Serve 'Customer 2.0' well or perish

Emerging class of tech-savvy customers want to be served -- well -- online, says Enterprise 2.0 conference keynoter

BOSTON -- There's a new kind of customer out there, and businesses had better be prepared to serve him or her. If not, the competition certainly will.

Meet Customer 2.0 -- a tech-savvy person who knows his way around social media, tweets about his favorite lunch spot, spends more time online than watching TV and has more Facebook friends than ... well, the number of people most of us even know.

Customer 2.0 shops mostly online and seeks only Web interaction with favorite companies. And if he doesn't like your product, your service or your old-fashioned ways of communicating, watch out. Customer 2.0 is quick to tweet about bad shopping experiences to thousands of followers.

Brett Shockley, a senior vice president at telecommunications firm Avaya, issued warnings about the consequences of ignoring the needs of Customer 2.0 in a keynote speech Tuesday morning at the annual Enterprise 2.0 conference here.

Shockley's key piece of advice: Serve your Customer 2.0 legions well, or perish.

"Customer 2.0. They're born with a keyboard. They're born with an attitude," said Shockley. "Now that they're graduating from college, they've got a disposable income and there's about 80 million of them. We've got to pay attention to all the different ways that they want to communicate. We've got to take all of this into consideration in our companies."

Shockley noted, for instance, that he was recently visiting with officials at Zappos, an online retailer that's well known for its use of Enterprise 2.0 technology. Zappos workers blog and tweet religiously, giving customers a feeling of personal connection with the company.

Shockley said executives at Zappos told him that 100% of their customer communication starts with an online transaction.

"Why get off the Web and get on the phone and start the process all over again?" asked Shockley. "The idea is to use social tools to engage that customer the way they want to be engaged. And that's online."

The key for many companies entering the Enterprise 2.0 world today is to select the social tools that best fit their business and customer base.

"It's still pretty early from a customer-service prospective, and the question is how do you scale up for the business?" Shockley added. "Will the tools integrate into the overall customer-service process? Will [you] have to put workers through extensive training to use [these tools]? If you're going to jump off the cliff, you better be ready to answer those questions."

He also pointed out that companies need to find out what is being said about them online, whether on Twitter, Facebook or in blogs. And they need to filter the feedback to find the most important comments.

And once they find unhappy customers, companies need a process in place to respond and to show how problems can be fixed. For instance, if a customer tweets about a problem with a new product, someone should quickly reply to that tweet, apologize for the trouble and tell the user where she can go online to get help.

"The idea is to have a social collaboration," said Shockley.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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