To what extent should a business attempt to educate its customers?
Historically, many businesses have taken it upon themselves to try and educate their customers about their products and services. From pensions to paracetamol, most products come with some form of impenetrable instruction manual that customers are expected to read in order to understand what they have purchased.
Attempts to educate customers often stem from a desire to minimise complaints and bad press by managing their expectations. Sometimes a business needs to educate customers about why their request might not be in their best interest – particularly in an increasingly high tech environment. Those 100-page policy documents might make sense to the underwriters, but they will mean very little to the customer who needs a 1-page summary in jargon-free language.
We don’t need no education
But do these attempts to educate customers work in an era where the customer resorts to an internet search as soon as they have a problem or query? Prior to the Internet (remember that?), the business was the trusted source of knowledge. But the speed at which knowledge is now created and shared makes it increasingly difficult for a business to manage its knowledge effectively.
The employee responsible for doing the educating may themselves never have experienced the problem that a customer is facing, leading to a perceived lack of authenticity. And, rightly or wrongly, the customer often believes that the best person to ask for advice is another customer rather than a representative of the company.
The problem of educating customers is just as difficult for B-2-B as for B-2-C. For example, business A may procure a new product from business B, but there is a significant danger that the former can overload the latter with too much training and documentation. However, if business A holds back on educating business B about the full range of options afforded by its new purchase, it may be accused of not delivering value for money.
Changes made by third-parties also cause a headache, as Facebook’s decision to start auto-playing videos demonstrated. When a large number of mobile customers found they were suddenly consuming more of their data allowance, they accused their mobile providers of over-charging them. And in some cases, it was the customers who first informed the mobile operators of the problem – the customers were ‘educating’ the business.
So do businesses have a responsibility to push information to customers to inform them of such changes? Should customers have to opt in to or opt out of these ‘helpful’, paternalistic communications?
Who should be educating whom?
In a hyperconnected era, the flow of information between company and customer is dynamic. Knowledge is no longer the exclusive possession of the company: the customer can – and should – educate the company just as much as the company educates the customer.
How? This mutually beneficial relationship can be developed by making customer communities as integral to a business as the board, the finance department, and the sales team. Customer communities and forums are a largely untapped resource, and businesses should be employing more open business models to co-evolve with their customer communities – incorporating their feedback and insights into both problem-solving and product development.
For what purpose? The answer is: to build confidence. We attempt to educate customers to give them the confidence to make better decisions about our products and services. Our customers can do the same for us – their feedback gives the company the confidence that everything is aligned and working as it should be.
The networked era is changing the role of the organisation from an ‘all-knowing parent’ to a ‘trusted advisor’. Trust and confidence are increasingly integral to brand value, and there is great value for organisations in making this transition. But navigating this change requires businesses to treat customers as adults, and be prepared to demonstrate greater trust, openness and authenticity.
Our customers can help to educate us and are prepared to do so, but only if we are prepared to listen and respond with the same objective: to increase understanding and build confidence.
Source : The QoE discussions November 2016 ‘Should we be educating our customers?’