For Retail Customers, Brands End Where Expectations Begin

Photo by tertia van rensburg on Unsplash

It’s hard to be a modern brand. From all sides, forces are at play working to undo the decades of legacy most comfortably rely on. Be it start-ups and technology or customers and expectations, getting everything right grows harder by the day, regardless of the industry. For most, there is no light at the end of this narrowing tunnel.

With every generation of new technology and tools, there is a natural learning curve. Most organizations retreat to what they know and, when forced, cannibalize the best and force-fit the rest. But what happens when those waves come closer and closer together? What happens to the curve?

Customers adapt faster than our businesses. Seeking every advantage, they are quick to experiment and discard as they quest for their holy grail of experience and expectation. Brands that do not resemble their customer will fail to engage, much less impress them.


Communications and support have always been the tip of the spear. Living on the front lines, they are the first line of contact with customers, often in a time of need. Where it may have been uncalled for to call out or up in need of support, today, the request is often tweeted before the thought is even fully formed. Ready, fire, aim indeed.

A recent study by Sprout Social took a look at how well brands were able to engage by industry and the results were, well, shocking:

As customers increasingly turn to social media for support, brands find themselves running in quicksand. As Glossy reports:

retailers are only responding to 19 percent of consumer questions, leaving 81 percent untouched. Further, when brands do respond, they take an average of 10.6 hours, according to the report. Lizz Kannenberg, director of content at Sprout Social, said the numbers they examined across all industries — including automotive, finance, government, media and real estate, among others — are troubling, since they indicate companies are not meeting consumer expectations.
Source: “Report: Retailers struggle to improve customer service on social platforms”, Glossy.co

But it is not for a lack of trying. Sadly, for all the effort to respond to as many customers as possible, they are less satisfied with retailers at large. Frustrations rise the closer customers get to the transaction.

“Being faster than the other kids on the playground doesn’t mean you’re winning medals,” said Lizz Kannenberg, director of content at Sprout Social. “The discrepancy between consumer perception and brand performance illustrates that, while retail may be more responsive than other industries, it still isn’t meeting consumer expectations.”

The article continues to point out to failings of chatbot implementations, but arguably there is something more substantial in play. While there are certainly discovery oriented use cases that bots and other tools can facilitate, it’s clear that when customers need help, it can skew into the qualitative realm just as likely.

Customers reach out to brands on social media as peers, not personas. Their goals are to engage in dialog of many forms, a tall order when funneled into a homogenous stack to be parsed by a likely-overworked social media manager or team. Brands aren’t people, but they do live in their hearts.

Survival requires scaling your ability to be human. Success requires partnering with your ambassadors as advocates and advisors. Survival is never been enough.


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Gregarious Narain is a serial entrepreneur and product strategist. A reformed designer and developer, he writes on his experiences as a founder, strategist, and father on the regular. Work with him at Before Alpha, connect on LinkedIn, follow on Facebook, or say hi on Twitter.