By: Grace Sinclair, Loyalty Strategy Director at Merkle
The new threat of cancel culture looms over businesses, and can impact a brand’s reputation, communication channels, and even revenue. It can lead to huge numbers of potential customers boycotting a business, smearing its reputation across its communication channels, with the risk of detracting others from engaging with the business. The trend of “cancelling” people or businesses arises alongside an increased need for consumers’ values to be validated. The internet allows for the creation of tribes aligning to specific values, and it’s up to businesses to decide which values they want to promote.
We’ve seen several major brands targeted by this practice and each have reported clear impact to their bottom line. If we look deeper at this phenomenon, there are a number of principal learnings that we can take to help flip this into positive action.
Customer relationships go two ways
Through cancel culture, we see that when people perceive a brand is threatening their beliefs, they will turn to social media and even wider media channels to rally an army of supporters behind their cause, to level the balance between their individual belief and the reputation of the brand. The challenge for businesses therefore is: How do we make ourselves approachable and ensure customers feel their views are not just heard but respected and considered?
For many, the answer lies in their customer services provision. Customer service agents are the closest contact to your customers, so are your best opportunity to hear your customers’ feedback. However, by responding to individual queries in isolation you can risk missing the bigger picture, essentially patching a gaping hole with a collection of sticking plasters. In addition, budget and resource constraints can lead to long wait times and limited consideration in responses, so for those looking to feel truly heard, this approach can very often fall short. So then what else can be done?
1. Create a community
Many businesses continue to consider each of their customers as isolated individuals, but it is human nature for us to seek community. Through cancel culture, many individuals connect with communities of like-minded individuals to rally behind a cause, whether they have a connection to the brand or not. This means that any positive customer experiences people have had previously with the brand can often have little bearing in the conversation.
By recognising this need for community, businesses can offer their customers a space to come together, share thoughts and ideas, and amplify these through the community network. That way the brand has more control over the conversation.
In the market, these manufactured communities can be found in the likes of:
- Loyalty programmes that connect members through forums and events.
- Community-based customer value propositions that offers a space to connect with like-minded customers.
- Focus group-based research.
Each come with their own benefits and potential pitfalls so careful consideration should be given to the most appropriate approach for each business. The design process should recognise the need for a common focus founded on the common contexts and values of customers and prospects, while also mitigating against the pitfalls of siloed viewpoints, to ensure maximum inclusivity for the whole customer base.
2. Establish a communication channel
It’s not always the voice that shouts the loudest, it’s often the one that reaches the right ear that will have the most impact. In the absence of the right ear though it often feels that our best option is to just shout in unison and hope that somebody hears.
A natural option to avoid the media cacophony of being cancelled is then to offer up an ear. Provide your customers with a channel where they can truly be heard and be transparent about the impact that will have. As businesses increasingly look to be more data driven in their decision making, ensure that your senior leaders are empowered with the data about what customers are saying to ensure that future plans align to customer expectations. This shouldn’t be an ad hoc exercise carried out during annual planning or when something has gone wrong, but should instead be a live feed of information based on active listening through customer services, research, and social platforms.
Just as businesses select the channel they believe is most likely to reach their customers when they are pushing out marketing or service communications, customers should have an option of channels that they can use to contact the business. These should be designed with inclusivity in mind to ensure everybody has equal opportunity to reach the business. This extends beyond the inclusion of both digital and non-digital routes, businesses should also carefully consider time and convenience factors. If a customer has to dig through pages of help content to find a business’ contact details, or has to find half an hour within a busy day to dedicate to being sat on hold, this will naturally lead to increased frustration and a reduced willingness to communicate directly.
3. Ensuring your response is heard
Effective communication is built on a foundation of trust, and for customers to feel their voice is being heard they need to see credible evidence of consideration and, where appropriate, associated business change.
In many ways this should be the easiest to deliver against, since the majority of businesses already push information to customers on business activities and offerings through a range of marketing channels. Additionally, even for those brands who are actively aligning to consumer values and needs, credit is rarely given to the customers for their input and inspiration in these decisions. However, where business strategies centre around profitability rather than customer experience, the content is often designed to trigger transactional responses rather than the emotional responses needed to build consumer trust and loyalty.
Businesses should consider in their customer contact strategies where the space lies to share updates on the learnings they have gained from active customer input and any associated actions they have taken. Through doing so, they will be able to increase their credibility and introduce a more conversational feel to their communications, thus building overall engagement and loyalty amongst their customer base.
Taking positive action now from the values underpinning this cultural trend will not only help to protect your brand from cancellation but can also deliver more immediate benefits to business performance. Through successfully integrating a foundation of reciprocity and action in their customer communications and activities, businesses are able to build deeper customer relationships and recognise increased loyalty and advocacy within their customer base, increasing customer lifetime value and reducing the cost of acquisition.