The Connected Consumer: Strategies for Mobile & Social Challenges

Mobile technology and social media — once hailed as the future of retail — have arrived.Guest blogger Dr. Gary Edwards, Chief Customer Officer of Empathica discusses how it’s critical for companies to understand how customers use mobile and social channels to interact with their brand, and then devise strategies capable of facilitating meaningful dialogues and better customer experiences.

Dr. Gary Edwards, Chief Customer Officer, Empathica

Dr. Gary Edwards, Chief Customer Officer, Empathica
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It’s no secret that customer experiences are the lifeblood of any successful brand. Savvy brands aggressively pursue meaningful customer connections in an ongoing quest to transform one-time purchasers into loyal brand advocates.

But delivering differentiated customer experiences that really stand out, especially for brands that are struggling to keep up with an increasingly competitive marketplace dominated by “constantly connected” consumers.

For better or worse, technology has given consumers the power to forge instant connections with brands and other consumers. And that makes the ability to effectively navigate mobile and social channels a core competency for today’s brands.

The Connected Consumer

The consumer love affair with communicating on the go has evolved to the point that four out of five American consumers now own a mobile device. Today’s consumers demonstrate a preference for smartphones and apps that allow them to engage in even more powerful anytime, anywhere connections.

Based on current growth rates, it is anticipated that by 2014, consumers will download 6.67 billion apps per year – creating both opportunities and challenges for mobile retailers.

At the same time, consumers are trafficking social media sites in record numbers. Currently, four of the ten most heavily trafficked websites are social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Blogger).

Mobile and social technologies converge at the retail level, where the combination of mobile functionality and social media presence is driving the creation of consumer-created messaging. The question isn’t whether or not consumers will share their experiences with brands, but how brands will respond to consumer-generated content and devise strategies that allow them to contribute to the conversation.

Challenges for Brands

The consumer use of mobile and social technologies is presenting several unique challenges. Growth-conscious brands need to not only incorporate mobile and social strategies into the creation of exceptional customer experiences, but also equip themselves with the tools they need to participate in meaningful digital dialogues.

In the past, a customer who had a negative in-store experience might lodge a complaint with the brand’s customer service department. But armed with sophisticated mobile technology and multiple social media accounts, that same consumer might now “tweet” or comment on Facebook about their experience to a vast network of followers, generating instant and potentially damaging negative buzz about the brand.

Even more disconcerting is the fact that today’s consumers routinely perform instant price comparisons during in-store shopping excursions. And if they find a better price online, social media savvy consumers will instantly share their findings with their entire social network, bypassing face-to-face conversations with in-store personnel.

The key for retailers is to deliver a differentiated experience in-store and make sure this is executed consistently across their locations. Customers can be fickle; when they have a poor experience at one location it will taint their perception of the brand as it develops over time. The immediacy of social media mobile applications means that brands need to be extra vigilant about ensuring both the quality and consistency of the customer experience they deliver. The implications of disappointing even a single customer can be lightning quick, and potentially very damaging to the brand.

Social Advocacy

One of the ways brands can play a more proactive role in digital dialogues is through social advocacy initiatives. Social advocacy involves the transformation of customers into brand advocates via social media. By targeting the proliferation of positive brand comments, brands gain the ability to drive recommendations and generate positive buzz about products, services or overall buying experiences.

Several recent reports reinforce the impact social advocacy has on consumer purchasing decisions:

  • According to an Econsultancy report, 90% of consumers trust recommendations from people they know.
  • A study conducted by social networking site myYearbook revealed that 81% of respondents have received advice on a product purchase from friends or followers on a social networking site; 74% indicated the advice was influential.
  • EMarketer data supports the trend, showing that consumer reviews are almost 12 times more trusted than brand-generated messaging.

In order to ramp up their social advocacy efforts, many brands are turning to social advocacy engines like Empathica’s GoRecommend. Following the completion of a retail customer experience survey, the GoRecommend engine prompts those customers who were happy with their experience to make an online recommendation via Facebook, Twitter or email. This allows satisfied customers to share the brand’s campaigns, coupons and promotions with their friends, and can potentially drive traffic to the brand’s locations, website or product-specific content.

We live in a social era where it’s essential that brands understand the role social media plays in influencing people’s purchasing decisions. It’s about empowering brand advocates to share their positive recommendations in a viral manner via the social graph. This concept can be extremely important in driving advocacy and positive, authentic online word of mouth for a brand.

Other Social Strategies

Brands have a tremendous opportunity to leverage mobile technology and their social media presence to create deeper and higher quality customer experiences. But to do so, they must be willing to explore new ways of connecting with customers in the mobile and social space.

For example, retailers like IKEA deploy visualization-based apps that allow mobile users to insert images of their products into photos of the user’s living space. Customers can then share these images with their social networks to solicit opinions before finalizing the purchase.

Other brands are distributing discounts and coupons, offering free games and interactive polls on Facebook or Twitter to incentivize consumers to follow the brand online and generate positive comments about the brand on social media sites.

Responses to the challenge of the constantly connected consumer are diverse – a strategy that works for one brand may not be appropriate for another. However, it’s critical for companies to understand how customers use mobile and social channels to interact with their brand, and then devise strategies capable of facilitating meaningful dialogues and better customer experiences.

Gary Edwards, PhD, is Chief Customer Officer at Empathica, a Customer Experience Management provider. In his role, Gary is responsible for oversight of client management, marketing science and retail insights, and involved in solving business challenges with research and technology solutions. Join Empathica’s conversation on Twitter.