When helping clients and colleagues to understand and navigate the world of social media, we suggest a three-step process:
1) Listen to and learn from online conversations related to your business, industry and customers.
2) Participate in online conversations with core audiences.
3) Regularly measure the results to determine success, or to adjust strategies and tactics as needed.
To carry out these steps successfully, it’s critical to build capacity within an organization and cultivate a work environment conducive to effective social media use. Corporate social media use must be integrated seamlessly throughout the company (marketing, PR, customer service, product development), not “bolted on.” Everything a company does, whether online or offline, contributes to branding, so it must all be in sync. (Check out a previous post on building brands through social media for more information.)
I recently participated in PRWeek’s webcast, “Foe to Friend: Turning Online Critics Into Brand Ambassadors.” The speakers succinctly summed up the principles of online customer engagement, and addressed the issues of capacity-building and company culture.
The “Four P’s” are key to engaging customers successfully through social media, particularly when addressing complaints and negative comments:
1) People – Listening and responding online to customers, and other key audiences, requires solid communications skills and in-depth knowledge of the organization and its industry. Assign the responsibility for managing and conducting social media efforts to people with expertise and authority, not interns or high school students. You can tap employees with a penchant for social media or hire experienced communicators to fill these new roles. Public relations and marketing firms can provide critical support to in-house teams.
2) Power – Empower employees to engage with customers online, and give them the responsibility and authority to act. Social media conversations move rapidly. There may not be time to send targeted customer responses through the extensive approval process typically required for external corporate communications such as press releases and e-mail notes; you’ll risk losing the opportunity and the customer. Allow employees to make quick decisions on the best course of action to address customer concerns.
3) Process – Clearly define employee roles and responsibilities for online customer engagement and social media use. Set up a process (general guidelines for who responds to what, when, how) to ensure effective communication produces satisfied employees and customers.
4) Policy – Align company policies so that employees can seize online opportunities, giving them not only the latitude to respond, but permission to do what is necessary and appropriate to ensure customer satisfaction and maintain company reputation.
When dealing with a disgruntled customer, or other influential individual, it’s important to know when to move the online conversation to a more private communications medium. Identify the situation or issue, respond online initially, and if that doesn’t suffice, take the conversation offline. For example, you might reply: “I’m sorry to hear that. What can I do to help you? Please contact me via e-mail/phone/DM (Twitter direct message).” Not every customer concern can be solved in 140 characters. The lengthier detail of an e-mail, or some time spent in personal conversation, occasionally will be necessary.
Here is a final bit of sage advice from one of the webcast speakers, Erica Iacono: “You can’t make everyone happy all the time, but by listening and engaging at least they know you care.” Even if your company doesn’t participate in social media (Twitter, Facebook fan page), unsatisfied customers may air their complaints through an online public forum, where a negative note can spread like wildfire. Companies need to monitor online conversations continually to respond quickly.
How are you using social media to let customers know you care? What has worked (or didn’t work) for you in handling the concerns or complaints of an unhappy online customer?