Gerry McGovern presents at eZconf2017
Gerry McGovern argued brands ignore their existing customers in the constant pursuit of new acquisitions at #eZconf2017 PHOTO: Kaya Ismail

LONDON — Traditionally, brands have controlled the narrative between themselves and their customers, mainly because they had near-exclusive access to the required technology. But with the introduction of social media, customers gained a voice in the narrative and the balance of power shifted in their favor.

That was the message Gerry McGovern, founder and CEO of Customer Carewords, delivered during his presentation at the eZ Conference 2017.

Existing Customers and the Power of Word-of-Mouth 

Because consumers have the technology and digital ecosystems in place to challenge brand narratives, McGovern insisted that, “customers are now driving the buying process.”

Consumers are no longer waiting to hear what a brand has to say about its product or service. Instead, consumers are using technology to find out from those who know — the brand’s existing customers.

‘We don’t believe organizations anymore. We test [products and services] through use, and if we haven’t used it, we find somebody else who has used it,” he said. 

This distinct lack of trust in big businesses was illustrated in a recent Edelman report (pdf): 

“When it comes to trust in business, the disparity is even starker. Low Income households had a mere 35 percent trust score; for High Net Worth individuals, it was 67 percent.”

McGovern went on to explain how the rise of social media has enabled consumers to gain information and testimonials from somewhere other than the company’s website.

“Social media is not a conversation between customers and organizations, it’s a conversation between customers and customers. It’s peer to peer,” he said.

“We’re moving away from reading [marketing copy] and getting directed by the brand, and moving towards actually talking to people who have used [the product or service].” 

The Harmful Obsession With Potential Customers

And yet, despite the vital role existing customers play in a business's long-term success, McGovern says that brands are failing to treat them right. 

One classic example, McGovern said, is evident on most company websites. He presented the unfortunate state of a common web design trend that set out to serve potential customers first and foremost with page-hogging banners and offers. Existing customers on the other hand, are forced to use a small sliver of the website (namely the menu and search bar) in order to find the services relevant to them. 

He complained at how brands are taking this marginalization of their own customers a step further with the introduction of hidden menus and search bars, which are intelligently tucked away by ‘Hamburger Menus’ — a web design practice McGovern showed disdain for.

“They think they can control the customer journey. They don’t want you to search, they want you to listen. And then they wonder, ‘why don’t our customers love us?’”

“This obsession with the potential customer often kills the experience for existing customers — despite the existing customer being the future of revenue and value [in the long term],” McGovern told the audience.

He went on to discuss all the ways brands routinely prioritize potential customers over their existing ones, saying that most companies, “are obsessed with potential customers.” 

“Brands outsource customer service to get it done as cheaply as possible, because what good are they? They’ve already bought our product, why would we care about them?” said McGovern. 

Learn to Want What You Already Have

It’s difficult to want something that you already have, but McGovern insists that in order to prosper in the long term, brands must begin to treat their existing customers with more care, and wait for the power of word-of-mouth to take effect.

McGovern presented Slack’s customer service culture as a solid example to follow:

“With Slack, every new employee does at least two full days working on the support queue, designers and engineers do one hour of support work per week, forever.” 

McGovern also cited the approach of Facebook. Much like Slack, Facebook have achieved success not just by having a great product, but also by caring for their customers in an authentic way. The proof is in the social network’s superb popularity, as well as its position at the top of the Global Empathy Index 2016

The bottom line though, at least according to McGovern, is as follows:

“If the current customer is now dominant, we must live in the world of the current customer. To do that, we must understand them, what they want to do, measure what they’re doing, and then improve the experience to make it faster and easier.”