Blogging, social media & customer service (Part 7)
Part 7: Tweet, tweet: Microblogging considerations
Microblogs like Twitter are getting a lot of attention these days, in no small part because some big companies are using them to talk to their customers. If you are considering it, here are the key considerations:
- Are your customers there?
- Do you have the bandwidth to staff this rapid fire communications channel?
- Can your reps take action to solve any issues? Sympathy is nice but people will want solutions.
- Popular microblogging services frequently have availability issues. What alternative channel will you provide the users and how will they learn about it?
Blogging, social media & customer service (Part 6)
Part 6: Communities: Should you start one?
If your customers are already congregating online, in Twitter or Facebook or a private community, the best thing to do is to start participating there, following whatever guidelines the members set out for your participation. It may be your product, but it is their place. They aren’t going to want product pitches; they will want participation and they’ll likely expect help.
Before you build your own community, which can be an expensive proposition, make sure that your customers really want one. If there isn’t one already, the reason may be they don’t want a special place to speak with your company and each other online. Unless you are absolutely certain that your products engender that kind of loyalty, start small. Perhaps with a forum or suggestion box.
Starbucks and Dell have taken the suggestion box to the extreme, building sites on which customers can make public suggestions and vote on the ones they like best, but you don’t have to have something that complex. Start with a simple email alias for suggestions, and be sure someone responds quickly. What works about the Starbucks and Dell sites isn’t the voting. It’s that the companies are responding and taking action on suggestions.
Regardless of how much or how little technology you use, the key ingredient in customer care will always be the people interacting with your customers. Technology, whether the telephone, email or Twitter, is just the tool we use to do it. And the keys to success are the same as any other business endeavor: honesty, patience, consistency and commitment.
And that brings us to the end of the main article. There are two more short posts to follow on Sunday: microblogging considerations (Part 7) and some recommendations for next steps for both individuals and customer service groups just getting started with social media (Part 8).
Blogging, social media & customer service (Part 5)
Part 5: Comments. They're what keep you up at night.
Without a doubt, the issue at the forefront of most customer care professionals is how to respond to comments, whether on your own company’s blog or elsewhere. You are really worried about the negative ones. This is not only a real concern but also a realistic one.
Some folks out there are crazy and there’s nothing to be gained by engaging with them. The good news is, the Internet is a fairly self-correcting environment. If someone is talking trash about your products without cause, the community tends to self-police.
Some, hopefully many, comments will be positive. More importantly, the conversation will happen with or without you. The only thing I can guarantee is that if you make no effort, nothing will change. But if you do, your customers will notice.
When people say positive things online about your company and products, thank them. When they criticize or have a problem, respond. Solve the problem if you can. If you can’t, develop the mechanisms in your firm so you can escalate the issue. If there is no solution, explain, clearly and honestly. The customer may not be happy, but the rational ones will appreciate the response.
Depending on the situation this conversation could happen publicly on a blog or microblog like Twitter or privately in email. Choose the response that fits the situation and your company culture. What matters is that your customer spoke online and you heard him.
Update: Netflix recently demonstrated that it is paying attention to its customers when it rescinded a decision to remove a popular feature after customers protested online. Hat tip to Sandra.
Next up: Part 6, Should you build a community?
Blogging, social media & customer service (Part 4)
Part 4: What should customer service and consumer affairs do?
You’ve decided that some involvement in social media makes sense. But what should you do? I recommend a phased approach that I call the Four Ps of Online Engagement:
- Pitch or Publish
Let’s take them in order. First, you need to prepare by listening to the online conversation. Monitor the blogosphere for mentions of your company name. Find out who is writing about your products and industry. It’s a virtual, informal focus group that lets you take the pulse of your key constituents. You can do this monitoring on your own, using Google, the Technorati blog search engine and a myriad of free tools that do everything from track Twitter to measure the impact of a blogger’s posts.
Or you can get some help. There are many third party options available, at various price points, from the custom and often costly monitoring programs developed by companies like Cymfony to do-it-yourself dashboards that assemble the information for analysis such as those offered by KD Paine & Partners and Radian6.
If you do proceed with a social media effort, these same tools can also help with the measurement of results, but don’t confuse the two steps. Initially, monitoring is done to assess the commentary about your company and products so you solve the right problems. Ongoing measurement is about results. Have you achieved whatever objectives you set for your social media effort?
