Consumer Expectations on the Social Accountability of Business
Long have gone the times when business was all about making money no matter what. Of course, even nowadays we can witness profiteering, financial and ecological scandals involving big companies, squandering and ineffective CEOs clinging to their chairs, and so on; approximately four or five decades ago, few people would be surprised if they learned something like this about a big company. However, nowadays the situation has changed; customers and societies in general have started seeing businesses not just as a way of making money, but also as a necessary gear in social mechanisms—and thus, the expectations of customers towards businesses have changed as well. Almost any business today is required to follow not only certain laws and quality standards, but also a number of demands societies put in front of them. In other words, it is social accountability (or responsibility) that most companies are required to maintain and demonstrate in today’s world.
But what exactly is social accountability? To start with, the social aspect of responsibility companies bear is just one part of their accountability; modern companies’ accountability falls into three categories: economic, social, and environmental responsibility. Among these three, social accountability is the most topical one. It implies companies participating in the everyday life of a society, contributing to the solution of global social problems, such as hunger or the protection of rights, and making people’s lives better overall. This can be achieved through a thorough and honest performance of a company’s primary functions. What lies in the basis of the relationship between a company and a customer? Supply and demand. A customer has a problem and needs a solution for it—a company, in its turn, does its best to satisfy this need. Respectively, the first and foremost customer expectation regarding a company is a stable supply of high-quality goods and services. This expectation includes timely delivery, a respectful attitude, client support, fair prices and advertising, and a number of other aspects. If a company is able to stick to these principles, the reward for this will be profit and a good reputation—which, in the modern world, sometimes matters more than the quality or nature of the goods and services provided (Exforsys.com).
This is not all, however. The 21st century is the age of information in all senses, and respectively, customers expect companies to be open and provide all the information they need or want. With the emergence and development of social networks, more and more people have started to prefer to gather information via Facebook and other similar platforms. In particular, the research conducted by HubSpot shows that the absolute majority (95%) of millennials—people born after 1980 and coming of age in the new millennium—expect any company or brand to have a Facebook page. This expectation is also put forward by older generations—specifically, 87% of people aged between 30-44 years, and almost 70% of people aged between 44-60 years believe that companies must have accessible pages on Facebook. According to this research, even a Twitter, LinkedIn, or YouTube presence is not as important for customers as Facebook. Such a requirement can be explained by the impression a company makes on customers, depending on whether it is presented in social networks, or not; in particular, running accounts on social platforms is a good sign of a company’s transparency, readiness for dialogue with clients, and reliability (Social Media Examiner).
Why do they need it? For communication, problem solving, and consultations—as well as for the opportunity to review and comment on goods and services provided by a brand or company. This is not the same as a common support service; communication through social networks is more like peer-to-peer communication, so it is already not enough for companies to simply reply to their customers’ inquiries: such communication should also include the elements of friendliness and entertainment, and should not always be connected to sales. According to the aforementioned research, considering the fact that social platforms are designed mostly for personal communication, customers do not appreciate excessive amounts of sales-related content, but still tolerate other brand-related, unique content. Summing up, a socially-responsible company may want to meet the expectations of its customers not only in terms of the goods and services it provides, but also in regard to lesser requirements.
Considering all this, it can be said that the social accountability of a company is its readiness and willingness to provide its customers with high-quality products and services in a timely manner, give customer support, and keep its clients well-informed. This is direct accountability, whereas in a more global meaning, a company may be expected to contribute to the solution of human rights issues, dealing with famine, assisting the poor, educating people, and so on.
Corporate Social Responsibility towards Customers." Exforsys. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 July 2017. http://www.exforsys.com/career-center/corporate-social-responsibility/corporate-social-responsibility-towards-customers.html
New Social Media Research Shows What People Expect From Brands." Social Media Examiner. N.p., 30 Dec. 2014. Web. 28 July 2017. http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/social-media-research-shows-what-people-expect-from-brands