Social Customer Experiences That Matter

The perceptions of today's socially connected customers are formed and reformed at every touch point they have with a brand like ours. On the .com, in the customer community, on mobile apps, and on Facebook and Twitter, there are countless opportunities to gain or lose sales and customer loyalty. As much as we can plan and apply technologies and processes to each experience, we must be highly conscious of the fact that it's the customers' perceptions of these experiences that actually matter when the goal is to generate sales and build loyalty. So what matters to social customers?

1. Resolution. In a Lithium-CMO Council social media survey conducted earlier this year, we found that 47 percent of social customers expect a response to an online service request within one hour. Clearly, customer expectations are out-pacing our ability to scale in a way that meets those expectations. But by enabling peer-to-peer customer interactions -- the ability for our customers to help each other online -- we're able to problem solve at scale and deliver better faster resolutions to customer issues. That another customer instead of a company representative gave the answer to their problem doesn't matter one bit. If they perceive that it's easy to get the advice they need, that translates to an overall positive brand experience.

And exactly how much does this social experience matter? A recent survey we conducted with Kelton Research revealed that 57 percent of customers are unlikely to spend more with a brand after a bad experience and 40 percent are also likely to warn others away. In other words, it matters quite a bit.

2. Sharing. Our CMO Council survey also found that while 41 percent of customers expect to be able to share their product ideas on Facebook, only 9 percent of brands offer the opportunity. The ability to share is fast becoming an expected social customer experience -- and with so few brands making it possible, it's a fantastic way for Lithium and other companies to differentiate ourselves by meeting rising social customer expectations.

In fact, the social web really is all about sharing. And that's great for social media marketers because sharing builds trust, and trust builds influence. When a company's value is disseminated willingly among people who trust one another, we experience much greater impact in the marketplace.

It's critical for brands that expect to be competitive in social media to not only stop fearing the enormous megaphones (influence) our social customers now have, but to embrace it -- and further, to facilitate it. Sharing must be an integral part of the social customer experiences we deliver if we expect to remain on the cutting edge of the social media marketplace. The more we encourage our social customers to share, the better they like it.

3. Gamification. Social customers are looking for opportunities for public recognition and rewards and are willing to invest huge amounts of time helping out a brand when they get them. A certain important percentage of our customers are perfectly willing to advocate for us, defend us against misperceptions and spend hours and hours each month helping other customers solve problems -- if we make it interesting and worthwhile for them.

Gamification is the process of using gaming dynamics to identify and cultivate superfans -- that very important segment of social customers who create much of the content the rest of our social customers rely on. Gamification offers our superfans a sense of "blissful productivity" and keeps them passionately engaged when their contributions are rewarded. Rewards are a key part of delivering meaningful and memorable social customers experiences, and a fun way to build connection, engagement and loyalty.

Delivering social customer experiences that matter is a vital for social media marketing success. Today's social customers want resolution to their problems, an easy way to share their passions and ideas, and to be rewarded for their contributions. Brands that have the right tools, technologies and processes to deliver on all three are those that are coming out ahead in social media.

This post is part of a series co-produced by The Huffington Post and Blogworld, in conjunction with the latter's NMX BusinessNext Social 2013. That event will feature some of the world's leading social-business luminaries and influencers, each of whom will be speaking at the event to provide an up-close look at how the world's most successful businesses harness the power of social.