Brazil: Booming Economy Faces Challenges

While Northern hemisphere economies have lurched from crisis to problem and back, the Brazillian market has grown. With a population of 200m and a burgeoning middle class driving demand for products and services, the economy has grown during a period of recession elsewhere.

I visited Brazil last week and engaged in a number of interviews with both service providers and companies trading in Brazil. There’s clearly a desire to understand more about management of the customer experience and how to embrace social media.

The growth in Internet usage has been startling – up from 38.8m in 2008 to just under 76m in 2011. Almost 100% increase in just three years and less than 40% of the population reached! Orkut was, until very recently, the most popular social network but has just been overtaken by Facebook. Companies are, as in more mature markets, looking to social networks and Twitter to reach consumers with the intent to promote both brand and products, and develop discussions.

Consumer activity is, however, challenging engagement plans and company Facebook sites have been hijacked by customers with their own agendas. The disappointed ones air their grievances, attracting others that feel the same to create a string of discontented content, while the rest look for help… asking ‘how do I?’ questions.

Clearly the situation must be better managed to prevent Facebook sites becoming toxic, not delivering against the aims of the Marketing team. Using Facebook for business is more than just posting content and letting things run their course. Managing customers and providing guidance is necessary to maintain the environment for the intended use.

There is a huge opportunity for the development of company-hosted forums to handle questions and build a following of fans willing to provide peer-to-peer support. Separating social network activity from the company website community creates real differentiation and, ultimately, better engages and serves customers. Separate focus in these two areas is needed.

Every company wants to know what consumers are saying about them and their products. Social media monitoring will deliver great results because Brazillians are naturally very social. This was made clear from the very direct and challenging conversations I joined. So feedback available online will help Brazillian companies to understand the feelings of increasingly Internet-savvy consumers.

I discussed the customer experience with influential publisher Roberto Meir in Sao Paulo. Brazil, he told me, needs more sophistication in handling the needs of customers. As new support channels come onstream and are more widely used, the importance of professional customer sevice across the entire range of channels is growing. Companies need to look after customers during Brazil’s good times so that they remain loyal when economic conditions soften.

So Brazil has arrived, or is approaching, a crossroads. In a booming economy it’s easy to roll along on a wave of consumer demand, but there comes a point when careful planning and execution to engage customers through hard times is needed. This requires experience and expertise. Brazillian companies wanting to make the most of their initial investment in acquiring customers can do well to look elsewhere and learn from the experiences (and mistakes) of mature customer service markets to improve the value delivered to customers, as well as derive value for the corporation.

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