The Bigger the Brand, the More Likely Its Customers Feel Ignored American consumers yearn to collaborate but the biggest companies are not getting the message.

By Ray King

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


American consumers have realized the power of the Internet to make their voices heard. In turn, companies are improving brand loyalty by inserting themselves into the conversation on Facebook, Twitter and other sites. However, while social media feels very personal, brands are still quite reluctant to offer their customers any truly collaborative tools.

Brands don't care about hearing from customers.

Half of Americans feel their favorite brands aren't interested in their ideas, according to the 2014 Customer Collaboration report, an internal survey conducted by my company. Of the top companies explored, one in five Americans named Walmart as the least collaborative company, followed quickly by the likes of Apple, McDonald's and IKEA. Without some kind of customer collaboration in place, brands are going to continue missing out on critical conversations with customers and subsequently missing the mark on providing them with the products and services they're asking for.

Walmart, for example, is suffering from an ongoing image problem that speaks to the necessity of improved customer collaboration. The company has recently made efforts to better appeal to customers through in-store initiatives, such as video game trade-ins and Walmart To-Go (a convenience store model), but those don't seem to be resonating with customers who still called the company out for its lack of collaboration.

Related: Seven Simple Tips to Get Honest Customer Feedback Online

In the same report, half of Americans said they held better perceptions of brands that allowed them to collaborate online. If Walmart doesn't begin gauging customer feedback on future initiatives through some sort of online collaboration, it will never be able to connect with customers and begin improving its cold corporate reputation.

Other companies explored in the report, such as Disney, Toyota and Nike (listed as the most collaborative companies by only 12, 4 and 4 percent of consumers respectively), are suffering from a lack of awareness of their customer collaboration initiatives. Disney has its Magic Kingdom Forums, Toyota has its Community Hub and Nike has its Nike+ community—yet it seems like many Americans are unaware or unimpressed by these efforts thus far.

Customers will take things into their own hands.

IKEA stands out as an interesting example of the true appetite from consumers to collaborate with their favorite brands online. In this particular case, customers have taken it upon themselves to create their own online community to collaborate about the brand, Ikea Fans. In an effort to personalize the IKEA experience, these customers have created their own forums, galleries, blogs and even an IKEApedia.

Customers obviously needed a way to collaborate about the brand and by offering nothing to satisfy that need, IKEA has been completely left out of a crucial conversation regarding its brand. Now that this is taking place outside official channels, the company has little ability to chime in and reap the benefits from such a passionate and influential group of customers.

Related: Twitter Shows the Value in Listening to Customers

Some brands are doing customer collaboration right.

Findings in the 2014 Customer Collaboration Report did reveal that Google was the most collaborative consumer brand, with approximately 20 percent of Americans in agreement. This makes sense considering the company's Google Glass Explorer Program, which is specifically designed to emphasize the importance of customers' feedback on a product finally arriving at public availability.

That is exactly the kind of customer collaboration Americans are looking for. Nearly a quarter of consumers (22 percent) wanted to collaboratively engage with brands about future products being offered. Other top ways of collaboration wanted by customers included interaction regarding the promotions and offers it provides (38 percent) and product usage guidelines (18 percent).

Brands need easier, more turnkey ways to effectively collaborate with their customers. Superficial communication via social media or email isn't going to be enough to suffice when it comes to long-term customer loyalty. One possible solution is creating an external facing wiki, similar to the one developed by IKEA customers, but housed by the actual brands. It is a significantly more innovative mechanism that would allow companies to engage directly with their consumers in one channel.

As a company, it's far better to have that feedback manifest in an environment where customers feel they have been invited to contribute, than one outside the brand that limits its ability to communicate.

*Note: Research and Top Level Design commissioned YouGov Plc to run the research featured in this release. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,455 adults in UK and 1,220 adults in US. Fieldwork was undertaken between April 11th – 14th, 2014. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK and US adults (aged 18+).

Related: Your Customers Are Talking. Are You Listening?

Wavy Line
Ray King

CEO, Top Level Design, LLC.

Ray King is the CEO of Top Level Design, a new domain registry behind the .wiki and .ink top-level domains.


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