Michael Lowenstein, Ph.D., CMC, is Thought Leadership Principal for Beyond Philosophy
Target has issued press releases, and been on television, speaking to the fact that they are bringing in new senior IT execs to oversee customer data management. On the company web site, Target has begun posting information about initiatives and programs designed to offer customers greater purchase security. This is a small (it is not prominent on the site, requiring some searching) but much needed first step in rebuilding consumer trust:https://corporate.target.com/about/payment-card-issue.aspx Target would be well-served in building awareness of where to locate this information.
These efforts, however, only scratch the surface on what would help Target make large deposits to the severely depleted consumer trust account. While we’re on the subject, the same holds true for General Motors, which has recalled 6.1 million of its vehicles for operating problems going back almost a decade, at a cost (so far) of close to $1 billion, not to mention the many billions more in lost customer trust and brand reputation impairment, with little in the way of image recovery except notices to customers and an apology from the new CEO.
Here is one of the things they both could do to bring customers closer, and make them part of the image rebuilding effort.
An online community can be an effective lever for reconstructing and stabilizing brand reputation. That opportunity has been available for companies which have experienced negative press and impaired customer perception, such as Toyota, JetBlue, and FedEx. My colleagues and I have been observing how Target’s data breaches, which have impacted over 100 million shoppers during the 2013 holiday shopping season, resulted in a draining of the emotional bank account of customer trust. This has hurt the company financially, but there is also a ‘long tail’ of negative enterprise reputation and image to be addressed.
Online community has the power to help bring back customer and public trust in Target, through collaborative dialogue and assurances that the company is serious about taking responsibility for the data issues, and letting consumers know that strategic plans and processes are in place to fix the problems. Most customers appreciate and want more of this kind of personalization, a relationship, and an emotional connection. Community would provide this for Target, an integral element of its brand trust revitalization.
It’s up to organizations to a) identify the strongest emotional drivers for customers and b) effectively leverage them. Successful organizations have either evolved to do this as part of their operational and shared values DNA , or they have begun to recognize the importance of image and social responsibility in their communication programs, by placing customers’ interests ahead of the enterprise’s. They can build a veritable bank account of trust; and high trust, and the positive reputation and image it breeds, is an enduring strategic advantage, a definite competitive differentiator. And, personalization truly optimizes the overall customer experience, perhaps its most important benefit.
Doing this contributes to making an enterprise like Target feel more human, transparent, authentic and honest, and accessible to customers and other stakeholders. Community also enhances the branded experience, and it makes the customers active partners in shaping Target’s future reputation and image. It’s not the only trust-building answer for Target, but online community would be a major component of this effort.
The Target corporate site has a lot of info about mission and goals, giving and service, diversity and inclusion, the shopping experience, etc. But, unless I’m missing something (and apologies to Target if I am), there is no online community. And, that is an missed opportunity to have secure discussions, generate and track ideas, test or validate products and services, address issues, etc. – building trust and value for Target stakeholders.
Business-to-consumer companies such as Domino’s Pizza, Victoria’s Secret, and Starbucks are active users of information from their customer communities. Starbucks, for example, learned via its community that customers were not staying in the stores when the batteries on their smart phones ran out of power, leaving to go back home or to their offices to recharge. Time in the store equates to spending on coffee and other products, so Starbucks began testing wireless recharging mats at various locations. Domino’s learned from its community that providing a movie makes a great accompaniment to a pizza delivered to customers’ homes; and, in the U.K, Domino’s has partnered with Lionsgate Pictures to offer a code for free streaming movies when a pizza is ordered.
This is the proverbial tip of the iceberg for how insights from private online customer communities can be leveraged, and how communication with customers can be enhanced. Communities offer data that can be used to recruit advocates, address customer concerns and complaints (as in the cases of Target and GM), and provide customers with information on new product and service initiatives. Again, for Target as well as GM, an online community would be a major image-enhancing step forward, helping them regain trust and a positive image.
Not only could these companies establish customer communities, they should.