How Social a Social Customer Are You?

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When it comes to considered purchases it seems that everyone--B2B and B2C buyers alike--wants a second opinion.

When it comes to considered purchases it seems that everyone--B2B and B2C buyers alike--wants a second opinion. In fact, 100 percent of the nearly 100 respondents to 1to1's recent survey seek recommendations on occasion before purchasing an item important enough to research before buying. While only about a third of the survey respondents seek recommendations prior to every considered purchase, only 4 percent rarely ask for recommendations.Where do customers go for those recommendations? When it comes to product research, most respondents head to the Web first. Nearly 80 percent start researching a product or service with a visit to a search engine; 12 percent visit e-commerce sites like Amazon, Zappos, or Crutchfield. But when it comes to recommendations, more than half of respondents prefer to ask a friend or associate knowledgeable about the type of product or service they're looking for. About 20 percent query anyone in social who might have knowledge on that type of product or service (e.g., by asking a question in a LinkedIn group or using a product- or topic-based hash tag in Twitter); while 18 percent ask people within their social network(s) via a question posted there.

Those recommendations are influential. Sixty-five percent of respondents have made a purchase as a direct result of a recommendation(s) they received via their social network and 45 percent made a purchase as a direct result of a recommendation(s) they received via someone they didn't know as a reply to a query you posted in a broader online community. If this seems high, it may be due to the influence of recommendations by "expert" sources. Although people whose recommendations respondents trust most are friends (28 percent), 22 percent of respondents place the most trust in "someone with expertise on that item despite whether I know them," and 9 percent feel that way about members of an online community focused around a specific product set or topic.

When it comes to considered B2C purchases, the items respondents are most likely to ask for a recommendation via social are electronics/technology like computers, TVs, or apps (77 percent), entertainment like movies or restaurants (62 percent), and travel (54 percent). When respondents research products as a business customer, the B2B items they're most likely to seek recommendations on via social are technology like, hardware, software, and cloud applications or platforms (73 percent) and services like consulting, outsourcing, and event planning (67 percent).

Reviews are also an important part of the equation when respondents are researching a considered purchase. More than 80 percent of respondents "always" or "often" read reviews before making a purchase. And, about three quarters say that reviews "always" or "often" influence their purchase. The reason respondents cited most often for the influence of reviews is the firsthand experience reviewers have with the product or service they've reviewed. Respondents also feel that in most cases they get objective opinions that cite both the good and bad about an item they're considering, which helps to paint a complete picture of the item. Not only do reviews provide additional information that may be helpful in making a final decision, they sometimes point out warning signs of potential product problems or service issues, respondents say. Respondents also noted that reviews help to set realistic expectations about a product or service.

When asked the outcome of a time when respondents sought a recommendation for a considered purchase via social, respondents shared an interesting mix of situations. For example:

  • I queried my social network for a local SEO firm in my area. I got three recommendations and was able to get proposals from all three.
  • When considering the purchase of a Kindle I weighed all comments regarding the different models and was able to decide which one was best for my needs and made the purchase.
  • I wanted to purchase an e-reader, however I had no idea what to look for. After reading many reviews of each, including comparative reviews, and speaking with friends and family, I choose the Amazon kindle.
  • When I moved to New York I needed a new hairdresser specializing in straightening who wasn't overly expensive. I posted a question on Yelp and chose a salon based on the replies.
  • I was looking for an artisan carpenter to do some refinish work on some valued family heirlooms (furniture). I sought opinions and recommendations from friends, neighbors, and local networks. I reviewed and visited the top three woodworkers, and made final selection based on the aggregated information.
  • When considering a new smart phone, friends recommended the android. I didn't trust what they knew, so I looked online and asked a few experts, then decided to go with my gut on the iPhone. Afterwards, friend said how much they hate their android.
  • We were looking for a new optometrist. I asked friends on Facebook and found the spouse of a former coworker was highly recommended. I wouldn't have even known about her if I hadn't taken to Facebook.
  • When planning my wedding I booked most of my vendors through social recommendations from other brides I met online who had used the same vendors. It mostly worked out for the best.
  • I always read reviews on Trip Advisor before booking a hotel, and look at the photographs taken by other users. I generally find the hotel then lives up to my expectations.

Clearly, recommendations and reviews make in impact. But why do people take the time to write reviews? More than 40 percent of 1to1's survey respondents say that because they use reviews, they feel they should also contribute. About a quarter write them when a product either surpasses or is not up to expectation, and 5 percent simply like to help others.

Being a social customer, it seems, comprises sharing and learning, which leads a win-win-win--for the social customers involved and for the companies they ultimately decided to do business with.

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