It was just a generation ago, most customer and merchant interaction was face to face. Sure, there were times retailers took phone orders, but everything was predominantly done in person, and any after-sale services were pretty much limited to that store location. That seems kind of quaint by today’s standards, when thanks to the internet, we have access to a seemingly endless supply of tools that provide customers and merchants with plenty of opportunities for interaction, including search engines, social media, connected devices, email and newsletters. This digitalization is visible in every aspect of our daily lives, to the point where being connected 24/7 is no longer the exception; rather, it’s the norm. We use apps on our mobile devices to contact Uber and do our grocery shopping, and we even use apps connected to devices in our homes, like thermostats that help ensure our homes are at a comfortable temperature when we arrive home from work.
Digital mobility is transforming the way we consumer services and the way those services are provided. Our smartphones have become extensions of ourselves, by our sides 24/7 and always ready to do our bidding. This digitalization is also changing the merchant/consumer paradigm, resulting in a new era of relationship that is more open and accessible than ever before.
This shift to digitalization of the merchant/consumer paradigm is shaping the new face of the customer relationship. Not long ago, brands were the only ones delivering messages to the masses, mostly through print and broadcast advertising. Today, customers are active participants in the customer-brand relationship and they have unprecedented access to brands through social media that would have been unimaginable just a few decades ago. Today’s customers are empowered to ask questions, give reviews, provide recommendations and even lodge complaints against products and companies, all of which have the potential to influence the purchasing decisions of total strangers. Companies have had to adapt their strategies to include the customer influence and involvement throughout a brand’s life cycle.
Businesses can adapt to this new digital consumer era by actively listening to their customer’s concerns, wants and needs. Digital platforms, especially social media, give consumers the power to drive the strategy of their favorite brands by enabling (and in some cases, ennobling) them to discuss their desires directly with the brands themselves, or with other fans and detractors of the brands. This concept, dubbed “social listening,” guides brands into making more proactive decisions by addressing potentially harmful conversations and customer dissatisfaction before it gets to a point of no return. It is easier to be on top of things, and deal with a couple of unhappy customer posts before you are caught in a deluge of negative customer experience posts. In fact, the resolution of the first handful of posts can help flag potential issues early and lead to prevention of further complaint posts.
Of course consumers love this power and convenience. Where once we had to write letters to complain about a subpar product or service and wait weeks for a response, it now takes mere seconds to send a tweet or write a Facebook post. Email can even be too slow for some people and situations these days. Adam Singha, director of operations at Smart Utility Systems said it best when he stated, “we are now at a spot where all generations cannot visualize a world without mobility, social networking, instant messaging or ecommerce.
Digitalization has changed the customer-merchant dynamic and this relationship will continue to evolve with advancements in technology. It is so important in today’s environment for companies to move forward with their customers alongside them, listening and learning from what they want from the brands, and vice versa. The relationship is more reciprocal than ever before.