Something is changing our society and our businesses, no matter how we feel about it. Whether we embrace it with open arms, or deny it, Social Media channels like Yelp, Twitter and Facebook, (just to name a few) are changing the way we live our lives and, unavoidably, are changing some of the ways we run our businesses.
Before the Internet explosion, customer service rants and raves (but, let’s face it, mostly rants) were passed on through word of mouth, to a handful of the customer’s friends via phone conversations or in-person gatherings. Sometimes the company heard about the rants and raves through a letter or a phone call through which the customer had to press several different buttons to speak to the right person. Many disgruntled customers simply gave up and the company remained clueless.
Today, because of the Internet and the popularity of Social Media, customer experiences can be shared with thousands of people almost instantly. This should give organizations something to think about, because, most likely, customers’ experiences with your organization can be read about by thousands of people including current and potential customers. Suddenly, the power has shifted from the hands of a few high level executives to the fingertips of blog owners and Social Media users. This is why great customer service is paramount, especially today. With avenues such as Yelp, Twitter, Facebook and even Google Places, customers can immediately share their experiences, good and bad, with thousands of people.
Online customer reviews can be wonderful, but they can also be startling. If you approach the situation correctly, you can get Social Media on your side.
As a way to communicate with their customers, many companies have created their own profile on relevant Social Media channels. If your company plans on doing so as well, here are a few things to keep in mind about Social Media:
- Social Media should not replace traditional marketing. It should be used to compliment your business and marketing strategy. When we say Social Media is a form of marketing, don’t think in terms of sales pitches, think of it as combining “marketing, PR, community relations and customer service into an entirely new, socially-aware role.” (Customer Service is the New, New Marketing). The advantage of Social Media is that you can create a two-way dialog with your customers. Find out what they like and what they don’t. If they voice an issue, communicate how you intend to solve the problem or offer suggestions.
- Site demographics. Before creating a Social Media presence on a specific channel, do a little research to see if that’s where your current and prospective customers would belong. Assuming you already know who your customers are, take a look at the demographics of popular sites to make sure that this is where you need to be. Here‘s a great place to start. Then, you can determine where the company will participate. The list is extensive, so be sure that you are taking part in one that can offer the best return on time.
- Create a game plan before beginning community involvement. Work out who will be the online face of the company. Will it be from just one employee, or a group of people? Will Social Media be its own department or will people from multiple departments take part? How often do you want to post? These are all great things to think about.
- Training is vital. The individuals who are online representing the companies need to know the products and services very well and they should be able to answer customers’ questions themselves.
- Obey the rules. Ensure that the people representing the company on Social Media understand the rules and regulations of the sites they are communicating with customers on. The last thing you want to do is spend time (aka, money) on a profile, only to have it deleted.
- Proper use of feedback. Customers can provide extremely valuable feedback whether it’s on customer service, product design, and so on. Have a plan in place for passing along the feedback to the people in the company who can put it to good use. When you receive feedback that is negative, listen, don’t defend. Make sure that you thank the customer for their feedback. After all, they spent their time praising your company or telling you where you can improve your product/service. Find a creative way to reward them.
- Do not take over communication. Collaborate and communicate with the customers instead. Continue to let the customers join in and even drive communication. Realize that you may not be able to respond to each question, review or comment.
- Communicate. Your participation in Social Media does not have to be just for receiving feedback, it can also be used for answering questions that customers have, giving relevant tips (for example, sharing tips for saving for retirement if your organization is a credit union or possibly passing on healthy lifestyle tips if you are in the health industry), informing customers of new or updated products and services, or maybe providing a glimpse into your company culture: the sky is the limit. It is a give and take. Your customers provide feedback and show their loyalty, and you provide them with relevant information.
- Be creative. How can you use this technology to help your customers? If you are completely stuck, you can start by researching not only what your competitors are doing but also what companies in other industries are doing. Compare this to what will be relevant to your customers and to your company culture and build your strategy.
- Connect and share. In addition to obtaining feedback and providing customer service, Social Media is a great way to connect with the community and share information that is relevant to that audience. This information includes links to relevant articles, fun facts, tips, pictures, etc.
Social Media may already be ingrained in your customer service strategy, or the words may have never even been uttered in your office. Whatever the case, it’s worth noting that Social Media can be a valuable asset to your customer service strategy. Your company will benefit by understanding otherwise unvoiced customer needs and your customers will benefit from your expertise, now online, as well as in person. The information and options can be overwhelming, but if you have a vision, you will be amazed at the benefits that Social Media will have on your company’s customer service strategy.