2112 — Redefining Self Service Experience – The Tribal Customer

Jul 3, 2006 | Conteúdos Em Ingles

The first article in this series described the utilitarian customer and the manner in which companies address his needs through self-service applications. However, despite their best efforts to delight the customer through the web, companies have rarely succeeded in elevating their web experiences beyond experience parity to a point of competitive differentiation. Customers do not generally flock to commoditized websites and companies need to compensate by lowering prices to drive traffic and increase sales. Although recent efforts to improve the self-service experience is a positive step forward, attempts to satisfy a utilitarian customer who does not seek any emotional engagement is unlikely.

Companies have been debating the feasibility of elevating the web experience beyond transactional efficiencies to one that is more personal and authentic. This debate continues to rage even as companies attempt to discern what it is that customers truly seek from the web. A casual look at most eCommerce sites is evidence that companies tend to emphasize transactional efficiencies over emotional interactivity. These sites are only interested in offering the most basic utilitarian experience – providing the requisite information that will bring about a purchase.

While companies have almost exclusively focused on the emotionless utilitarian customer, a new type of customer, the tribal customer, is steadily making his presence known. The tribal customer seeks emotionally loaded web experiences and craves emotional interactivity and personal expression. These customers are often self expressionists who want to connect, interact, personalize, co-create, share and above all, express themselves. Whereas the utilitarian customer seeks to minimize his time on websites, the tribal customer seeks to maximize the time he spends on sites that offer emotional interactivity, personalization and self expression. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the proliferation of social networking sites where individuals seek out friends for their social network in a practice known as “friending”. Customers spend hours on sites such as Linkedin and MySpace interacting with friends, adding pictures, changing colors and redecorating their pages. These customers, who “live” on these sites, want to express themselves and improve their “home” away from home. Their ties to these websites strengthen as they personalize and customize their “own” pages.

Social networking sites have experienced massive growth in their customer bases. According to Alexa Internet, as of May 2006, MySpace is the world’s fourth most popular English-language website and the fifth most popular in the world, with more than 88 million registered accounts. While other social networking sites do not have nearly the same sized customer base, LinkedIn claims more than 6 million registered users while Bebo claims 22 million registered users, mostly in the United Kindgdom. These numbers are evidence that the tribal customer is not only alive, but thriving. Tribal customers do not sit at the fringes of the web experience, but at the center of it. This growing customer base offers a variety of financial opportunities and benefits for those companies willing to provide them with the services that they want. Is your company one of them?

Customers react differently to different experiences. Those website experiences that are emotion heavy will have customers respond with emotional connectivity that will result in relationship longevity. By contrast, a utilitarian customer will limit his interactions, prefer anonymity and seek low prices as the reason for interacting with the site. Companies need to choose the type of customers whom they would like to see frequent their websites – tribal customers with emotional attachment or utilitarian customers looking for low prices.

Christine Dolce, a 23 year old cosmetician from California demonstrates the power of a tribal customer. With “Forbidden” as her screen name, Christine dominates MySpace with more than 900,000 “friends” and 30 million views. Her steadily increasing list of “friends” has led to an appearance on MTV and a growing range of business ventures including a new cologne line for men and a fashion line called Destroyed Denim. Christine has managed to transform her social network into a major tribal experience that leads others to follow. While your tribal customers are unlikely to command this type of web presence, they are constantly connected, interacting and sharing experiences – a fact that can work for or against you. It’s up to you!

The tribal customer base is enormous. Companies need only to remove their blinders and see what is right in front of them. Recently however, a growing number of companies have begun to realize the immense financial benefits of customers who are constantly connected and who share their opinions and experiences with “friends” who in turn share it with their friends. These friends can number into the thousands or in the case of Christine, nearly one million. Product evangelization, customer recommendations and the spread of good will by people who have bought products or services is invaluable. Reduction in customer attrition, repeat purchases, increase in referrals and customers’ lifetime value will shortly follow. In addition, these customers may provide competitive information and offer ideas for new products and services. However, to transform customer mentality from utilitarian to tribal, self-service providers need to transform their static, dry and mass web experience into one that involves personalization, co-creation and self-expression.

