I was reading an interesting article by Umair Haque on the threat of open customer rebellion and how industrial age businesses are completely unprepared to change the ways they engage, treat and manage customers.He writes:
"Yesterday's massive, sprawling organizations could pacify "consumers" by buying them off with a discount or three, an overblown celebrity promising the moon, an entirely new "brand" designed as camouflage, or adding an extra blade or five, patty or three, or cylinder or four, and calling it "innovation." But that probably won't pacify people concerned not merely with what they "get," but with what, if anything, you're really contributing to society".
He goes to quote an interesting example:
"ING customers mobilised on Twitter and other social networks to protest at bonuses paid to bosses at the bank, one of the biggest in the country. The threat of direct action raised the spectre of a partial run on ING, terrifying the Dutch establishment. Fred Polhout, union organiser at the bank, says: "People were outraged. We heard about the bloated sums being paid again in the City and in New York; but suddenly the issue exploded on our own front door."
To me this is a lovely articulation of how unprepared many companies are. It made me think of some interesting analogy of how new information age thinking has to drive changes in industrial age-mindset companies:
- In the industrial age, there were labor unions who acted as interest groups for community who produced goods. The customer had no power as they were fragmented across markets. The information age is creating customer unions where customers come together to rally against companies which do injustice to them, their enviroment, their community, unfair business relationship & services etc.
- The labor unions could take the cause of only one company, theortically speaking. But, customer unions can have members across different products/brands across geographies and pose a larger threat.
- The customer unions are self-engaging members who pose a potential threat to companies who undermine their power.
- The customer unions can come together within a few hours and disrupt the brand reputation built over years by companies.
- The customer unions have the power of internet, social media to engage & collaborate for this cause and will disengage once the cause is achieved.
- If there were union leaders who drove the labor unions, here there are customer leaders who drive the opinions and issues. Companies need to identify them as they emerge from time to time for different reasons. But address them with agility.
- Authencity and honesty will be the hallmark of successfully handling these customer unions and companies need to find new innovative methods of handling them openly & with transparency.
It's time companies and marketing departments realize this and find new ways of truly engaging with customers and their opinions.