Social Commerce

When Conversation Gets in the Way of Commerce

ATM or bank clerk?  Self-service or live-service? Which do you prefer?

A new Havard Business Review article – Why Your Customers Don’t Want to Talk to You – suggests, on the back of recent research, that your customers don’t want to talk with you, or have any kind of ‘relationship’ with you – they just want you to solve their problem, and if that entails buying a product or service from you, then all the better (for you).

And if that problem-solving process can be automated to be smoother, faster and more efficient than dealing with a human – then most customers may prefer that too.  Self-service wins out against live-service.

So what’s this got to do with social commerce?  Well, it underscores the truth about business-customer relationships – you’re there to serve them, not be friends with them.  It also helps explain the finding by Razorfish that customers don’t want to have conversations with you in social media, nor do they want you be part of their conversations – what they want from you is simple; news about deals, events and offers.

Secondly, and by extension, the implication of the HBR article is that social features on e-commerce sites or on e-commerce-enabled social platforms shouldn’t get in the way of transactions.  Rather social features should make the business of companies serving – and selling – to customers, smoother, faster and more efficient.

More generally, if the HBR view holds for your market and your customers, something that is worth checking out, then there are a number of implications for social commerce;

  • Throw out the Cluetrain Manifesto – markets are not conversations, they are markets
  • Review your social media strategy – think commerce platform not conversational platform (and consign ‘engagement’ and engagement platform to the bin)
  • Use social media to make it faster, smoother, and more efficient for customers to buy from you. If social makes things more complex, it’s getting in the way.
  • To the degree that social media is conversational media for customers, don’t crash the party, host it – stop engaging in conversations with customers, and start facilitating and curating conversations between customers.
  • Prioritize passive social features that require the least effort on the part of customers (e.g. social recommendations based on social graph, group-buy deals etc).

Food for thought.

Chartered psychologist specialising in consumer behaviour, wellbeing and technology. Certified CX professional experienced in Design Thinking. A researcher, writer and speaker, Paul is head of Digital Insight at SYZYGY.

0 Comments Add New Comment

  1. Paul…
    The problem: "Social media gurus" have taken the idea of “markets being conversations” and convinced marketers that they've “lost control of the conversation” with customers. It's now top priority to regain control say gurus. But in reality businesses never had control. Instantaneous and ubiquitous communication isn't creating new power for customers so much as it's amplifying their existing power.

    The answer to selling more on the Web relies on seeding conversations that are worth having – not taking control of them. Success lies in knowing when conversations are worth having. And with whom to have them with. And in finding ways to converse that produce value for buyer and seller alike.

    The answer is to design conversations in ways that produce qualitative outcomes. Yes, using new digital tools. But none of this is outside the realm of known communications practices. Surprise! We don't need the gurus.

    Re: your comment "stop engaging in conversations with customers, and start facilitating and curating conversations between customers."

    I'm having a really hard time with this. So I'll ask you, "why?" Why should readers start facilitating and curating conversations but stop conversing — because it gets in the way of commerce? Why not just come down hard and say "don't converse for the sake of conversing or 'engaging' — period"??

    1. Thanks Jeff, another smart comment. Think the social media consultant line is not to take back control of the conversation – you can’t – but join the conversation. But do customers want to converse with brands… this HBR article suggests not. However, when brands host conversations – i.e. facilitate them with social media tools (forums, Q&A, reviews, plugins etc), we see that they are used – and customers buy more. So, all I’m suggesting is that brands should think of themselves as hosts, curators and facilitators of customer-customer talk – rather than seek to join the conversation.


  2. nice one Jeff !

    its getting dangerous for established operations to walk this social commerce rope while forgetting core principals of commerce.

    the biggest problem is that you cant outsource web 2.0 work without understanding your goal which leads to pure manipulation via so called GURU advice !

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