Good customer service used to be one of the secrets to business success, but it seems that in our digitally driven business thinking, with automated processes and systems, we got lost, wondering why with all the data at hand today, customers are often even farther away from us than ever before.

The truth is that the social or connected customers herald a new era of business, demanding products and services that meet or exceed their needs. They want to find what they need, when they need it, and want to be heard.

Besides, our constantly multiplying digital tools connect us to more than just products, companies and media channels, but most importantly all of us to one another. The digital flow of data, our ideas, our commerce, and our identity turns each of us into a node in an enormously powerful network of human interaction. It is a network capable of spreading ideas and running businesses whose impact on businesses is profound.

As the Internet links us in networks, it is transforming customers' relationships to each other and to organizations that quite obviously realize that its customers are behaving radically differently than in the pre-digital era. Compare to business practices that time, designed to suit the paradigm of a mass audience, the customer of today is no longer seen as an isolated individual but as a dynamic and interactive participant in a network. These customers are constantly responding, connecting, and sharing among themselves and with businesses they care about. To succeed, new strategies that match the behaviour of customer networks are needed.

Businesses need to change the way they think about customers, because the rise of customer networks has given much more power, independence, and influence to individuals.

We have by now four decades of experience living with the Internet, a network of networks, fifteen years of broad public use of the World Wide Web, and nearly a decade since the adoption of widespread social media tools in the Web 2.0 era. By observing which media have been embraced and how customers have used them, which new businesses have flourished, and which brands have successfully adapted to customer networks, we can begin to identify a few broad, underlying usage patterns:

  1. Customers in networks seek to freely access digital data, content, and interactions as quickly, easily, and flexible as possible. Weather it is instant communication on our smartphones or having a world of information at our fingertips with search engines, we want it all and we want it now. Increasingly, wherever we go, we demand availability of Internet access without log-ins, firewalls, or fees. The next generation of real-time data, location-aware mobile devices, and cloud computing technology will put each of us in even closer and more constant contact with our networks.
  2. Customers seek to engage with digital content that is sensory, interactive, and relevant to their needs. We may be reading fewer newspapers and magazines than five years ago, but major news publishers have more readers than ever.
  3. Customers seek to customize their experiences in networks by choosing and modifying a wide assortment of information, products, and services. The Web itself is the ultimate customizable medium, with a trillion pages to choose from as you browse for content, news, and commerce. Hypertext, RSS feeds and widgets have made digital content highly customizable and point to the future of an increasingly personalized Web. But an overload of choices will make recommendation engines, filtering tools increasingly important.
  4. Customers seek to connect with one another by sharing their ideas and opinions in text, images, videos, and social links. Increasingly, our relationships in social networks are portable to other Websites, allowing us to personalize and enrich all of our digital experiences.
  5. Customers seek to collaborate on collective projects and goals through open platforms, since today's digital tools allow groups to form and collaborate easily across great distances, whether motivated by curiosity, personal interest, or deeply held social values.

Excerpt from David L. Rogers: The network is your customer – Five strategies to thrive in a digital age

By MediaBUZZ