Once you know what’s being said about your company online, and by whom, you can start thinking about how to participate in the conversation. This can be anything from simply replying privately, to posting public responses when and where appropriate, to starting a blog, as Dell did, to make it easier for your customers to communicate with you. All of these are perfectly acceptable responses.
The most important thing to remember about engaging publicly is that you have to be able to take action. Sympathy and empathy are a good start, but they are not enough.
Also, keep in mind that not all commentary is negative. When you start listening to what your customers are saying online, you might find evangelists who love your company and products, and are already sharing the love with the people who read their blogs or listen to their podcasts. These folks are a great channel for sharing information with other customers, and nothing would please them more than a little recognition and communication from you.
The final phase of online engagement is actively telling the company’s story, versus simply responding to the ongoing conversation. This is what I call pitch or publish. The company may choose to publish a blog, launch a community or start a proactive program of outreach to bloggers. For most companies, these efforts will be part of the marketing or corporate communications functions, but if your firm is considering one or more of these strategies, I highly recommend that customer care professionals get involved or at least stay informed. Guaranteed, whatever the company does will impact customer satisfaction, one way or the other.
Next post, Part 5: Comments. They're what keep you up at night.
Blogging, social media & customer service (Part 3)Part 3: Impact of Social Media on Customer Care
Customers are engaging with social media. So are many companies. For example, nearly 12 percent of the US Fortune 500 companies have a blog of some kind. The benefits that accrue for both individuals and companies include deeper relationships with peers and customers, increased awareness of the brand, whether personal, professional or corporate, broader and deeper professional networks, improved search engine rankings and increased traffic to the website.
But what about the specific impact on customer care? How has the social media explosion changed the playing field for customer service and consumer affairs professionals?
As noted earlier, postings on customer care experiences influence purchase decisions. In the SNCR study, 74% reported that they choose companies and brands based on others’ customer care experiences shared online.
Source: Society for New Communications Research, Exploring the Link Between Customer Care and Brand Reputation in the Age of Social Media
The SNCR study also reveals an opportunity. While consumers feel that one person can influence many about a bad customer care experience, only 30% of the respondents thought that businesses take customer opinions seriously. And that’s the opportunity – to start listening and acting on what customers may be saying online.
Source: Society for New Communications Research, Exploring the Link Between Customer Care and Brand Reputation in the Age of Social Media
This is a scary idea for many -- indeed most – companies, mostly because we tend to focus on the negative. And there is negative, no question. There aren’t many people in business who don’t know the story of Dell Hell, and how one prominent blogger’s negative postings about Dell customer service exploded into a serious PR problem for the computer maker in 2005.
However, it’s not all bad. Customers leave unsolicited positive comments about the products and services they love every day on blogs, review sites and discussion forums. And for the most part, companies are just as silent.
But not Dell. The company launched its Direct2Dell blog in July 2006 to engage directly and publicly with customers about problems. Though the blog had a rocky start, Dell succeeded in showing even its most severe critics that it was both paying attention and acting on customer feedback. The company monitors consumer sentiment in the blogosphere and has seen its negative rating decline from 49 percent negative in August 2006 to 21 percent negative in January 2008 (Source: Presentation at New Comm Forum 08 by Richard Binhammer, Dell)
There are two very important lessons from the Dell experience. First, top management support is absolutely essential. Customer feedback must be actionable. Dell had that support from Michael Dell. Second, your best customer is often the formerly unhappy customer. Jeff Jarvis, the blogger who launched Dell Hell in 2005, wrote a positive piece about the company’s efforts for BusinessWeek in October 2007 and commented on his own blog Buzz Machine:
“After giving Dell hell two years ago, I may well be accused of throwing them a wet kiss now. It’s a positive piece. But it’s hard not to praise them when they ended up doing everything I was pushing in my open letter to Michael Dell. I’m not saying that I caused that, just that we ended up agreeing and they ended up seeing the value in listening to and ceding control to customers. They reached out to bloggers; they blogged; they found ways to listen to and follow the advice of their customers. They joined the conversation. That’s all we asked.” (October 18, 2007)
In part 4, we'll discuss what customer service should do about and with social media.
