The More you Ignore your Customers (the closer they get?)

For full effect.. this post should be read whilst listening to Morrisey singing ‘The more you ignore me, the closer I get’

The More You Ignore Me…

The recent case from Brasil of the Brastemp customer who created his own one man social media campaign against the company for their poor level of service and the length of time he was left waiting for the company to resolve a problem with a product is just one of many examples from across the globe of where irate consumers are turning to social media to take their complaints.

Enough has been written about the Brastemp example and the phenomena by which mobs turn social media into their primary route for exacting revenge on unsympathetic companies. Little has been written however abut just why we are hardwried as consumers to sense such strong resntment when we feel ignored. However, a new piece of research from the USA may just help to explain why consumers turn to such extreme measures.

Given that recent research from Deloitte here in Brasil shows that one of the great problems faced by brands is not only making consumers feel wanted online it may also serve as a warning to brands about the potential implications of what happens when consumers feel that no-one is listening to them.

Professor Kip Williams has conducted a range of experiments at the psychology lab at Purdue University, focused on measuring aggressive behaviour which ostracism can stir up in someone given the silent treatment. Speaking on the BBC Radio programme, ‘All in the Mind’ he discusses why as social creatures our brains are wired to sense rejection and being ignored. The experiments also shows that even when people feel rejected or ignored by computer generated communications (in tests which involve game playing), they still demonstrate high levels of resentment. It can trigger very deep, low-level and primitive response –  we don’t thnk too much – we just care and we react. Interestingly our first reaction may be to raise our antenna and seek to please the individual or organisation which is ignoring us – however with continued exclusion or rejection this tends to quickly lead to a loss of self esteem, and a lack of control.

This is explained by the fact that as social beings we have evolved through feeling part of social communications networks and connected to other people – and thus when these connections break down – naturally enough – we respond.

There are other social animals who may even die when they are ignored. For humans this response is less extreme but this sense of lack of control can become aggressive. In one of the experiments, people who have been ostracized or ignored are allowed to add hot chilli sauce to food of the person who has excluded them. The victims on average add 5 times more hot sauce than in normal situations.

All of this should be taken on-board by companies as they increasingly seek to be part of on-going communications and engagement building with consumers in social media. It’s all fine and good to try and start relationship building with people, but what happens if you can’t maintain that relationship and people feel excluded or ignored. Sure for most they will just ignore you back, but not all. Recent research from Deloitte here in Brasil highlighted this dilemna. The survey conducted with over 300 companies shows that social media is being far more as a media of publication than for maintaining ongoing communications with consumers.  Success in social media is at present more likely to be evaluated in terms of number of users and recommendations as opposed to considering the level of satisfaction with ongoing communications. Discussions with students at my FAAP course have also highlighted the fact that one of the greatest complaints we have as consumers is when companies establish channels of communication but fail to respond. This is also born out by a study of participants at Campus Party in 2011 where one of the most constitent criticisms of Brazilian brands in social media is the slow or non-existent response to customer complaints.

The moral of the story… listen to more Morrisey if you really want to understand how to manage your customer relations. And if you want to start a conversation with your consumers… try not to ignore them.

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