Command and Control? Or Converse and Cooperate?

How many times have you tried to call a company’s customer support via phone and encountered minutes, if not hours of waiting? Face it, companies do not want to hear our complaints. Despite the official corporate mambo-jambo on customer service, their real concern is still about making money and plainly,having an excellent call centre to listen to complaints is a money-losing venture. Hence, poor customers like us remain pissed and put up with the waiting, crappy music and robotic messages of apologies.

However, companies cannot escape the fact that pissed off customers are highly unlikely to return and buy again. How can companies maintain harmonious customer relationships so that customers always come back?

Rethink their communication philosophy. Out with the old “Command-and-Control” and In with “Converse and Co-operate”.

Traditional means of company-customer communications such as email, call centres, phone support lines, websites, press releases are all one-directional, some even top-down in terms of how they reach their intended audience. Instead of committing to a transparency concept of opening up information to customers, end users, vendors, suppliers, companies have thrown on a veil of secrecy over their bulletins and masked them with marketing rhetoric and grand-sounding fluff in order to sound formal, official, “professional”. Its like Cold War propaganda — very one-directional news intended to command and control your opinion and way of thought. They seek to influence but not inform.

Companies need to open up. One way Internet has brought about change is create a platform for long-suffering customers to come on board and voice their opinions freely. This digital democracy has enabled conversation in the previously authoritarian relationship between companies and customers. And companies should embrace this new democracy rather than persist in their authoritarian ways. After all, not hearing the will and voice of a free society have historically resulted in collapse of entire political regimes. Not learning from history might be the beginning of the end for monolithic business corporations.

For solutions, I think companies today need to have two arms of external communications. One will be Corporate Communications — for dealing with officious bodies such as regulators, auditors,media and investors. The second and highly important arm is Customer Communications (or Interaction). Treat real humans the way they are. Talk to them not with grand-sounding rhetoric, Dilbert-esque mission statements, but plain, honest conversation. Use blogs, podcasts or forums to chat with them. Encourage human interaction. Use the internet as it has a global reach.Develop online social networks with customers. There’s so much companies can do in enhancing relationships with customers. And relationships don’t have to start and stop with the product.

Any thoughts?

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