April 30, 2009

Companies need to change how they listen to customers

HSBC learnt a new way to listen to their customers when they tried to bring in overdraft fees on previously free student accounts. They set the new rules then told everyone it affected. HSBC thought that was that – task complete. They didn’t take into account though the power of social media. All the students started a group on Facebook which got thousands of members. The campaign was called "Stop the Great HSBC Graduate Rip-Off!" Long story short, HSBC decided to reinstate the free overdraft. The term “power to the people” springs to mind (yay!). I’ve been awaiting a huge surge in consumer power for years and it seems social media is our means to have it.

It also seems that HSBC didn’t reverse their decision because customers were unhappy. The reversed it because they were unhappy AND coordinated – that is where the power lay. If they weren’t coordinated, HSBC would easily have been able to ignore them and the media would never have known about the overdraft fees. Good on HSBC for addressing the Facebook group, as many companies have in the past been silly enough to ignore social media storms, remain quiet and hope it goes away (FYI it doesn’t – and the company ends up looking ridiculous). Cases like this are further proof of how the business world is changing. Companies now have to listen in totally different ways as consumers now ‘speak’ to them in totally different ways.

There are benefits for the company too (social media doesn’t make you powerless). You can now reach your customers using these new platforms and become closer to them than ever before. Even better, you can reach your non customers and see why they choose someone else. Companies now have a huge and reliable source of information and interaction. Make sure you use it rather than just be a victim of it.

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