Traditional business relationships are almost purely transactional. Consumers engage when they need to (and rarely outside of that need) and businesses respond to the particular situation. Seems simple enough.

Who would YOU call?

What if YOU, as a business owner or leader had a brainstorm, but didn’t know if customers would buy it? Would you put together a focus group or create a survey? But, who would YOU talk to? A consultant? A friend? WHO?

But what if your customer had an idea? A brainstorm? Something your business could do to be better. Who would they talk to? A customer service rep in another country? Should they send a form email, to which they will receive an auto responder? Should they talk to the President of the company? WHO?

What if instead of filling out forms or waiting on hold customers could talk WITH (rather than “to” or “at”) businesses?  What if instead of getting doing months of market research businesses could get the pulse of their customers today. At this moment. And then, do the same thing tomorrow.

What if businesses and consumers stopped viewing the association as transactional and started seeing it as a partnership?

Instead of customer complaints, businesses got more customer ideas. Instead of telling the customer what they need – the business gives the customers what they want.

Businesses would finally hear what customers are really saying, and customers could say what they were thinking, when they were thinking it. Businesses could see who their best, most vocal and most likely to share customers are and treat them accordingly.

If you haven’t already guessed: this is social media.

Why should my business “do” social media?

Because whether you are there or not, your customers are saying things about you. You can listen or you can ignore.

Ignore at your own peril though, because more and more customers are EXPECTING you to listen and respond when they talk about you. If you aren’t doing either, essentially you send the following message to your customers: “I care about what you have to say, so long as you let us know about it at our convenience.” That isn’t a relationship – its a transaction. A relationship requires give and take.

The future of business-customer relationships will not be transactional, it will be RELATIONAL. Market research will be done every day, businesses will know exactly how their customers feel. Customers will have relationships with businesses and their employees in a whole new way, and they will feel more committed to those business with whom they have a relationship.

Conversely, because not all customers are equal, businesses will better know who their best customers are and how often they share information about the brand/product. Business will be able to hear the voice of different types of customers. Even the smallest business will no longer need to “fly blind” because they can’t afford expensive marketing reports and surveys. Businesses will constantly have their fingers on the pulse of customers. They’ll know where to invest in product development and who wants to buy what.

It doesn’t matter if your a fan of social media. If your customers are fans of social media, you should be there.

Social media can be market research, customer service, product development. Most importantly though, its the place where customers stop being numbers and start being voices. Its the place where businesses stop telling and start listening. Ignoring social media is like not answering the phone when its ringing.

I hear the ringing. Will you answer?