30 Jul 2010

Wall Of Silence? Harvard Business Review Claims Customers Would Rather Not Talk To You

The Harvard Business Review has just put up a short summary of the results from a recent survey of theirs on customer behaviour and interaction, essentially from an instore / ops perspective. The findings are thought-provoking - that, given the choice, a significant proportion of consumers would rather just be left to get on with it themselves with as little noise from company, brand or staff as possible.

They conclude that the implications are likely to make most marketers wake up in the middle of the night in cold sweats - "maybe customers are shifting toward self service because they don't want a relationship with companies". Think of all that social media money, all that effort to build a relationship, weeks of analysing consumer interests... and all they want is you to leave them alone.

HBR is obviously posturing for effect a bit though - while it's not counter-intuitive to suggest that a large chunk of customers would prefer not to speak to staff, or to be bothered in any way during the process of what is, essentially, the tedious chore of buying stuff, to suggest that they don't want to engage with a brand is a bit much. There are countless examples of how brands have managed to achieve just that, and with measurable bottom-line results. The point to take from it is that they don't want to talk to you all the time.

Any conversation takes skill to start, takes effort to maintain, and will end at some point, which is when the subject gets changed and the cycle starts over. Too many brands act from a broadcast-only perspective, and assume that all their customers are awaiting, breath baited, for their next tweet urging them to buy something. This doesn't work in real life, so why does it happen online? What's the first thing any member of staff asks you instore? It's not "Hello, come and buy this thing", it's "Hello, how can I help?" As human beings, we intuitively start conversations with questions, guage interests, and (crucially) determine whether the other person WANTS to engage. On no real basis other than gut feel, I'd suggest HBR's respondents feel the way they do about the majority of companies out there because these brands are employing a two-way medium in a one-way fashion, and because they don't obey the same norms that they would do in their own, real, lives.

If consumers don't want to engage in a conversation with your brand, it's probably your own fault - it doesn't mean they don't want to talk.