Blogging, social media & customer service (Part 2)
Part 2: Social Networks, Communities, Aggregators and Wikis
The third social media space where you will find your customers are social networks. These range from public networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube to private branded networks. You need to understand if your customers are actively engaged in these networks, and participate accordingly.
The easiest way to understand LinkedIn and Facebook is to understand their roots. LinkedIn started as a way for business professionals to connect with each other through mutual connections. Facebook, as the name implies, was the Internet version of the ubiquitous college facebook. Although it started as a closed network for college and high school students, it’s been open to the general public since 2007 and really exploded that spring. Both networks offer numerous interactive features and interest groups in which members can collect around shared interests.
Flickr, YouTube and similar networks are more specific to a certain type of interest; Flickr is photography, YouTube is for video clips, and so on. Conversation happens but it is about the photo, about the video clip.
For the most part, though, these public social networks are more enablers of conversation and community than places where folks “hang out” for any length of time. In my opinion, they have a flatness that stems from their primary role as conveyers of information. However, you need to understand how your customers are participating in these spaces. Some Facebook and LinkedIn groups are very active; if your customers happen to have joined together in one, you should be aware and act accordingly.
Private branded communities, enabled by social software like Ning, let anyone build a community around a set of shared interests.
Companies may also launch their own communities using enterprise-level software. For example, Saturn recently launched a community that exceeded its six-month estimate of signups in the first three weeks.
When these communities succeed, whether consumer-driven or company supported, the conversation and engagement level is generally quite high because the distraction factor of other interests is absent.
Some of the other social media tools and terms you may hear of:
- Aggregators or memetrackers like Memeorandum and Tailrank collect the most linked/talked about posts of the day and present them in a threaded format – the original post and the follow-on ones so you can follow the online conversation. Another news aggregator site is Digg, which uses a voting system to promote articles to the front page.
- Wikis are simply websites edited by a group versus an individual using specialized software that tracks changes, updates and access rights. The best known public wiki is Wikipedia but increasingly wikis are used by companies for internal project management and support knowledge bases. You will often find them built into online communities.
- Podcasts and videocasts are online radio or video shows. They are typically pre-recorded. Unlike streaming audio or video, listeners/viewers can download the show to their computer or a portable device like an iPod and listen or watch whenever they want. Users can also sign up for regular updates.
In part 3, we'll discuss the impact of social media on customer care. If you'd like to read more about customer service issues, please check out my client Caras Training's blog For the Face of Your Business. Principal Ronna Caras has been focusing on customer service of late, and I think you'll enjoy her perspective. I certainly do!
Blogging & social media: What customer service professionals should know, and do, about it (Part 1)
This article is based on a workshop I delivered at the SOCAP International Symposium in April.
Part 1- Defining Social Media: Blogs & Microblogs
Customer service. It’s the new marketing.
Huh? Anyone who has been in business for more than five minutes knows that customer service has always been part of marketing. The scale of the modern enterprise and the realities of distribution may have separated them functionally, but practically, a customer’s experience with our product is just as, if not more, important than any ad, promotion or package.
Ah, but it’s different now. Customer satisfaction is more important than ever. Research conducted by global think tank Society for New Communications Research in Spring 2008 reported that 72 percent of respondents researched products and services online, and 84 percent considered the customer care reputation of the company when making a purchase decision.
Where are consumers finding this information? Not on your corporate website. Increasingly, they are turning to social media like blogs to both share their opinions and find out what others think. In the SNCR study, search engines, online rating systems, discussion forums and blogs were all considered more valuable sources of information than the company website.
Source: Society for New Communications Research, Exploring the Link Between Customer Care and Brand Reputation in the Age of Social Media
Social media is a collective term used to refer to a variety of online tools including blogs, social networks like Facebook and Twitter, and online consumer forums. This article will give you a brief overview of the ones most important for customer service and satisfaction. The key thing about all of them is that they give consumers a way to communicate with each other, fast. Faster than sometimes the company can respond. As customer service and consumer affairs professionals, you need to understand which ones your customers are using, and develop strategies to use those same tools to improve your service and satisfaction.
We’re going to focus on the tools most relevant to customer service: blogs, microblogs and social networks.
Technically, blogs are simply websites developed using a lightweight content management system (CMS). They use HTML, just like your company website, but the CMS tools are designed to be simple to use for people without technical knowledge. Well known CMS include Typepad, Blogger, Movable Type and Word Press.
