Perhaps the single biggest change that companies have had to adjust to when implementing a social media strategy is the necessity to listen to online conversations, comments and rants that mention their company by name.
Mirroring the explosive growth of Twitter and Facebook has been the excitement of companies eager to exploit what they see as another marketing platform able to reach targeted individuals at virtually no cost. Company after company set up Twitter identities and Facebook Fan Pages that immediately began broadcasting endless pitches for their products and services.
These clumsy and ineffectual efforts were summarily followed by claims that these social media platforms were a waste of time for companies trying to build their business and attract customers. But what these companies failed to recognize was that most consumers simply aren’t looking to engage most companies online. We’re already overwhelmed with marketing messages and have no desire to open another advertising pipeline right to our desktop.
That doesn’t mean that social media participants won’t interact with companies, but they’ll to it on their terms and on their time, not yours. This shift in the balance of power to the consumer necessitates a shift in communications strategy for your company. Your focus can no longer be solely on your outbound message but now must recognize and accommodate the need for two-way communications that integrates customer service, not just sales.
So, what are the new rules?
become an active listener. Conversations are going on all day that mention your company by name. You need an active listening outpost that captures these conversations and funnels them to the appropriate internal people to respond. Is someone having a problem with your product? Contact them to see how you can help. Send them a link to an owner’s manual. Put them in touch with your company’s 800 support number. Link them to their local retail outlet where they can get the help they need.Is someone ranting about your product and claiming that you suck? You have two choices: let them rant and spread their vitriol across the web or step in and attempt to defuse their anger. Will you convert all the ranters to raving fans? Probably not, but without an active listening strategy, these rants will occur without your influence and they will all end badly for you.
involve listeners throughout your organization. Most organizations plan only to listen with sales personnel, eager to jump on any mention of their company as a sales opportunity. However, most companies will find that customer service will be a larger priority for those mentioning your company by name. Make sure you have people actively listening and ready to respond from customer service, product development, your executive suite and even your legal and HR departments.
respond immediately. Your 800 number is staffed and answered at least during your business hours, and so should your social media channels. You can’t impose communications methods on your clients. They’ll let you know how they want to get in touch with you. Some will phone, some will email and some will contact you through Twitter. It’s your job to be ready to respond immediately no matter how they contact you.
empower listeners to resolve problems. If you assign an employee to monitor customer service issues on Twitter, it’s essential that you empower them to resolve the issues that they encounter. There’s nothing more frustrating than dealing with a nameless, faceless and voiceless person who does nothing more than take your name for someone else to deal with tomorrow. Responding with immediacy simply magnifies the customer’s frustration if you instantly tell them that there’s nothing you can do.
apologize. accept responsibility. tell them how you’ll solve their problem. Face it, there are times when your customer has legitimate complaints about your company, product or service. It’s unavoidable. Your customers don’t expect perfection, but they do expect you to apologize for their troubles, accept full responsibility and then tell them exactly how you’re going to make things right. And then do it. It’s not complicated, but it’s amazing how few companies get it right.
continue the conversation until the customer determines it’s over. I tweeted this week about problems I had with a Sony Reader ebook. A phone call to their support line that took nearly an hour could have been reduced to a minute or two if the support rep had simply asked the right question first: Do you have a Mac or a PC? I was annoyed and frustrated and vented in a tweet that was read by someone at Sony. To their credit, they responded:Sorry to hear you’re having a bad experience. What is going on? Can we help?I sent them a reply and then… nothing. But I wasn’t done yet. I still wanted to know how they’re addressing the issue of Mac users who cannot upgrade their firmware and therefore cannot use their latest Reader software. Instead I got silence. My conclusion: they don’t have the capacity to deliver exceptional user experiences and their half-assed Twitter response just confirms my perception of their company.
don’t forget marketing fundamentals. There is no better time to cement a customer relationship than after you reach out to help them solve a problem. Even if the problem wasn’t entirely solved, you have the ability to appease them if you send them a coupon for your online store, enroll them in your Customer VIP program or register them in your free online training program. You rarely have person-to-person contact with your customers, so don’t blow it. Do something to delight them and remain memorable for all the right reasons.