The Online Customer is Always Right

4 Oct

This blog will examine the uses of social media in customer service, engagement, and support. Even though e-commerce is becoming more commonplace, customers still demand the best service possible. In fact, according to the Customer Experience Impact 2010 Report, 82% of US customers have stopped doing business with a company due to bad customer service.  Through research of various companies and media, I will point out some of the most effective ways to serve customers online, and some tactics to avoid.

The Future of Customer Service

7 Nov

As social media continues to integrate into company strategies, and consumers learn the power they have through social media, companies should look to the horizon for the next developments in online customer service.

According to Guy Stevens, a few trends will continue to influence customer service. Help networks, consumer-generated networks where they can help each other with products, essentially decentralize traditional customer service. The larger market of smart phones will also mean customers can seek help whenever and wherever, and still expect an efficient response. Companies must optimize their social media for these devices. In addition, as if there weren’t enough ways to complain online, new sites like Amplicate allow customers to come together on countless products all in one place. Companies must stay aware of these new sites so they can pick up on developing issues surrounding their products.

New developments can benefit companies as well. Klout scores are calculated based on customer’s social media activity and can help companies identify online influencers. Companies like Starbucks, CoverGirl, and Virgin America have already started using the scores to send promotions to influential customers, according to David Teicher. While this technology is still being tweaked to fit company strategies and to test its accuracy, the possibilities of similar technologies are endless.

The technologies of online retailers are changing as well. Last year Wal-Mart made improvements modeling Amazon’s features. They include recommendations and personalization, which have basically become commonplace on the majority of online retailers. In addition, Walmart.com has started to sell third-party vendor products, exactly like Amazon. These two large companies have long been the examples of successful retailers, so their websites should continue to be on top of new e-commerce developments.

The internet provides a wide range of technologies and applications for companies and their customer service. The key is to know your customers, how they use the internet, and the tools that provide the best service.

Preparing for the Worst: Crisis Management

5 Nov

Like many aspects of customer service online, crisis management online can be a double-edged sword. Social media can be used for good to respond to major problems, or it can be the start of those problems for your company. (See Jeff Jarvis’ infamous “Dell Hell“.) As more companies integrate social media into their every day communications, the former is becoming more important. While you never want a crisis to occur, your company must be prepared for when it does and your customers go online.

On SmartBlog for Social Media, Rob Birgfeld maintains that even though customers can use social media to start online uprisings, those same tools are still  best for crisis management. Social media lends value by allowing companies to track what their customers are saying, and hopefully stop a problem in its tracks. In addition, problems can be addressed on multiple platforms, so you can quickly respond on all fronts. As for a problem that occurs offline and carries over online, the key is to maintain the same principles of crisis communications, just make them faster to keep up with the demands of the internet.

In a PRSA article, James Donnelly outlines some of these principles of online crisis communication. It starts at the core of the strategic framework of a company’s online media. They should start online relationships from the start, and usability is an important factor. When a problem arises, customers will already trust the website and know its navigation. Companies must also use a genuine voice when addressing their customers, and keep the relationship going after the crisis as been resolved.

A recent example of quick online crisis response was the airlines during the Iceland volcano eruption that grounded hundreds of thousands of travelers over six days. On Mashable, Shashank Nigam applauds the efficient responses of the airlines on Twitter and Facebook, and their subsequent updates throughout the week. Customers appreciate being told the truth and updated frequently during crises, and social media is a great asset in these respects.

E-engagement: Getting customers involved

2 Nov

A brand cannot live on sales alone. To maintain a powerful and lasting image requires committed customers, and with social media it is becoming even more important for companies to engage their customers. If they don’t, those customers can also use the internet to voice their discontent.

Traditional promotions like birthday coupons, “gold cards,” and special events still exist both on and off-line, but Chris Lake offers even more ways to reward customers. New technology allows websites to remove annoying ads for customers that sign up for accounts or engage with the company in other ways. Facebook fans of clothing brands can gain access to early private sales. With social media and internet data, almost any online shopping company can optimize and customize for their customers.

Rewards are not applicable to every company or their customers. As Mashable maps out different engagement styles, a few others stand out as new developments brought about by social media. One approach is to engage customers by engaging the employees who interact with them. IBM and Dell are well known for their employee blogs, and Zappos is famous for employees tweeting.  Another way to get customers involved is by setting up communities revolving around something other than the products or company. As Matthew Latkiewicz points out, Timberland focused on environmental issues. Any company can find an issue or topic most of their customers care about and start conversations that will ultimately create connections to their brand.