The things that most clearly identify a site as a blog are:
- Content, or posts, presented in an article-like form, in reverse chronological order.
- Ability for readers to leave public comments
- Ability to subscribe to the blog’s RSS feed or by email
In practice, however, blogs are much more than that. Unlike your company website, which is probably a fairly static presentation of company capabilities not that different from a brochure, blogs are a conversation. Bloggers write about and link to other bloggers’ ideas. They create space on their blog for readers to comment, and they reply back. This dynamic is why news can spread so very fast from blog to blog.
Blogs typically have a point of view and they are not overtly commercial or promotional, even if they are a company or product blog. It’s all about engaging in a conversation in an authentic, honest way.
The easiest way to understand microblogs – services like Twitter, Jaiku and Pownce – is to think of them as group instant messaging. It’s real-time one-to-many; unlike instant messaging, when you post a public message, everyone in your network can see and respond to it. The most popular service is Twitter, and companies like JetBlue, Comcast, Dell and online shoe store Zappos are already using it to communicate with customers.
In part two, we'll look at social networks and communities.
Taking a blogger relations break
The good pitch/bad pitch series is going on a brief hiatus. Not because I don't have enough material, heavens no. I have plenty. Especially bad.
Business has been slow this spring. Lots of interest. Lots of great feedback on the blog and the speaking gigs. Lots of proposals pending. But they just aren't closing quickly. So I am going to take the next week to do some hard thinking about my business and marketing plan. I also have client deliverables to meet, so those two activities are going to consume the bulk of my attention.
However, fear not, dear readers. I will not leave you in the lurch. Over the next week, I will be posting Blogging and social media: What customer service professionals should know, and do, about it, an article based on the workshop I delivered at the SOCAP International Symposium in April 2008.
Enjoy. I'll be back after the Independence Day holiday refreshed, reinvigorated and ready to rock and roll.
The direction of Marketing Roadmaps
Marketing Roadmaps has been going in a new direction for the past couple months, so I thought it would be a good time to articulate what you can expect to find here. And what you most likely will not find here.
First off -- what you will find here. More on the practice of blogger relations, the impact of social media on customer care, practical tips culled from my workshops on social media and blogger relations. Conversation about online reputation management, measuring the return on investment, online communities and the impact of social media on traditional entertainment.
What you won't find so much of? Sales process and marketing management tips. I'll be writing and talking about those on Business Forward, the blog and podcast I produce for my client GuideMark. Too much talk about my family, pets, trips and favorite tv shows, unless there's a marketing angle. All of that you'll find at my personal blog Snapshot Chronicles.
You also won't find too much discussion of the practice of public relations, as distinct from blogger relations, unless it is something really juicy like blacklists or gross unethical behavior by a top PR agency that I just cannot resist.
I especially will not be talking about the social media press release. For me to comment on the press release, as a form, in any form, at this point is like a vegetarian recommending a cut of beef. As my practice moves away from pureplay public relations, and toward blogger relations and online reputation management, I find that just about the last thing I recommend to clients is a press release. It's just not relevant to what they are trying to achieve, which is to talk with their customers online.
Wait a minute, I hear you cry. Over the past few years, many marketing and PR consultants have recommended online distribution of releases through services like PR Web as a way to reach customers directly. By putting the release on the wire, the story goes, you improve the discoverability of your news by the search engines. Well, yes. But the operative word is NEWS. If you are issuing actual company news or material information, and you need to reach the news media, by all means do a news release, in whatever form floats your boat -- traditional, social media, tom-tom drum. Whatever.
But if it isn't actually news, as in new and interesting, it shouldn't be distributed as news. I attribute most of the press release crap lining my spam folder to the mistaken notion that using the form of the press release somehow transforms mundane sales pitches into page one material.
If you are trying to reach your customers, the news release is not and and never has been the optimum form. Telephone. Newsletters. Email blast to your customer list. Personal email. Blogs. All of these are better, more easily understood ways to convey information about your products and services to your customers. Including bloggers.
So take it away, Todd Defren, Brian Solis, Chris Heuer and Tom Foremski. I'll come over and comment at your places, but as far as Marketing Roadmaps goes, I've said what I'm going to say, I've said it again, and now I've said it for the last time.
