Now, let’s be honest, no matter who you are, we probably can all relate to one another in the sense that we’ve had both good and bad customer service experiences at some point in our lives. What did you do when this happened? Did you share your experience on Facebook? Twitter? Or did you write a review on Yelp, Google or Amazon?
Fact: There are a large number of consumers who are sharing their experiences online. This trend will continue to grow in 2014 and for the foreseeable future. This new age of “word of mouth” holds a lot of power in today’s world but also provides a lot of opportunity.
Believe it or not, there once was a time where the Internet did not have such an impact on businesses. Check out this clip from the Today Show in 1994 titled “What Is The Internet Anyway?” This clip has me giggling every time. Not because of Katie Couric’s haircut or that she was interpreting the “@” symbol to mean “about,” but because of Bryant Gumble’s frustration with the concept of “the Internet.” My point being, we’ve come along way since 1994! Consumers have adapted to technology and we are all living in the age of the Internet and social media whether we like it or not.
My question now goes out to all of the businesses out there: are you evolving with the consumer? If your customers are talking about your business online, are you sitting on the sideline or are you in the game?
One way to get your business back involved is to step up your customer service efforts online. Focus on expanding your existing customer service strategy to the wonderful world wide web. (Yes – this include social media too!) Why, you ask? Because this is something that is too big to be ignored any longer. Here are a few quick tips to get you started.
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
Break out of your comfort zone and stop funneling everyone to call or email for customer service help. I’m not saying completely dismantle your customer service department but, what I am saying is to diversify it. Add another channel for how customers can communicate with you specifically addressing questions or issues they may have. Social media is a great way to do this. Create a Twitter handle or Facebook page separate from your “main” company page to funnel these inquiries. Here’s why I recommend this…
In my opinion, businesses that only have a customer service phone number and/ or an email address, can get overwhelmed with inquiries which, in turn, slows down response time. Slow response time forces consumers to look elsewhere for answers and chances are, if you’re already on social media, that’s where they are headed. I also like the idea of using social media for customer service because a lot of customer questions only require a short and sweet response. Social platforms provide a good medium in which to quickly communicate these short messages.
Slow response time also = angry customers. Angry customers = people murdering your company all over the internet, ranting about a less than desirable experience they had, twisting the knife deeper with every word they write. This customer of yours now has publicly gutted you like Drew Barrymore in Scream and the vultures are now swarming, waiting for the right moment to swoop in and pick you apart even further. This is something you want to contain and manage. Social media allows you to do just that while still remaining transparent. By creating separate social pages for customer service inquiries, you will now be able to keep all things negative in one area and all things positive in the other.
Reward and Encourage Positive Feedback
While it’s true that on occasion we find a customer that climbs up on their soapbox and unleashes the fire of a thousand suns on your organization, employees and their unborn children, there are loyal customers out there that LOVE your brand. I am always looking for ways shed some light on those customers who have had a really good experience and are raving about the products or services.
One way to do this through social media is to feature a “ fan of the month.” This is a relatively inexpensive way to connect with your customers and engage. Maybe there is one fan or follower out there that is always sending praises your way, so why not reward them? Send them some free swag and feature them on your Facebook page cover photo like Marmite has done here:
If you don’t have a few fans or followers that stick out to you, host a “fan of the month” contest through a Facebook app like SodaStream has done here. (This will also help increase page likes too!)
I also would suggest asking Facebook fans to directly write a review within the recommendations panel. Go straight to the source and ask for positive feedback. Just remember… if you don’t ask, you will not receive, so go out and grab it! Reward each customer that provides positive recommendations with something like 15% off their next purchase!* This will provide incentive for them to become a repeat customer, visit your website, and make a purchase!
Some of you may be thinking… isn’t this more of a marketing tactic than customer service driven? My answer is that it’s hybrid, and allows you to kill two birds with one stone. Customer service shouldn’t just focus on doing damage control, but also incorporate customer appreciation.
Monitor & Respond in Real Time
Consumers want answers NOW, especially when they’re frustrated. Frustration builds and builds with every second they are either put you on hold, transfer you to another representative, or you’re waiting on a reply email. Well, the same thing applies to online platforms too, and if you’re sluggish to respond, that particular customer is going to explode like Mount St. Helens. So, what can you do to provide your customers with faster responses? Answer: Monitor people talking about your company in real time.
Set up email alerts with Google Local and Yelp to be notified ASAP when a new review is added. If you’re selling on Amazon, or other sites that allow customer reviews, you will want to do the same. When a review is posted, read it, and decide if a response is needed. Always respond to negative reviews but take the time to fully understand the issue and do whatever it takes to make it right. The sooner you respond, the better, and this will ward off the vultures! Don’t forget to acknowledge the positive reviews too!
A good example of this (drawing from personal experience), is when I was looking for hotels in the Dominican Republic. After doing some research, I was able to narrow my choices down to three hotels. To make a final decision, I turned to TripAdvisor to read the reviews. The General Manager of one particular hotel chain had responded to almost every review, both good and bad, rewarding praise with discounted rooms on their next visit, and taking responsibility for those who experienced any issues. (He offered them things too if their issue wasn’t resolved already!) I selected this hotel because I knew I would get great service and if there were any issues, I knew that they would make it right.
To keep a pulse on what’s happening on your social pages, you can also sign up to receive email notifications in the native applications for free. Hyper Alerts is another free way (at the moment) to manage activity and will send you alerts as soon as they happen – sometimes faster than the native applications.
However, you shouldn’t sit back and wait for alerts, you should be constantly monitoring your feeds. For this, I prefer to use social media management tools like Hootsuite and Sprout Social which are paid options. These tools will allow you to monitor multiple feeds such as “wall posts” “direct messages” and “mentions” from various platforms. I recommend setting up a feed that monitors your business name on Twitter to participate in conversations happening right before your eyes! If someone is tweeting something positive about your brand, re-tweet or reply to them! If something negative is happening, intercept the tweet, acknowledge their experience and figure out how to make it better.
To read more about why response time matters, check out this article from The Smart Company.
So, after reading this, I hope I’ve been able to motivate you enough to get off the sideline and back into the game. Don’t miss out on any opportunities to improve your customer service in 2014! Extending your customer service to the digital world will be a decision you won’t regret. Feel free to share your thoughts and any additional insight in the comments below!