By: Kishore Swaminathan
How can a company take advantage of these fundamental changes in communication? Here are some relatively simple things to keep in mind, along with actions you can take immediately.
1. Not only are your employees, customers and competitors all talking and talking openly—so are your competitors’ employees and customers, and customers you never knew you had. Technology exists to process unstructured text for you to listen to them all—and listen at an industrial scale—enabling you to gauge your customers’ latent needs, how they feel about your products and brand, and what your competitors are up to. There’s no reason to spend money on surveys anymore: Everything you want to know—and more—is out there in the open for you to harvest. With technology from vendors such as Sentimine and The Nielsen Co., companies ranging from carmakers to agribusinesses are monitoring and measuring customer sentiment over the Web.
2. Embrace video as a communication medium. If you are like most companies, you produce tons of written instruction manuals in multiple languages and package them with your products. Very few of your customers read them, in any language. With video, you can show them rather than tell them. The Home Depot, Dell, Best Buy and many others are increasingly turning to video as a means of customer support.
3. Create an online community of people who use, like, love—and, don’t forget, hate—your products. Facilitate but don’t dominate the conversation. Face it: Whatever your product or service may be, it’s just a small part of your customers’ lives. By creating as much conversation as you can among your customers about as many subjects as possible, you’ll ensure that your products become legitimate topics of conversation from time to time. This kind of publicity is more genuine and credible than any ad campaign you can run.
4. Caution: A good, active community is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, your community members are your ambassadors. On the other, your community is effectively offering your customers to your competitors on a platter as well as a forum where your disgruntled customers can complain. The bigger your community is, the more vulnerable you are. Which is why you need to create and support brand ambassadors.
*Kishore Swaminathan is the chief scientist for Accenture.
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