Good customer service used to be one of the secrets to business success. Over time, however, what was considered “good” turned out to be not good enough. Somewhere along the way, customers became a burden, viewed by big organizations as a cost center and by smaller businesses as an inconvenience. Processes, systems, automated attendants and technology eventually separated us from them and, well, here we are today, wondering how it is that the very people who contribute to the overall health of our business are farther away from us than ever before.

As customers, we can share countless stories of unpleasant encounters and have most likely already done so with our friends and family. How many great customer service experiences can you recall, and how often did you - or do you - talk about them today?

This is the perspective you need as you look to your customers today to grow your business tomorrow. This may sound cliche, but the future of business takes a personal touch. Empathy is the connection between you and your customers. Empathy is the bridge between your customers and their peers.

Great - not just good - customer service is necessary for business survival. Personalized and empowering customer service, fanned by empathy, is the recipe for viral customer service, where word of mouth becomes an extension of your marketing and sales efforts.

The future of business is rooted in shared experiences. Customer experiences will be shared, and they will either be positive or negative. Not unlike the reviews we have either posted or read on sites such as Yelp or Amazon, people either love or hate an interaction they have had with a company. They feel so strongly about it, they’ll take to these review sites to ensure that everyone else feels what they’re feeling prior to making a purchase decision. Again, customer experiences will either be positive or negative, and you can bet that they will be shared.

The wonderful aspect about all this is that you get to choose which type of experience your customers will have. More importantly, if you can engender a positive experience for them, you can literally plug into an entirely new world of connected consumerism that extends those exchanges beyond the typical few friends they might tell either way. Nowadays, customers are connected to one another through social networks and online groups. This isn't new; what is new is the nature of these relationships and the efficiency with which information travels within and beyond inner networks of friends.

The average person is connected to 140 people on Twitter and 130 on Facebook, and even they can trigger a social effect that extends experiences beyond small cliques of friends and family. There’s a new genre of customers rapidly emerging, and they’re connected to not hundreds but thousands of others. The social or connected customers is your influencer. They are the gatekeepers to a more efficient and expansive network of referrals linked by shared experiences and optimized through an endless social effect that extends your value proposition beyond your reach today. 

We are embarking upon a new era of business, one that I believe represents the end of business as usual and this is a good thing.
Customers want few things:

  • Products or services that meet or exceed their needs.
  • The ability to find what they need when they need it.
  • A channel by which to be heard.

What customers now bring to the table is the ability to get each of the above with or without you. This is your opportunity to plug in to these networks, where you can build relationships, cultivate loyalty, and learn how to adapt, all while earning greater relevance and reach. Everything begins with defining the experiences you wish others to share.

Certain Key Points:

  • Insight before engagement unless customer or community needs take immediate precedence.
  • With the emergence of social media, we are given not just a right to engage but a rite of passage to earn relevance.
  • Social networks are much more than Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, YouTube, etc. These networks represent a potential much more transformative: that is, the democratization of information and the equalization of influence within new digital societies. Here, everyone begins at ground zero, including you, but it is how behavior evolves that introduces us to a new future of sales, service, and business.
  • As everyday sales and service become commodities, experiences and relationships become paramount. Peers, friends, family, and experts become trusted sources to steer and filter relationships within these new landscapes. Sharing becomes social. Decisions become social. Commerce, and ultimately service, becomes social. At the heart and soul of all of this is the very essence of your business shared experiences connected through empathy and fortified by the desire and intention to shape them in ways that help people help you.

In business, as in life you earn the relationships and with nurture the yield that you have earned and deserve.