Retailers may seem like they have it easy when it comes to online customer engagement, but service companies and organizations can utilize the web to engage customers too. Starbucks started using social media in 2008 amidst their falling stock prices. Since then, they have engaged customers by carrying their store image to their website, and engaging customers in genuine conversations that they can’t have with the coffee houses’ baristas. Social media has even popped up in unexpected places, like the Tate museum in London. According to Matt Rhodes on the UK’s Fresh Networks blog, the Tate is the top UK brand on Twitter, because the organization answers real questions and has fun online in ways it cannot always achieve in the real world. Just goes to show that whether you’re a retailer, service provider, or organization, customer engagement online is possible and effective.

Tweeting Customer Service

9 Oct

Twitter seems to be a social media platform that people either love or hate, understand or don’t, and the past few years companies have been figuring out where it fits into their communication strategies.

Dan Schawbel claims that Twitter should not be used for marketing, since it requires people to seek out the companies they want to follow. Just because a company follows a potential customer, that doesn’t mean that customer will return the follow and read all the self-promoting tweets. According to Edison Research, only 7% of people are even active on Twitter. Therefore, one of the best uses is for customer service. If a person follows your company, they have an interest, and if they tweet about your company, they probably expect a response. A fast response.

The demands of Twitter include expectations of timely responses. It’s impossible to address every negative tweet, but according to Comcast’s Frank Eliason in USA Today, the benefits of increased transparency outweigh the complaints. Customers get a more personal message on Twitter from companies like Microsoft, which tweets tips and solutions to popular questions, along with links.

Twitter has its critics, like Jonathan Salem Baskin, who claims that companies using Twitter actually have worse customer service. In his view, customers’ increased use of social media to express dissatisfaction is the result of companies cutting costs and relying on the internet for customer service. In the end, companies are just creating more work for themselves by replying to tweets instead of just having good customer service in the first place.

It’s a good point, but what happened first? Did the internet empower customers to voice dissatisfaction they’ve always had, or has the low costs of the internet caused companies to slack in face-to-face service and communication? Either way, Twitter is proving to be a strong tool in customer service strategies.

The New Call Center

7 Oct

We all enjoy reading reviews and ratings online, and using Facebook and Twitter, but sometimes real human interaction can be more helpful when there’s a problem with a product.

Unless, of course, you call a typical call center. These rooms full of people usually in foreign countries get a bad rep, and sometimes you don’t even get a real person on the other side.

Luckily, Cisco has come up with a solution that will integrate the call center with social media. It’s an innovation that will help customers who still hold onto traditional means of customer service, but spend most of their time on social media. Cisco Customer Collaboration will be released in November, and will allow companies to track their customers’ social media activities so they can address problems with more knowledge when the customers call. The video below is a demonstration of the software.

Software that combines the comfort of traditional communications with the speed and reach of social media will hopefully continue to develop. Greg Levin supports this integration. With about 59% of social media users in a Society of New Communications study venting about customer care online, tracking this activity is invaluable for companies. In addition to adopting a software like Cisco’s, Levin suggests training social media specialists to analyze activity, creating communities for your customers to discuss products and services, and implementing quality assurance measures for social media interactions. This ensures all customers receive great service no matter the medium.  More and more companies are realizing the potential in social media, and are treating it just like a customer call or email.

Social CRM and You

4 Oct

Customer Relationship Management, or CRM, has long been known as the broad term covering sales and marketing strategies that segment and target potential, new, and current customers in order to create seemingly personal messages and sell more products.

Sounds like an old, worn out strategy? What if social media is thrown into the mix? This gives us Social CRM- a new way to find out what customers want, and most of the time these customers are eager to let companies know what they think.

According to Maria Ogneva, today’s “social customer” is not easily fooled by online gimmicks, does her research on products and services, voices opinions (both good and bad), and expects someone (probably you as a corporate communicator) to respond quickly to her comments. The chart in Ogneva’s article shows that Social CRM looks a lot like a traditional two-way communication model. The customer uses social media to communicate with the company, and the company responds. New technology can make these electronic exchanges feel like an everyday face-to-face conversation.

Social CRM isn’t a specific tool or practice; it’s about integrating social media into the CRM plan in order to understand and analyze what customers say online. In a report by Altimeter Group on Social CRM, Ray Wang and Jeremiah Owyang say that social CRM can add value by reconnecting the company with customers who have strayed and prefer to talk only with other customers. CRM can be as simple as Facebook or Twitter, or your company can use applications to track the activities of your customers. Salesforce, Oracle, and Microsoft are some of the technology companies that have created online CRM programs in the past few years. Depending on the size of your company, these applications, or even simple social media, can create new data about your customers by just listening to what they say. In the current technological world of blogs, tweets, pokes, and likes, there is a way that social CRM can be used to benefit your company.