Instead, I'm going to focus on helping companies meet their customers online.
JetBlue is listening, but are they able to do anything about what they hear?
Well, JetBlue is clearly listening to what's being said about them online -- see Jenny Dervin's comment on my previous post. Points for walking the social media talk. And this cranky blogger certainly appreciates attention being paid to my posts. Especially since I informally track how well companies are listening to what it being said about them online.
But, are they able to do anything about what they hear?
Corp Comm may be listening, but you wouldn't know it from communicating with customer service. Here are the disconnects over the past day that lead me to conclude that the airline has a significant customer service problem.
First, the initial email, part of which is reproduced in my earlier post, definitely pushes the customer to accept the rebooking. The option to reschedule is below the BIG ORANGE BUTTON, and you can't do that online. You have to call.
Which I did, as reported in my earlier post. Mostly to complain. The customer service rep also suggested I leave a comment on the website. So I did, repeating most of the points from my Monday post.
Points for speediness. JetBlue replied back almost immediately. And that brings us to the next set of problems. Here's the email.
New concerns, in order of appearance in the email:
- What do caps placed on flights to/from New York have to do with my original flight plan, which was roundtrip Boston to San Francisco?
- Whoa Nellie. I had the option of canceling these flights?And getting a full refund? How come this is the first I've heard of it?
- Finally -- I don't exactly recall choosing to keep the 1:35 pm flight.
So I sent another email to customer service. Here are my exact words:
In fact, I deliberately did not push the BIG ORANGE button because I needed time to explore my alternatives.
Here's the reply to to that email. I dare you to find an actual answer to any of my questions. In fact, as my son would say, I double-dog dare you.
The apology is lovely. Really. And I do appreciate Jenny Dervin's offer of assistance. But I still would have liked someone in Customer Service to answer my questions, not just pull some standard verbiage out of the manual. I get that the airline can change the schedule any way it wishes and there is very little I can do about it.
But... Once you start engaging with your customers online, as JetBlue is doing on Twitter and in responding to bloggers, we are going to expect the same level of honesty and yes, transparency, in our other transactions with you.
So, why not tell me why? I can guess at the answers.
Why wasn't I given the opportunity to select a new itinerary in the first place, given the major shift in time represented by the rebooked itinerary?
- The system is set up to handle things in one standard way, rebook and email. Doesn't matter if the time shift is 10 minutes or 10 hours. As Jenny Dervin commented on my previous post: "We do an auto-rebook when we have a schedule change, because it locks a seat in on the other flight, and it's definately something we can change if the rebooking doesn't work out."
Why wasn't the option to cancel presented to me upfront?
- They don't want you to cancel. They just want you to take the rebooking.
What in the world does New York have to do with flights to Boston?
- Flight consolidation. They can sell out the JFK flight, and travellers to other destinations will suck it up and take the connection. I just screw things up by planning so far ahead.
Since I can figure it out, wouldn't it be better to just tell me? And in the case of the cancel option, make sure it is in the very first communication about the change, if not for all changes, those that represent more than 3-4 hours difference?
Since Jenny had reached out to me, I wanted to give her, and JetBlue, an opportunity to comment. I forwarded her the draft post, so she could see the unsatisfactory emails from customer service. She called about an hour later.
Note: my post is unchanged except for this conclusion.
We discussed my concerns and she told me that she intended to forward my post, once published, to the head of customer service as an example of how important it is to fully read the email and answer the customer's question, not simply reply fast.
She also told me about a flight option, a red-eye out of Oakland, that has essentially the same times as the original flight we booked out of SFO: depart Oakland at 10:30 pm and arrive BOS at 7:02 am the next morning. We both agreed that this should have been provided as an option by one of the three customer service reps who touched my reservation over the past 24 hours. It wasn't.
The message for JetBlue? Your Corp Comm group and your Twitter guy are representing you well online. Your customer service team has got to catch up, and walk the same talk. Just tell us the truth. Customers, with a few really nasty exceptions, are generally nice people. We want to like you, because we don't like the big guys. We're also not stupid, and pretty much understand the game as played. We just want to be able to trust that you are playing fair.
Because, you know, I get it. With the rising cost of fuel, it makes no sense for there to be two basically equivalent red-eyes out of the Bay Area to Boston. One's enough. We just want to be on it.