This easy fix saved future customers potential dissatisfaction.

Action is the difference

“You don’t need expensive focus groups,” says Shel. Your entire customer base is your focus group, so get to know them — chances are, your next customers’ wants and needs are going to look a lot like your current customers’ wants and needs. “Getting the intelligence is not the key. It’s gathering it and figuring out what to do with it,” he says. “Rather than try to manipulate your customers, work with them. They’ll help you build better products and services.” Author Clay Shirky echoed this idea at Social Commerce Summit 2011, where he urged companies to use customer feedback as free R&D.

Insights can improve other areas of your business as well, like customer service or marketing. Teams at Pace, Shel describes, noticed through social media that seeing the picante sauce bottle in ads didn’t appeal to viewers. So they acted — they no longer include the bottle in their ads, and featured the sauce in bowls instead. After a short sales spike, they’ve maintained higher sales since acting on this insight.

Structure your organization to analyze and act

“All this listening, all this data gathering, everything that we’re now doing doesn’t matter if you don’t have it in your process to adjust course rapidly,” says Shel. He noted Gladwell’s Blink, and the idea that people make decisions in an instant. With social media, we can also share in an instant, influence in an instant — and the people we influence can share in an instant, too.

For businesses, this means you have to act fast. “If you are used to having market research tell you how your product is doing six months or a year down the line, you’re making a mistake. Bake into your corporate process the ability to listen, respond, and change your direction at a far faster pace.” Our client Dell’s Social Media Listening Command Center is a great example of a company listening and acting quickly, he noted.

Kraft, as another example, noticed through social media that some customers cut themselves on the tamper-proof foil seals on their salad dressings. There were only a few instances, but people were sharing the story in public. Kraft quickly switched to a softer foil, and replaced all dressing bottles in retail locations. “In a very short period of time, Kraft averted real disaster by listening and responding to customer complaints,” Shel says. “They didn’t just listen; they acted. They didn’t just act; they did it rapidly before the company brand could be tainted in any way, shape, or form.”

“If you become the champion of your company becoming a customer-centric company, you’ll become a hero,” Shel says. “You’ll be the one delivering really important news early and fast, so that something can be done about a problem, or an advantage can be taken you otherwise might not have even known you had.”

She Israel on Customer Intelligence

Be  sure to check out the full webinar, featuring Shel Israel: How customer insights drive your business.

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