Business leaders have a unique opportunity to connect customers to customers. However the typical reaction to this proposition is one of fear.
Business leaders fear that if you connect customers to customers they will reveal business weaknesses, complain and create negative PR.
Here is a clue, customers are already connected to customers. A businesses customer base typically represents one or more market segments of business affinities. Businesses create products and services to serve specific needs for target markets, some large and some small. Regardless of the size of market customer segmentation represents a thread of common needs that suppliers, businesses, try and fill.
A bank provides a set of financial services for personal banking needs, for business banking needs. Banks typically target geographic locations whose demographics support the establishment of a branch. The demographics represent businesses and individuals within a geographic domain. People and business within that domain interact formally and informally. Do you think the conversations ever create dialog over banking relations?
The same analogy proves true for any business the scale and scope changes with the size and reach of a business. The one thing that never changes is the fact that customers do in fact connect with other customers. Whether this be at trade shows, local meetings, online or in person, customers are people and they converse about everything and anything.
Kevin Kelly writes in his book New Rules for the New Economy “Nothing is as scary to many corporations as the idea of sponsoring dens in which customers can talk to one another. Especially if it is an effective place of communication. Like the web. “You mean,” they ask in wonder, “we should pay a million dollars to develop a web site where customers can swap rumors and make a lot of noise? Where complaints will get passed around and the flames of discontent fanned?” Yes, that’s right. Often that’s what will happen. “Why should we pay our customers to harass us,” they ask, “when they will do that on their own?” Because there is no more powerful force in the network economy than a league of connected customers. They will teach you faster than you could learn any other way. They will be your smartest customers, and, to repeat, whoever has the smartest customers wins.”
“Whatever tools you develop that will aid the creation of relationships between your customers will strengthen the relationship of your customers to you. This effort can also be thought of as Feeding the Web First.”
Businesses cannot insulate or control conversations rather they can engage and learn. Instead of trying to insulate relations and control conversations maybe businesses should connect people and encourage conversations that enhance market opportunities between customers and suppliers. Businesses can also become a conduit of knowledge by enabling the sharing of knowledge, one to one to millions. The social web actually is a model of collaborative conversations that build relationships and create opportunities. What business leader would not want to be engaged in the middle conversations that create market opportunities for them to fill?
Whether customer, employee or supplier, they are all people
Most people don’t live in isolation or do they get satisfaction out of attempts to be controlled. Most people like to be heard and seen as a positive influence in business relations and opportunities. Does a business tell its employees “Today we want you to create negative conversations and turn down any opportunity to serve our customers better”. Not likely however the practices of management are creating the same results but no one wants to hear the real conversations or understand the true state of their relationships with employees, customers and suppliers.
You disagree? Then please point us to a swarm of businesses embracing the social web and doing so with the right intent. We can’t seem to find the “swarms of businesses” rather a few seem to be trying to mimic the actions of people for whatever business intent. The cross road of success for businesses is to be able to think and relate like people rather than trying to make people think and relate like business.
What say you?