The other day I needed some customer service so I tweeted Flow Jamaica. Unfortunately, Flow didn’t respond until the next day, unlike the parody Twitter account which replied right away. Now if you’re a customer of Flow (I’ve had the original Flow since 2008) you might be experiencing a similar disconnect between its media statements versus its day-to-day service, which sucks.
But it needn’t be this way.
I used to work in social media full-time for a telco (disclosure: competitor Digicel) and I’ve been inspired by the left-field examples of T-Mobile USA CEO John Legere whose combative, customer-friendly personality on social media is practically the flagship for his company; and even before that by fellow mobile network Giff Gaff in the UK. Giff Gaff has no call centre, but instead pays customers to answer one another via an online support community.
Yeah, yeah you can say that CEOs like Legere don’t grow on trees, but then he was actually already a career telco executive including on his resume AT&T no less. The difference is that he was also one smart enough/humblebrag enough to realise that being with the customer is no bad thing, like a previous T-Mobile campaign where customers could create and share to social media a #BreakUpLetter to the mobile network they were switching from.
Going even further like the Apple Developer Network, Lending Club, and AirBnB have mastered, today’s fastest growing companies are those that build value by co-creating with their customers. Just like Harvard Business Review said.
“It’s the (internet) economy, stupid,” … someone else said.
Similarly, the scepticism I get when mentioning Giff Gaff is usually that it is: A. a business operating in a developed economy so that can’t work here and B. its entire business model was predicated around peer-to-peer customer care; and therefore, that logic assumes, not something that can be applied retrospectively to an existing and more conservative business such as here in the Caribbean. Oh, and subliminally C. we don’t respect the capacity of the customer to think as smart as or any smarter than us.
Which, an inconvenient truth is sorry to say a conveniently lazy way of thinking. Legere didn’t need a magic wand to notice that there was a huge opportunity where customers were fed up with being locked into long-term contracts and were waiting for something to speak their language, take on the big boys and offer them a genuine alternative. Meantime, Giff Gaff understood that British consumers were already favourable towards companies like eBay – powered and self-regulated by a community of buyers and sellers – and applied similar thinking to the utility market.
Besides, since when would customers anywhere prefer to be patronised?
‘Back to reality’ and the Jamaica where we work. That a parody account, and whoever operates it, was willing to reply to fill that vacuum left by Flow and conversely how Palace Amusements was able to positively inspire their customers to also answer one another; shows that existing customer behaviours might encourage businesses to reconsider their approach. That and it also shows the extent to which customer experience can be almost totally neglected when businesses forget that its people handing over their cash, and not the other way around.
It’s like what Harvard refers to when it speaks about New Power vs Old Power. Old Power being the business that talks down to their customers and New Power businesses being those like Air BnB (already operating in Jamaica), which build more loyalty and make more revenue by involving the customer in its business model. In an age of sharing and collaboration it’s new power businesses happily swimming with the tide; and old power businesses, waving their arms, shouting for attention, swallowing mouthfuls of saltwater as they go under. While the customer has long gone.
Again you might say ‘well that’s foreign and this is Jamaica’ etc. Which is fair enough. But then consider the high rate of youth unemployment at twice the national average and the high adoption of smartphones and data plans (Digicel says of its 1.2 million customers who use data that they spend an average of 3.8 hours a day looking down at their smartphone) – which is a perfect storm of tech-savvy young people waiting for something for or something to your brand. Your choice.
The good news is that local companies are adjusting. Albeit on a less valuable level, brands are hiring social media influencers to help promote them – sometimes cringingly, but mostly many times more engaging than when the brand pushes that same message themselves. Either way brands and social media users are learning to work together and the likes of @thebellablair and @quiteperry are building careers from their talent.
Influencers are certainly one way of raising your net promoter score – the willingness of customers to recommend you to others – but more genuine and more valuable is welcoming regular customers through the door and allowing them a role. In the case of Lending Club go as far as having customers help design financial products because smart customers help smart brands become even smarter.
A big reason Jamaica is so attractive for business process outsourcing (BPO) is because we have so many well-trained, smart young people looking for work straight out of university. Increasingly many in today’s online economy would prefer to set up shop on their own, work from home…just anything but work a 9-5 like their older brothers and sister: Which could make it very appealing to them should a brand offer them a side-income replying to its customers on social media, rather than sitting in a call centre (FYI: peer-to-peer customer care is cheaper than social media customer care, which is itself cheaper than handling telephone calls).
This is what Allan Bernard calls the French Fries and Smartphone Generation – meaning that today’s youth are influenced by their social feeds full of local and global content and rather less by traditional powers like the church, PNP/JLP and the local private sector – the messages of whom continue to decline in relevance. In short they’re searching for their own identities and something/anything else to belong to.
Jamaica’s smartest marketer, Vybz Kartel, knew exactly how to appeal to youth (granted brands will never be able to rival deejays in cool/street credibility) and gang leaders have also sought to manipulate cultural motifs to appeal to and recruit youths into their number. Kartel’s Gaza developed its own identity and following at a pace to make any political organiser jealous.
More positive, I would suggest, is the willingness of young people when given a degree of ownership to get involved in voluntary projects. Previously I was involved in helping the anti-discrimination programme Respect Jamaica with their social media. It amazed me that when given a voice in how things should go, the willingness of those 18 to 25-year-old volunteers to not just give input but take the lead. When I left the programme at year end @respectjamaica social media had higher engagement than any Jamaican corporate brand on social media – largely thanks to the content – the messages these young people created and shaped themselves.
Thing is that Jamaican youth like youth anywhere is shaped by and shaping the same trends as their peers abroad. Mark Zuckerberg, just into his thirties, is reshaping corporate philanthropy globally with initiatives like internet.org; and albeit on a smaller level but for the same reason, one of those same Respect Jamaica volunteers has taken it upon herself to set up an Internet Cafe in her community. Though for commercial work, for helping your brand out, naturally you’d have to pay them.
Just saying: give the youths a chance and maybe, at least, they’ll be laughing with not at us.