At the heart of a successful business is its relationship with its customers. The key is to build a transparent, open and interactive rapport with your target consumer groups in order to establish lasting relationships.

While the digitization of marketing has opened several real-time communication platforms, it has also paved way for unique challenges. For one, there is way too much noise on the web – information overload and clutter is rampant. Secondly, brands are diluting their attention across various platforms and channels so as to not miss out on any relevant consumer communication. Thirdly and most importantly, customer-to-brand interactions are no longer only two dimensional, which has transformed customer relations in the social and digital media era in the following ways:

#1 It’s a Customer’s omni-channel world!
Customers have a multitude of platforms presented to them for interaction. Naturally, they will select and conduct their conversations on those channels that appeal to them. What this means is that businesses no longer have complete control over what channels of communication are to be used; the ball is in the court of the customers. If your consumers are active on social media sites, it is prudent that your brand interacts with them via these sites, in addition to other forms of digital communication.

#2 Customers are well-informed
The digitization has brought along boons not only for companies but for consumers as well. Your audience has multiple channels for gaining information and knowledge. Better informed and educated consumers make smarter decisions and do not hesitate in comparing their favourite brands with those that appear to present a better offer. Companies no longer hold the monopoly on product knowledge. And your salesmen are not the only one feeding to your customers.

#3 Choices for customers are aplenty…
Failure to engage with your customers can lead them to switch over to competitors. Since there is no dearth of alternatives on social and digital media, your brand would be at a greater risk if it fails to deliver on customer expectations and sometimes, exceed them. Moreover, customers today are more likely to benchmark performance across industries. This means that you are no longer competing only within your domain; your audience is comparing your brand’s value proposition and customer service of firms from other industries.

#4 Which makes them less brand loyal
With the vast amount of information available via online channels and the varied options in terms of product and service providers, consumers take the liberty of switching their patronization from one brand to another. Consumers are also becoming less tolerant and forgiving of brands that do not meet expected standards of service.

#5 Customer service is no longer private
Customers not just pore over their service related queries on a 24/7 hotline, they take to the numerous social media platforms – their profile pages as well as your brand’s – to discuss any issues, problems, suggestions or recommendations. An open channel of communication is a double edged sword – it brings with it transparency and creates an aura of honest communication; it also makes way for unhappy or disgruntled stories to be shared in public, which can have a profound negative impact on the brand’s goodwill, if not dealt with in the right way.

#6 Consumers are your brand ambassadors
Your consumers have the power to make or break your brand. No longer are service failure incidents quarantined off to a small location, and dealt with in secrecy. The power of social media has empowered consumers who feel that they have been wronged to voice their opinions on any platform that gives them the leverage of being heard. Response snowballing on social media is a frequent occurrence that takes place against brands that do not meet customer service standards. On the other side of the coin, positive word-of-mouth travels just as fast, thanks to the real-time conversations that social media has blessed the online audience with.

To be a digital success, you need to click with your customers. Take the time to understand the individual consumer, establish meaningful interactions, foster transparent communications and build an interactive community that has its roots in creative engagements and experiences. Be engaging, compelling, consistent, honest and relevant to your audience. They will reward you with referrals, repeat visits and positive word-of-mouth.

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