“Why don’t the old ways work with customers anymore?” … I hear this question frequently when I’m speaking at a business event or starting a new customer service consulting engagement.
First off: in certain, important ways, the old ways do still work. Let me explain. What makes you great at social media and online customer service are very often the same skills that made you great before Facebook (sorry: TheFacebook) was even invented. In other words, social media is a dramatic amplifier of the positive, and of the negative—and if what you do for customers in your business is positive enough (great product, great problem resolution process, consideration of the emotional aspect of every interaction with your customers), the word can get out on a much bigger scale than ever before.
But the context of our work has undeniably changed, because of the recent changes that have swept through the world of commerce. Changes of which social media is only one. Since the advent of the internet, and, most specifically, the broad use of the Web starting in the mid-1990s, there’s been a dramatic transformation of the competitive landscape. The changes brought on by these new communication and distribution channels are in many ways revolutionary, and they’re causing disruptions akin to those of past revolutions.
For example, our sense of timeliness: What was plenty fast this time last year feels draggy now to the very same customers because of changing expectations brought by mobile technology, social media–induced restlessness, the incredible efficiency of vendors like Amazon.com, and other factors.
For a parallel, look at the changes of the mid-nineteenth century. During this period the stability of rural and village life was thrown into disarray due to a host of technological advances, including those making it possible to preserve and transport food. Customers could now purchase edibles from across the country or around the world: The farmer in New England who had been able to count on a captive local market for whatever would graze or grow in his stony fields was now competing against topsoil-rich Illinois and lamb-friendly New Zealand. The result was a mass abandonment of farms throughout the region.
The transformation was striking: Go for a walk in the woods of New Hampshire or Vermont and you’ll still see the proliferation of old stone walls and foundations that attest to the abandoned farms and homesteads of this era.
Or just remember your high school poetry. This New England exodus is the backstory of Robert Frost’s stuck-in-his-ways neighbor still trying to mend a fence: He doesn’t realize times have changed and the fence, at most, is now preventing runaway trees. There are no cattle to contain anymore.
You can’t afford to be similarly left behind by today’s transformational technologies. It’s crucial to invest brain cells, time, and money to keep up with what it takes to hold on to your customers, now that we’re all playing on a global, digitally connected field.