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Apr 20, 2012

Service increasingly critical as consumers discover social-networking power

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The consumer has been reinvented and companies must come to grips with the fact that poor customer service or poor products can evoke a broad and immediate backlash on social networks, potentially damaging their images and businesses, says Internet research and productivity company World Wide Worx CEO Arthur Goldstuck.

About a third of South African cellular smartphone users were using their devices to browse the Internet at the beginning of 2011. However, a further 26% are expected to join them, which means that, by the middle of this year, half of the adult market in towns and cities, between five- million and six-million people, will be browsing the Internet on their phones and will have an instant mobile broadcast mechanism in their hands at all times.

“Social networks, such as social site Facebook and news feed site Twitter, have transformed how the customer thinks and behaves and the smartphone revolution has [changed] the way in which South Africans access information,” he says.

A number of big brands have already come under the whip of social media, explains Goldstuck.

For example, food and clothing retailer Woolworths had to reverse a decision to remove a Christian magazine from its shelves because customers in the store could send messages to others to boycott the company.

Further, fashion chain Foschini ignored a feminist blog decrying a range of its T-shirts sporting misogynist or antifeminist messages.

However, a link to the blog was posted on Twitter, from where it went viral and, within 12 hours, forced the CEO of Foschini to appear on Talk Radio 702’s Bruce Whitfield show to apologise, assure South Africans that the range had been withdrawn from all stores and confirm that people had been fired for allowing the T-shirt range into its stores.

“This is because people have their phones in their hands and can object, reject and spread messages to everyone they know, who, [in turn], can also spread the message. The viral effect of such messages means that companies can no longer afford to let their customers down or treat them badly, because customers will ensure that all potential customers know about that,” he warns.

This places significant demand on every business in every sector to reinvent itself and business has to take account of changes that have occurred as well as changes that are coming, emphasises Goldstuck, high- lighting the accelerating use of the Internet and smart phones in the mass market in South Africa.

“Companies must successfully market the value proposition of the products to be adopted into the mass market. However, once a product is adopted, many companies cannot keep up with demand or, if they can meet demand, they cannot meet the support needs for the product, which is where further risk lies.”

Support for a product has become a critical element and successful product support is often more important than the supply. This is why, if companies cannot meet demand, they must manage the expectations of customers, which means engaging with customers, he advises.

Goldstuck cites two examples of companies using the different communication channels effectively, with high-level management often engaging directly, which lends authenticity to a company’s customer communication channels.

“Authenticity is important, but the CEO also expects a response to a query to be deliv- ered within five minutes to the correct person for resolution. Because the executives are hands-on and use the channels effectively, this is the best strategy for engaging with this simultaneous technology and communi- cation revolution, which began in 2011.”

Goldstuck recommends a team of people manage engagements over different communication channels and use the viral effect of social networks to spread information.

However, he emphasises that companies must stick to their core competences or run the risk of failing and must also engage different market segments differently to weather the storm of technological change.

Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu
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