Not only has it changed peer-to-peer conversations, it’s also transformed the way businesses must communicate with their customers. Businesses must meet consumers where they already live, and open lines of communication over their customers’ preferred medium. Of course, many businesses already operate social media pages where they can share content with fans, but many overlook the valuable opportunity to make social media communication a two-way conversation.
Worse yet, ignoring or downplaying the power of social channels can have a significant negative impact. Even if your business isn’t active and engaged on social media, you can bet that your prospective customers most certainly are, and few will hesitate to share their experiences with your company among their friends and followers. Your goal should be to maximize the positive and deal with the negative appropriately and transparently. Here’s how:
- Go above and beyond to deliver excellent service to foster real-time experience sharing. Even if it doesn’t result in a sale, the social media benefits can make it well worth the effort. For example, let’s say a customer comes in to your specialty shoe store looking for a specific item, which you don’t offer. Spending just a few minutes to help him locate the item with another retailer may prompt that customer to brag about your exceptional service on Facebook (News - Alert) or Twitter, which could be seen by hundreds or thousands of friends and followers. The word-of-mouth marketing value derived from those few minutes of dedication can pay off in spades. On the other hand, dismiss that customer too quickly and he may come away with a negative impression that he’ll be just as eager to share with the world.
- Use social media to solicit feedback and input from your customers. Many business owners use social media as a top-down, one-way platform to alert followers to upcoming sales or new product availability. While inexpensive and effective in the same way as a direct mail piece, it’s hardly interactive. Customers love to know that their opinion counts, that someone’s listening, and they have input into the brands they love. It’s a tremendous opportunity to build engagement and loyalty.
- Address any mention of your company or staff directly and immediately, whether positive or negative. It’s easy to say thanks and let customers know you appreciate their praise for a job well done. It’s a little tougher to respond to criticism, but it’s also a great opportunity to showcase that you care about your customers’ concerns and are committed to resolving them. That said, avoid the urge to argue with a customer who is combative or flinging insults just to start or fuel a flame war. Keep in mind that your audience is watching, so resist the temptation to sink to their level. Act reasonably and fairly and your customers will see your willingness to address reasonable concerns.
- Maintain transparency, even for negative feedback. Many businesses respond to criticism by contacting the customer via a private message. While certainly transactions and other specific details should not be posted in a public thread, keeping the conversation out in the open gives you a chance to demonstrate your commitment to customer satisfaction. Taking the conversation private gives the appearance that you may have something to hide. And, it may mean you’ll miss the opportunity to have that once disgruntled, now-happy customer publicly thank you for handling his or her concern, which is tremendously valuable.
When social media becomes a two-way dialogue, social CRM becomes an incredibly effective marketing tool, amplifying the word-of-mouth marketing value exponentially. Using Facebook mentions and tags, tweets, retweets and @ mentions, and even blog comments, to converse with customers provides a much deeper level of customer engagement, intelligence and loyalty than conventional CRM and demographic-based solutions.
The principles of good customer service haven’t changed, but social media has certainly upped the ante. By directly engaging with customers, you can establish a real connection with them – a two-way conversation that lets customers know they’re being heard, allows you to improve customer satisfaction, and provides a platform for prospective customers to get to know your business.
Larry Caretsky is CEO of Commence Corp. (www.commence.com).
Edited by Stefania Viscusi