Meeting the expectations of a new breed of online customer

Growing use of Web 2 tools and technologies such as social networking sites and social applications among connected consumers is changing the expectations that many customers have of the companies they interact with.

“A new breed of customer – called Customer 2.0 by some – has come to the fore as a result of growing use of Web 2 and social networking applications,” says Kevin Meltzer, Business Development Director at Consology.

This customer is usually tech-savvy, often well informed, and has high expectations of the service received from companies that he or she interacts with.

“Over the past few years, we’ve seen the way connected customers gather and share information change dramatically. Online banking and electronic commerce are old news to many of these consumers, who already depend on the Internet for many of their day-to-day interactions with suppliers and service providers,” says Meltzer.

When they have a compliment or compliant about a company they do business with, their first instinct will be to head to Twitter, Facebook or an online forum to make their voices heard.

Although some companies have started to experiment with interacting with their customers using these social networking tools and channels, few of them are really making the most of the new opportunities for customer service.

“South African consumers can interact with some banks, insurers, and other companies using channels such as Twitter, Facebook, and HelloPeter, but many other organisations see these options as a threat to their control of the customer service experience,” says Meltzer.

“In reality, businesses should see these sorts of sites as an opportunity rather than a threat. Consumers that want to interact with businesses online are really engaged with them, and could often turn out to be their best customers and advocates.”

Meltzer says that social networking sites and tools are useful channels for companies to gather service feedback more efficiently and reduce the costs of interacting with customers. However it is important that these channels should not become a substitute for building robust customer service features into their own online environments.

“Social networking sites provide an ideal opportunity for businesses to start migrating to more advanced Self-Service models,” says Meltzer. “Self-Service is a natural extension from using the Web as a platform to communicate with the public and evolve the way that consumers are starting to use the web to express themselves and their products choices.”

“Self-Service also allows businesses to achieve cost-savings across printing and mailing, administration and other operating areas,” says Meltzer. “It also streamlines service requests, account management and other common transactions and interactions.”

But Self-Service isn’t just about efficiency and cost-savings. It also allows companies to enter into a dialogue with customers through a transparent and easy to use interface. As such, it’s an ideal way for organisations to meet demands from Customer 2.0 for instant service, convenience 24 hours a day, and a transparent mechanism for giving customer feedback.

“Delivering Self-Service and social applications has become essential in industries such as telecommunications and financial services, where the potential for customer churn is constant and where customers expect instant gratification of their needs,” concludes Meltzer.

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Meeting the expectations of a new breed of online customer