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Is the notion of the social customer a myth?

If the voice of the customer is real, then why do services suck more?
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

Recent experiences with banks and telecommunications companies suggests to me the notion of the social customer is a myth. Everything we are told suggests companies that don't have a social computing strategy that actively embraces people - and especially customers - are toast. Who dreams this stuff up? Let's do a reality check:

RyanAir - one of the world's most hated airlines. It has just bounced back into profit after one misfire. The lines at check in aren't getting any shorter. I refuse to fly with them. Ever. They don't care.

Vodafone - my tale of woe with this shower is not quite over. Last month the company announced it doubled profits. Vodafone has scaled heights of ineptitude even I could not imagine. So what?

HSBC - the so-called world's bank that can't automate the transfer of account balances. It had a rough 2009-10 but then so did many others.

Wal-Mart - you either fall into the 'I love their pricing' camp or you wonder at how they get away with practices that many find unacceptable. Latest profits exceeded market expectations. Whomever these people are that find Wal-Mart an aberration aren't knocking a dent in the company. Not even a tiny ding.

Facebook - currently under intense scrutiny in tech media for playing fast and loose with our privacy. Some think the share price on Second Market is going nuts. Can anyone explain this apparent inverse relationship?

BP - the current target of outrage among the green brigade, a source of daily news and earner of 431,000 BoycottBP Facebooks fans.. You know what? Boycotting BP branded garages is futile. Despite a share price collapse, no financial analyst really believes there will be long term damage to BP. Even if there is, the rest of the oil industry will simply fill any void. After all, I bet not a single reader thinks twice about putting another company's gas in their car.

...and on it goes. Feel free to add your favorite company to hate.

Yesterday, one of my friends got annoyed because Amplify requires a login. "You'll hurt your reputation," came the warning sound. OMG - I'd better close my account immediately. Guess what? I added readers.Do I believe that blowing a fuse on a blog will make one iota of difference to (insert latest telco/bank/multi-national name here?) Not a chance. Not even if 10, 100, 1,000 or 431,000 get up on their collective hind legs.

If the cacophony of sound around the social customer is for real (and I know plenty of consultants coining big bucks for spreading this stuff), who's paying the tab for what seems to me to be latest tech craze crock? You and me.

Isn't the truth that rather than have a socialized relationship with us, all suppliers of goods and services want to do are two things: sell more and profitably. If they need to look like a suck up to get there, then fine. They'll do it. But puhlease, let's not fool ourselves into believing there is such a thing as the social customer that brands want to hug and love. Or that being horrified at some lame campaign will hurt brands. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I'm looking forward to the day when a brand somewhere, anywhere has the nuts to add this to their logo: trying to suck less everyday. That I could live with. Anything else is wishful thinking.

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