Perhaps the biggest change in the last decade is the growth of interconnectivity. New technology has empowered people.
Uh… let’s re-word that: New technology has empowered customers.
Whether you call it word of mouth or professional reputation, this personal experience factor has always driven repeat business, referral business, and even first-time business. But with the speed and power of interconnectivity, personal experience is multiplied exponentially.
What happens when your ads brag about your customer service, and customer dreads going on hold with your automated call center?
What happens when your customer finally understands that your “money back guarantee” is actually pro-rated for the number of weeks that she owned your product?
What happens when your angry customer makes the evening news carrying a placard which declares you to be a crook?
Where do you hide when there’s no place to hide?
Interconnectivity Example Number 1:
Blogs are cheap, easy, and nearly universally available. A blog allows anyone to post observations, opinions, or discoveries to the world and get the attention of any other person interested in the same topics.
And then for an investment under $200 anyone can be a “citizen journalist.” A cheap digital recorder and a cell phone with built-in camera are all the tools necessary.
Catch a talking head as he leaves the major media interview, ask the question, shoot the pic, and have it posted to a blog before the big boys have even finished postproduction.
When the major networks have no interest in a story, it only takes one curious blogger to check and publish facts. Other bloggers pick up the story. Eventually the major networks are forced to pay attention, too.
“The president of a Louisiana parish tearfully told a national TV audience the heartbreaking story of a coworker whose mother was left to die in a flooded nursing home days after Hurricane Katrina immobilized New Orleans — but, as it turns out, the story isn’t true.
MSNBC reported the man Broussard was talking about is Thomas Rodrigue, who told “Dateline” that his 92-year-old mother was one of 32 elderly people found dead at the St. Rita’s nursing home. The New York Times reported the 32 residents, out of 60 total, died Aug. 29.
Reported WuzzaDem.com: “Broussard claims Rodrigue was talking to his mother for four days after she died, promising here some nebulous ‘cavalry’ was on the way. His story doesn’t jibe with the reporting of CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, or even Thomas Rodrigue’s own account.”
Interconnectivity Example Number 2:
Time was that a young man could go away to college, raise hell, cut classes, get stupid drunk way too often, and clean up his act in time for graduation.
But even if Mom and Dad never find out, it’s getting way too easy for employers to completely check every job application. Suppose this young man applies for a job in which he’s not truly qualified, thinking that he can exaggerate (ok, lie) “just a little” on his resume?
Or if he asks out a lady who uses the Internet to check potential dates? With not too much effort she can examine our young man’s police record, check for judgments, and peruse public records for previous marriages and child support.
There is no such thing, despite the protestations of Google’s C.E.O., Eric Schmidt.
As more information becomes digitized it will become universally available. And make no mistake, once information about you, or perhaps more importantaly. once information about your businesss hits the World Wide Web, it’s going to be there forever.
We all live in glass houses. There’s no place left to hide.
Interconnectivity Example Number 3:
Think your advertising is the only thing that influences potential customers? Uh, no.
The web is becoming the great source for information exchange. A customer who feels abused enough starts his own web site: (YourBusiness)Sucks.com. Think the legal system will defend you? The courts have ruled that merely using your name in a derivative domain is not copyright infringement.
Will this immediately affect business?
But, as more and more people become dissatisfied with any business, and they post their dissatisfaction, the collective volume of negative will eventually become public knowledge.
I personally know a small town car dealer who’s owned the place for eight years and is still feeling the resentment of the town toward the previous owner. Once negative word of mouth builds to critical mass, the business may never recover.
People expect your ads to be complementary to your business. They know you’re paying for them.
They also tend to believe total strangers willing to share experiences. (If you didn’t believe that, you wouldn’t ask for testimonials).
In the old days (before interconnectivity), a dissatisfied customer was likely to be lost in the advertising noise. Now customers are ignoring ads in ever increasing numbers and paying much more attention to each other.
I’m not suggesting that you should always give in whenever there’s a conflict with a customer. I am suggesting that you can’t get lost in the numbers anymore.
When there’s no place left to hide, the promises you make in your ads had best be delivered on your sales floor.