We've had a lot of math on my blog recently, so I thought I'd take a break and talk about some of the more touchy-feely aspects of community today.
Do you love your customers? What makes you think they don't love you?
Ever since the Cluetrain, a lot has been said about the new power people have to be heard with social media. However, it seems that most companies believe customers will use this power to do them evil rather than good. After all, the #1 concern I hear from customers considering building a community is some version of "how do we keep people from saying bad things about us on our site"?
I find it equally odd that the common retort I hear is a riff on "Well, they're going to say bad things about you anyway, so why not let them say it where you can see them?"
Why are we so convinced that our customers hate us? Is this what all those customer surveys, Net Promoter scores and market research have told us over the years? Are there hundreds or thousands of people who have been just chomping at the bit for us to open our doors so they can yell at us? Then why in the world is anybody actually buying our products, much less buying them again and again?
I think this crisis of organizational self-confidence needs a quick dose of Jack Handy: "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and gosh darn it - people like me!"
I'm treating the issue kind of lightly here, but there does seem to be a lot of irrationality with how companies perceive online conversations with customers. Perhaps it stems from the venerable old adages that 'no news is good news', and 'you only hear from people when things go wrong'. We deal with so many fires and issues in our daily lives isolated from customers inside our corporate brand, that we think that is all there is. But unless you are a monopoly or fascist state, the reason you are still in business is that customers generally think they get good value for your products and services. When companies actually do invite their customers to tell them what they think, they are often pleasantly surprised by the quality of the responses they receive.
I'm not saying people won't complain about your products and services in your blogs or forums, or that online attacks on your brand don't happen. But I am saying that they happen a lot less than companies expect, and careful preparation in advance will both prevent the worst, and enable you to respond quickly to address issues before they become crises (for a quick primer in preparing for negativity in public seethis exerptfrom Andy Sernovitz’ book, Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking).