In The Nick Of Real-Time

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Are consumer expectations getting out of control?

True story: our brand-new dryer broke down. It’s not even one year old. It’s not the first time. We were told we would have to replace a piece, and that it would take five to ten business days for them to receive the piece, and only once the piece is in inventory will they be able to make an appointment to replace the piece (which could also take up to an additional five business days). Young kids, colds flying around from daycare and wet weather doesn’t make it any easier. We haven’t heard a peep from the company. We keep calling them and they keep telling us that they will call us back when the piece comes in. Ten business days later, we now have an appointment to get the part replaced. They said that they will be at our house at some point on Thursday between 7:30 am and 5:00 pm.

Well, isn’t that convenient?

It’s not hard to tweet out the brand name in an effort to publicly shame them into speeding up the process. It wouldn’t be hard to name names in this posting and have it become an ever-increasing piece of content that defines their brand story. It’s not all that challenging to post the story on Facebook and encourage everyone in my social graph to not do business with this brand. I’m holding on by a thread here in not revealing the brand’s name. It is frustrating beyond belief. During all of this frustration and waiting, I ordered my iPhone 5 directly from Apple and watched one of the hottest pieces of technology arrive in less than five business days via China. Five days for the new iPhone with full visibility into where the product is and how it is tracking to my office (thanks to UPS) versus no idea, no response and no sense of care from a major appliance manufacturer.

What gives?

There are three sides to every story. As a consumer, none of this makes sense. As a marketing professional, I have seen brands struggle with customer service and supply chains. It’s a complex world and getting pieces manufactured, shipped and installed professionally is actually a lot harder than it looks. We hold brands to such a high standard in a day and age when a tweet can change corporate dynamics as public shaming is the new (and sometimes best) way to get a brand’s attention.

Real-time is now time.

The Social Habit is a social media research series from Edison Research. They are publishing their latest report in a couple of weeks, and have been teasing out some of the more eye-opening pieces of data that they have captured. Last week, Jay Baer of the Convince & Convert blog (he’s also co-author with Amber Naslund of the business book, The Now Revolution, and one of the editorial partners of The Social Habit) let the world know about this one, fascinating, nugget: "Among respondents to The Social Habit who have ever attempted to contact a brand, product, or company through social media for customer support, 32% expect a response within 30 minutes. Further, 42% expect a response within 60 minutes."

Suck on that one for a minute.

There are some brands that would struggle to provide a response in thirty to sixty minutes when the customer is actually in their physical location. Just last night, a friend was lamenting on Facebook that it took three phone calls and over two hours to their get their iPhone 5 activated via their mobile service provider. In short, brands are being put to the test of speed. With instantaneous connectivity and brands pushing for customers to like, follow, friend and plus one them, consumers are pushing back and expecting the responses to their customer service issues to happen at a fast and furious pace. It’s not just this pending research report, you can feel it live and in-the-moment right now. Head over to Twitter and type in any brand name in the search box and witness the differing levels of engagement.

What this all means…

Pandora’s box has been opened. It can’t be closed. Brands are racing to capture as many fans as possible in as many social media channels as possible. It’s not enough for brands to capture and connect with these consumers, without the expectation of one good turn deserving another. It turns out that consumers want one thing: their issues resolved. And, they want it done fast. Faster than fast. The challenge is this: the majority of brands act fast… as fast as they can. Sadly, it’s not even close to being fast enough for consumers. Now, brands and consumers are going to have move forward and figure out a way to define what the true speed limits are. Right now, we’re in the autobahn phase of social media… there is no speed limit but it’s all moving very, very fast.

Over to you: do you think consumers have realistic or unrealistic expectations of how quickly a brand should respond?

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for The Huffington Post called, Media Hacker. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:


  1. “do you think consumers have realistic or unrealistic expectations of how quickly a brand should respond?”
    It depends on the medium. Spending two hours on the phone is grossly excessive but I don’t expect a response to an e-mail in less than 24 hours. As in most cases I think the answer is nuanced, a combination of sluggish companies and spoiled customers with unrealistic expectations.

  2. Great post, Mitch. Social has clearly given people a vehicle to voice their frustration with brands and share that voice with the world. In this real-time world, we’ve come to expect real-time service. Nothing wrong with that. Brands need to re-engineer their inefficient infrastructures; they need to break the internal silos that cause most of the inefficiencies in communication; it’s time that they shift their business strategies to become customer-centric.
    Traditional channels like the phone, stores, email, etc., didn’t provide customers with the ability to build a groundswell and have a unified voice. Social is the vehicle that’s providing this capability and the C-Suite is starting to take notice, because they recognize that the power has shifted. The businesses that are able to innovate, restructure, and solve customer issues quickly, are the ones that will survive under this new power-shift. Businesses that hold on to a product-centric strategy won’t be around much longer. The writing’s on the wall.

  3. Thanks so much, Mitch. Indeed, we have an absolute treasure trove of stuff coming out from The Social Habit, but I chose to release that data point first because I think it has the biggest potential impact on business. Consumers have voted with their keyboards, and they want social customer service to be more like phone, less like email. And woe be the company that doesn’t get on top of this trend, because it only takes ONE company in each vertical to commit the resources necessary to provide real-time customer service to start making a material difference (in theory) in loyalty. The next two years are going to be fascinating in the process reengineering side of things.

  4. A brand makes a promise when it speaks in the market place. It makes a promise when it sells something. Can it live up to the promise when that something fails? Yes, the consumer has some unrealistic expectations set by the world of instant access and the magic of stuff, but brands are far too often making promises they can’t keep. Think Zappos vs. Dell. Simplicity vs. complexity. Will your next range last just four years because the logic board is no longer manufactured? The uneducated consumer does not know what question to ask the brand that over-promises in a world with built-in obsolesce and inherently siloed value chains.

  5. Great post as always Mitch, my feelings are similar to many of the other comments (IE depending upon the medium, response and reaction can differ greatly). The trap most brands fall into is the set no expectation or guidelines prior to engagement.
    If you are clear that the particular platform is manned by REAL people and they work XX hours and will endeavor to respond within a set time frame you can dramatically reduce stress and demand.

  6. Question: do you think consumers have realistic or unrealistic expectations of how quickly a brand should respond?
    I think that it is a slightly unrealistic expectation because many brands are’t prepared for the avalanche of tweets and facebook messages.
    As a consumer, I would love it if brands actually responded in that time, however, thinking realistically, I know only some brands are able perform this feat.
    I think that if you email a company, you should at least get a email back saying the email was received; after that, I think that 24-48 hours is reasonable for an official response from the company. In social media, I think something in the area of 24 hours would be more realistic.
    What is Twist Image’s policy?

  7. I think brands are now having to compete with the real time local relationship concept. To buy from a big company and not know where you stand in terms of a service is competing with buying from the local vendor whose kid is in your kid’s hockey team and with whom you are rubbing shoulders at the practice.
    When brands treat you badly as in your example, the relationship is one of a big black whole or no relationship. If it is the local guy, you may have more empathy for his delivery problem, because you are talking about it.

  8. I would bet I could name that company in two letters, but taking a cue from you I won’t. Thanks for helping me resist the urge to whine on line about every disappointing commercial interaction. It’s helped me to be a better person.

  9. First– remarkable restraint not naming the company, especially as it was not the point of your piece. Thoughtfulness>Brand Bullying.
    Second– I have had similar experiences with appliance repair– likely it is more a supply chain issue than anything else.
    Third— as to expectations. Do we set expectations for response when we set up customer communication channels? It’s easy to assume instant response when you are on Twitter, but it doesn’t necessarily happen. Is the answer to beef up resources to cut response times, or to clearly set up expectations on that channel? Of course, it depends, but expectations are the key. If you go in knowing that it takes a few days for a part to come in and then a few more to get a repair person in, you might be less exasperated. Not that it’s ideal, but you know what you are getting into.
    As you can guess, I think about this a lot– as a communicator, and as a consumer.

  10. People’s expectations are constantly rising and are based on the best experiences they had, irrespective of how applicable they are to the current situation. “If Amazon can deliver my order tomorrow then why can’t I get an estimate for some work in less than 1 week?
    Customer Effort Score is now being discussed as a better indication of Loyalty than Net Promoter Score and, I think, waiting for many of us is an effort. Because “I’m ready now” is easy and having to plan for a future event is (a little) more effort I want it now.
    Anyway, great post!

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