When larger companies contemplate a social media strategy, there are tons of challenges. Social media, by definition, implies a conversation and it’s easier to maintain a conversation with a few hundred or maybe even a thousand engaged partners. When you start to get up into the millions, the challenges multiply.
All of us have felt angry and powerless against a faceless cable company, appliance manufacturer, phone company or computer company. Customer service is the difference maker in closing the sale and maintaining relationships, but so many companies fall down in that area, too. We have all found ourselves speaking to a drone who was reading a script and offering vague promises that you both knew were not going to be met.
As I consult with small and medium sized companies and help them plan their social media strategy, one of the things I like to remind them is that they better hope that people are talking about them. They might be saying nice things or bad things, but you hope they’re talking. So many fear that people will say bad things about them. Here’s the reality: when people are not talking about you AT ALL, THAT’S when you have a real problem. But I digress…
The power of free social media tools like facebook and twitter or paid monitoring services like Radian6 or DNA13 is that now you have the opportunity to hear and participate in those conversations and engage and connect. You can make an enthusiast into a brand ambassador or maybe even assuage an unhappy customer. Sometimes you will lose a customer, despite your best efforts. But isn’t it better to have had the chance to at least HEAR what that unhappy customer had to say and take a shot at bringing them back to the fold?
I had a huge problem this week with AT&T and I got, frankly, what I would call despicable customer service from them. It didn’t seem to bother them that my home phone was ringing in someone else’s house and his in mine.(I wonder if he took any messages?) No one considered the privacy implications, at least they didn’t do so overtly, and they didn’t seem too put out when they told me that 4 or 5 days might go by until they fixed it. Now, I have heard all the twitter stories about “influentials” with 10 or 20,000 followers who make a big stink online and get their way. My number of followers does not stack up, but I decided to take my case to twitter court and see if justice would be served. Within 10 minutes of my first “AT&T sucks” tweet around 4pm, I got a follow from a local AT&T media relations person. That led to two phone calls from AT&T repair folks and finally two more calls from the repair tech himself down the street from my house. By 7pm, my phone was back working again. The experience reminded me of an incident that happened very early on in my professional life that made a huge impression on me. I started out at the (once) venerable William Morris Agency in Beverly Hills and I recall an agent sending out a company-wide e-mail asking for help getting something (I don’t recall what it was now) for an “important client.” Within minutes, the CEO of the company did a “reply all” saying, “All our clients are important clients.”
If a huge company like AT&T can get it together to reach out to a disgruntled customer, why can’t your company?