Transforming static web experiences into emotionally engaging and passionate experiences, requires that companies understand the principles for offering an experience that excites and delights. These experiences share several principles:
· Emotionally engaging – allowing customers to feel passionate, engaged, and connected.
· Interactive – Enabling customers to co-create the product or service that they’re receiving. NIKE allows customers to design their own shoes while a growing number of car manufacturers allow their customers to choose design features such as colors and leather interior and a variety of products such as OnStar. Stony Creek Wine Press allows its customers to co-create their wine labels with options for custom labels designed by the customer or Stony Creek.
· Personal – personalized experiences that are uniquely tailored to each individual customer. Jones Soda offers a personalized soda service where customers can have a personal photograph transposed on one of its soda bottles.
· Expressive – experiences allow customers to express themselves and their uniqueness through the products and services they consume. Social networking sites allow users to create their own IDs, post personal information and design their “space”.
· Authentic – the experience must not be mass produced, but authentically delivered. Amazon’s inclusion of a customer ranking system for its books, authenticates the experience for its customers. Chevrolet recently introduced a website allowing visitors to create personalized commercials for the 2007 Chevy Tahoe. When the experience allows for a personal voice to be expressed, the experience becomes authentic.

Apple, NIKE, Amazon, Jones Soda and MySpace are a few of the growing number of companies that are steadily engaging the tribal customer. These companies offer experiences that are emotionally engaging, interactive, personal, expressive and authentic. Creating personalized play lists, designing shoes, ranking books, personalizing labels and customizing web pages are but a few of the services being offered to tribal customers. The common factor behind all of these services is corporate willingness to give up control. These companies have realized that to tap into the tribal customer base, it is necessary to let the customer take some control over product design, public feedback and service creation. These companies have retreated from a “we know what’s best” to co-creation mentality – to great success.

Giving greater control to customers is the result of a paradigm shift in the way that companies view their websites. The predominant view has traditionally held that a website is nothing more than a low cost method of diverting customers from the call center. This thinking gradually gave way to the realization that it was necessary to offer a web alternative to call centers, catalogs and physical space to the web-hungry and convenience-starved customer. However, a small number of companies have begun viewing the web as a tool for enhancing the experience by providing customers with the ability to personalize, co-create, express and interact so that they receive the experience that they crave, not what companies want to deliver.

Where companies often fail is in understanding the nature of self-service. Self service only lives up to its name if companies give up control and transform self-service technology into co-creative, expressive and personalized tools that can deliver the most important corporate asset – authenticity. Authenticity drives loyalty and loyalty is the foundation of emotional connectivity, repeat purchases, referrals and evangelization. Only authentic products which are capable of becoming part of customers’ identity are worthy of being shared with others.

Abdicating control to customers is only a question of degree, not when or if. Different companies will be able to give up control to different degrees based on their unique products and services. Failure to give up control and allow customer co-creation, personalization and customization will prevent companies from offering tribal web experiences. Utilitarian experiences on par with competitors will rarely garner greater customer loyalty and drive revenue growth. It will constantly be subject to the whims of customers and the speed at which they turn to competitors to find a better price. However, offering tribal experiences will awaken the tribal customer and his sense of loyalty to your company. The desire to seek competitor’s alternatives will be replaced with their “need” to spend increasing amounts of time on your site, creating, personalizing, customizing and co-creating. Price sensitivity will be replaced by identity expression. A single visit will be replaced by frequent visits and referrals. Providing self service is about self service the way the customer and not the company wants. Providing this type of self service will attract the tribal customer who wants to frequent your website, spend more time on your site, express himself and share his experiences.

Lior Arussy is the President of Strativity Group and the author of several books. His latest book is Passionate & Profitable: Why Customers Strategies Fail and 10 Steps to Do Them Right! (John Wiley & Sons, 2005). To learn more about customer strategies, sign up for Lior’s newsletter at www.StrativityGroup.com/knowledge.

July 2006

Em Foco – Opinião