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Maximizing Social Media: Part 2 of 2

To see part one of this series, click here.

Networking is also a way to encourage customer storytelling – the best connections glue there is. Network can mean creating on-line events that function as a “watering hole” for customers. Facilitate interactions with other customers. Provide giveaways or drawings to promote a spirit of warmth and camaraderie. Ensure there are value-added takeaways that tie your organization to the network experience. Invite a special person your customers will want to meet.

Effective social media management involves figuring out what makes your customers different from others and then capitalize on it. Try to get inside your customers’ minds to unearth what unique need or desire your service can address. Help your customers feel they are a part of a special group with the same allure that the “The Few, the Proud, the Marines” has for a Marine recruit. When Jeff Bezos started Amazon.com he wanted to create an on-line experience of the neighborhood bookstore. Since there was no bookstore clerk to tell patrons about an obscure new mystery or the best book on crocheting, he turned the job over to customers, encouraging them to write book reviews. The result was a community of book lovers, or to quote Bezos, “neighbors helping neighbors make purchase decisions.”

The twin bean cans with the string was more than a tool for childhood communication. You had a friend on the other end of the string, an important part of your network of buds. You had a means to create a special identity by boldly creating a link that circumvented the oversight of adults. The cans were also a device that enabled secret-sharing, a bonding ritual that made you blood brothers (or sisters).

The advent of social media is revealing more about our customers than simply a faddish version of the cell phone or text messaging. It informs us customers want connections that matter and a means of expression that is valued. Properly understanding the anthropology of social media can be a great boon to the principles of building customer devotion.

P.S. Don’t order the Salisbury steak at Papa Pete’s in Norfolk. But, the fried okra is to die for.

Chip R. Bell and John R. Patterson are customer loyalty consultants and the authors of the best-selling book Take Their Breath Away: How Imaginative Service Creates Devoted Customers. They can be reached through www.taketheirbreathaway.com.

photo credit: bettyx1138

Maximizing Social Media: Part 1 of 2

Phone PollWhen we were kids we use to construct a “phone line” using a long string with an empty bean can on either end. When you spoke right into the bean can, the sound carried over the string to be heard by the ear in the can on the other end. We could tell smutty jokes and trade secrets without parental eavesdropping. Now, we have Facebook, LinkedIn, blogging, and Twitter between “trees.” And, all your friends can have a string connected to your “bean can.”

Organizations are trying to figure what to make of social media and how to capitalize on it. Since they can “listen in” on the “crowdalogue,” some treat it as tool to monitor “chatter” hopefully revealing customer issues and interests. Some are using it as an early warning device actually intervening to right a service wrong in the making. But, few are tapping into the real anthropology—the bean can side.

Customers want connections that are personalized and specific. They do not want to waste time with scattergun clutter from marketers. They want connections that are authentic and natural, not PR pap sanitized and hyped by some speechwriter. They want connections that engage their heart as much as their head—service creativity that creates a story to share. Remember, the goal of communication is not simply to listen. The goal is to turn understanding into meaningful action. Are you using social media to monitor or to make a difference?

Effective social media management helps customers create a network. Examine how cleverly Amazon.com lets you know that “People who bought this book also enjoyed the ones pictured below.” Look at the popularity of NetFlix Friends network which allows customers an online peek at movies their friends have rented and whether they’ve given them the thumbs up or down. Providing a network creates ways of socializing the service experience, thus ramping up affirmation that customers made a wise choice.

In part two, Bell and Patterson will describe how social media can lead to customers telling stories about your business.

Chip R. Bell and John R. Patterson are customer loyalty consultants and the authors of the best-selling book Take Their Breath Away: How Imaginative Service Creates Devoted Customers. They can be reached through www.taketheirbreathaway.com.

photo credit: SpecialKolin

You’re Closer to Reward Travel Than You Think?

Picture 2I have two frequent flier accounts with Continental Airlines. One is an account that my parents opened for me when I was maybe five or six years old and another is one that I opened myself a few years ago when I started traveling pretty regularly. About two years ago, I found the account my parents had opened for me and transferred all of my frequent flier miles to that account. However, the newer account (which now has no miles) is still open and active. As such, Continental emails me about it.

The screenshot to the left is from an email they sent me yesterday. I haven’t use this frequent flier account since I transferred the miles from it, so it obviously hasn’t accumulated many miles. However, the subject of the email suggests otherwise. The subject was You’re Closer to Reward Travel Than You Think.

To say the least, this was a poorly done email. Continental shouldn’t send emails that are essentially misleading to customers. They know how many miles their customers have and they should know not to send emails saying the customers are close to reward travel when they have no miles.

When you’re emailing (or even sending snail mail to) customers, use the data you have to make the emails more intelligent (this relates to a post I wrote about two years ago). The email Continental sent me should have focused on using my account and getting started to earn reward travel. An email like that would have been a lot more targeted and a lot more useful.

Customer Escalations and You

Many customer service managers (especially in small to mid-size businesses) spend quite a bit of time handling something I always refer to as “escalations”. Escalations are usually from angry/vocal/important customers who are having a problem and are going “up the chain”. The escalations might come down from the CEO or the President, across from PR or the Internet, or up from floor supervisors and regular agents. Where exactly escalations originate from depends a lot on the particular company and how its customer service organization is setup.

The question is: is it worth a customer service manager’s time to handle at least some of these escalations personally? There are a couple of different views on this.

Staying in touch with the customers. This is the perspective I’ve always held. Employees, and especially managers, who are too far removed from the actual issues and the actual customers are going to have a harder time coming up with effective policies and good ideas.

Focusing on management. Other people think that dealing with individual customer escalations is largely a waste of time and that managers should be focusing on management issues. Policy creation, personnel management, interviewing, etc. This is a valid point as well. Depending on the type of company, it can be pretty time consuming to deal with a large number of escalations and it can definitely distract from dealing with day-to-day issues that managers normally have to deal with.

Focusing on strategy. Other customer service managers (typically those in larger companies) spend most of their day working on big initiatives and customer service strategy. This works when there are other customer service-orientated managers to deal with management issues, but not so much in smaller companies where there is effectively only one person in charge of customer service.

What do you think is the right balance? Or the most important things to spend time on?