The infrastructure for global communication has hit a tipping point in the last few years. New technologies give each of us an exponentially louder voice with which to share stories of exceptional experiences with companies (both positive and negative). In order to survive, companies must take a look at existing conflicts between end-users intents and their own, in a way that may initially seem quite counter-intuitive. The points where the brands intent and ours are most in conflict lead to the most negatively memorable experiences, which carry a lot of power. Let me explain.
When interacting with a company, our intent as end-users is rarely, if ever, based on figuring out how to give them money. Mostly, our interactions are based on getting a need or a want addressed as efficiently as possible. This is, more often than not, in direct conflict with the implicit (if not explicit) intentions of the companies we are interacting with. This conflict of intents, historically ‘part of the cost of doing business,’ has become much more of an active topic of conversation online and offline, which is having an ever-increasing impact on our overall perception of companies and our willingness to engage with them (e.g. spend our money with them)
An obvious example of a decision made in conflict is DRM. The intent of the business (protecting their self-perceived ‘most important assets’ from their customers) was in direct conflict to the customers intent (purchasing music in a manner that gives them ownership of their copy). Instead of being interested in interacting with their consumers, the entertainment industry defaulted to treating each and every one of us like potential criminals, and attempts to engage were ignored or met with legal action. Choosing instead for your businesses intent to involve an active and genuine interest in people, communities and behavior, asking questions, and generally being interested leads to much longer term gains and sustainability (something companies that have embraced DRM are struggling with right now).
My friend Amber Naslund recounts a story about how the Jurys Boston Hotel picked up on something she said on Twitter about her experience there and took the time to email to thank her for her mention and (something Amber glossed over a bit but I think is so important) took an interest in her as a person via email, followed up with her to learn more, and set her up to have an awesome experience the next time. This resulted in the creation of a new and powerful customer evangelist. In Amber’s words, posted to a block with :
I have a hotel in Boston that feels very much “mine”. Why would I stay somewhere else when I know the people, and feel like they’re genuinely happy when I come back again?
If Jury’s Boston had simply stuck to the ‘be a hotel where people give us money to have somewhere to sleep’ intent, she most likely would have had a perfectly fine time and probably not given it the thought to dedicate the home page of her site to the experience. By taking the time to listen, learn and reorient their intentions to match (and exceed) hers, Jury’s Boston created an experience for her that earned both her loyalty, trust and her voice to others. For this interaction, the intent of the company was to create a great experience for Amber, and to fufill her needs. Jury’s is, of course, a business, and would have been happy to take her money and move on. They decided, for this interaction at least, that their intent was to make the interaction more personal. Total cost to them: One phone call. Total return: A fan for life, with incentive to share the experience with her friends, followers, everyone who reads her blog, each of whom now have a hotel in mind to stay at when they’re in Boston.
Companies may look at this concept and respond with trepidation. “The whole purpose of a company is to increase its own bottom line, otherwise it wouldn’t exist!” is a popular response. While this underlying statement may be true, the intent of how one reaches profitability is something that is much more flexible than most companies think. The challenge lies when they have been set up in a way that leaves no room for taking an interest when providing a service or bringing a product to market. It is not a question of willingness, but actually deciding to take the time and effort to address a lack of room in the workflow for genuine human interest and curiosity.
So, take a look (and, more importantly, a listen) around where you work. During the course of the day, how much time is spent in your company being interested in customers? Pay attention to how interactions with end users are phrased. Are people interested in connecting, or are they more interested in “identifying target audiences” and “demographics and psychographics” to the exclusion of other things. I think you’ll find the vocabulary very telling.
What bit of information would you like to share with companies that could make for a more compelling engagement with you? Are they giving you a place to tell them? Are they interested?