The coming storm for customer facing businesses

There’s a whole lot of change happening on the internet. A lot of things are coming together right now that will change the way that businesses handle customers. Everyone is familiar with the rise of Google and the fact that almost all of their revenue comes from advertising. Many analysts have posited that one of Google’s primary business end goals is to capitalize on local advertising. The ability to know the customer, know what the customer wants, and then link that customer up with the exact business to fulfill the need will bring in huge ad revenues. Companies currently pay very large amounts to bring in new customers and if Google can all but guarantee the ability to do this, then that would be a huge coup over all other forms of advertising. The move by Google to supply free wifi in San Francisco is seen as one of the first steps in accomplishing this goal.

Another major trend is the rise of reputation tracking as exemplified by Ebay. Ebay responded to the need of a customer to be able to determine whether it was advisable to buy something from someone that they’ve never met. Without this ability, Ebay never would have been able to get off the ground.

So, lets take these two ideas and mix them together and look a few years out. You’ve got a need, lets say your sewer pipe has ruptured and you’re in desperate need of a plumber. Now you’ve never used a plumber service before because this is your new home in a new neighborhood. You need to determine who you can call to fix the pipes. More and more, the default in this situation is to turn to Google and do a search for plumbers. Now if Google is able to pull off local search they’ll be able to return a list of plumbers within your area.

The problem now becomes, out of the list of twenty plumbers returned, which one do you choose? How do you know which service has the best plumbers, the best price, or the best customer service? Once Google is able to reliably offer the local search service, there will be someone, either Google or some other party, that will be willing to help you with that decision because there will be money to be made in doing so, and these reputations are going to have to be based on customer’s reviews.

This will force businesses to change the way they deal with customers. Customer feedback will become a much larger portion of the equation for attaining new customers. In the past the yellow pages was the only source you could go to in a situation like this and you would go with the ad that looked proffesional and was well done, because that was all you had to go on. It could be that the little corner plumber offered the best service ever, but couldn’t afford the fancy ad and that the big company with the fancy ad hired underskilled workers. You just don’t have a way to differentiate. With business reputation monitors though, which could be specific to the exact branch office that you would be dealing with, you would be able to look at the way that past customers felt about their dealings with this company. Were they satisfied, was the work completed as agreed, were than any issues that developed after the sale or with billing?

A business won’t be able to deal with bad customer relationships, because it would then have a measurable impact. In the past with businesses like this there were always more customers tomorrow, so doing right by the customers of today was not something you needed to worry about. New customers just didn’t have a way to access the thoughts of past customers so that factor just never entered the equation.

I am personally very excited about the prospect of this taking place. For me, the consumer, it means that I will get better service and prices.

A quick follow up on my Home Depot experience from my previous post. After posting about my customer experience on this blog, I then followed up with posting the same account to 3 top review sites that had reviews of Home Depot, and also posted it to the Home Depot corporate feedback form on their website.

I was somewhat surprised to get a call at 9am this morning with a quick apology and a note that the door had been ordered and would arrive on Dec 21st. At first I wasn’t sure where the apology had come from since there was no explanation, but later in the day I recieved an email from the corporate customer care, following up to my post. So apparently someone at Home Depot corporate is paying attention. I think that’s great, but the company still has an issue with customer facing reps that needs to be taken care of. As the reputation systems are developed and become more mainstream it’s going to become harder and harder to slide past these types of incidents and continue to bring in new customers. Having a corporate motto about customer satisfaction will actually have to mean something demonstrable.