There was a time when companies would give anything to stimulate conversations about their brands among customers. Perhaps nothing captured this better than the 1980s Faberge commercial conveying the power of word-of-mouth.
But today’s businesses must be careful what they wish for. In the era of the empowered, always-on consumer, online discussions can quickly take on a life of their own—one that doesn’t always benefit your company. How you respond and accommodate customer inquiries and requests can mean the difference between your long-term success and overnight failure.
The High Cost of Poor Customer Service
It takes a carefully crafted and executed strategy to establish a solid and positive company reputation. But it can all come crashing down in mere weeks, days, or hours if even one poor customer experience goes viral online.
United Airlines took a real beating last month in this regard. First it suffered swift backlash on social media after it refused to let two teenage girls on a flight for violating the airline’s dress code. The negative publicity mounted when United Airlines physically dragged a passenger off a plane. As if that weren’t enough, it’s now in the spotlight because a prized rabbit—destined to become the world’s largest—died in a storage room at O’Hare International while in United’s care.
Why Negativity Spreads Like Wildfire
Numerous studies have shown that people tend to share their negative experiences far more often than their positive experiences. Why is that the case? For one, it seems our brains are wired that way, in part as a holdover from earlier days when negativity was critical to our survival. Secondly, should customers anticipate that their experience with your company will be anything less than pleasant? It’s a reasonable expectation, and we don’t typically comment when things go as expected.
It’s when things go awry and we get knocked off the rails that we feel compelled to share our frustration. And social media channels offer the perfect and powerful channel for doing that in an immediate, far-reaching manner.
In the course of conducting research for his new book, Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers , Jay Baer discovered that about 40% of customer complaints happen in public. Jay buckets these complainers (or “haters”) into two categories: offstage and onstage. Offstage haters tend to lodge their initial complaints in private, usually via telephone or email. You can guess where onstage haters prefer to air their complaints. Not only do they complain in more public forums—for example, on social media and review sites—they tend to complain more often than their offstage counterparts.
Harness Social Media as Positive Outlet
Maybe your company thinks it has no reason to worry. It turns out that many companies think they’re delivering a superior customer experience—but 48% of customers disagree with this assessment.
Delivering a customer experience that meets—and exceeds—expectations is now table stakes and a top priority for more and more businesses. And with good reason. Positive customer experiences reduce customer attrition rates and boost loyalty. Satisfying customer expectations via social media drives even more business value. The companies joining their customers in these channels—and responding adeptly to quickly resolve issues—are reaping the rewards, as shown in the chart below.
This—plus the fact that customers increasingly expect companies to answer their questions in socialized, or "Uberized," channels—helps explain why social media has become a key channel in the customer service strategies for more companies. No wonder Aberdeen’s research shows that 81% of businesses include these channels in their customer experience management programs.
Create a Culture of Social Care
To join the ranks of these forward-thinking companies, you need to cultivate a culture of social care. Here’s how to go about that.
Step 1: Rally your troops.
Today the customer experience is everyone’s responsibility. Even when that care is being handled via social channels, you need all employees bought into the concept to avoid any missteps. Document and socialize your social customer care strategy and plans. Then consider dedicating a full-time professional to managing your social customer care program. (And that probably shouldn’t be your intern!)
Step 2: Understand customer preferences.
By monitoring and analyzing customer comments and communication on social media, you can detect patterns that help shape your social care program. This may include the most frequent types of complaints on social media, the typical times certain types of complaints are posted, and even the most popular social channels.
At the same time, avoid the pitfalls of trying to seem “cool” by using hip jargon or slang, which can easily backfire. Your customers want your assistance, not your friendship. Give them what they want by being authentic, helpful, and straightforward.
Step 3: Set up social channels and internal processes.
Based on the insights you glean in step 2, you can prepare your personnel to rapidly and effectively respond and resolve issues. This includes establishing an official presence on social channels and training employees to interact with customers on social media. You’ll also need to provide them with the tools and guidance for handling customer complaints. You can ensure swift remediation by using machine learning and Artificial Intelligence to segment customer comments on social into categories such as “positive feedback,” “seeking information,” “requires response.” Empowering your employees to adeptly resolve customer complaints can go a long way toward boosting your brand’s reputation, customer loyalty, and revenues.
Step 4: Formalize your social customer care process.
To deliver a consistent level of quality social customer care, you need to ensure that the same messages and conversations carry across all channels. In other words, you don’t want to give customers one answer when they call in and another answer when responding to them on social media. According to Aberdeen, best-in-class companies are 24% “more likely to incorporate omni-channel within their social customer care programs…” Aberdeen underscores that the leaders in social customer care go beyond responding to customer complaints by proactively delivering information via social channels (think alerts, notifications, and reminders). An example is a utility company planning schedule maintenance on its infrastructure. Warning customers ahead of time can reduce the number of inquiries and complaints about a perceived loss of service.
Step #5: Track and measure the impact.
To make sure you are delivering on customer expectations, you need to see how well your social customer care program is performing. Monitor and analyze the online conversation about your brand, and solicit feedback using post-interaction surveys and periodic customer experience surveys, and by tracking your Net Promoter Score®.
Prevent the Venting
Your customers have spoken loud and clear—they expect you to go social. The good news is that you can do that by observing the best practices shared here. While you don’t want to delay, it’s fair to phase in a customer communication model that accounts for social. The key is to show your customers that you’re listening and that you care. Do so and you’ll see fewer customers complaining and more of them expressing their appreciation.
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