Can you imagine if your dentist or optometrist decided that they were going to change the way they handled their telephone?
They would use it to have their receptionist call to remind you when it was time for your check-up, but if you wanted to actually book your appointment, you would have to write back to them.
How frustrated would you feel if they had the audacity to call you to drum up new business, but when you wanted to respond, you had to use a different, slower, perhaps more inconvenient method of communication?
It wouldn’t take you long to start looking around, gathering recommendations from your friends, and finding a new service provider.
That hypothetical situation is precisely what most businesses are doing when it comes to communicating with their customers using social media.
They are paying lip service to their accessibility.
In the process, they are frustrating people and pushing them away and even worse throwing away new business and the hope of any future opportunities..
Let me explain how this happens.
In my digital and social media consulting business, I have worked with large Fortune 500 companies as well as small and medium size businesses. They have covered both B2C and B2B with the majority providing professional services such as Accountants, Bookkeepers, Dentists, Engineers and Architects. I have also worked with online retailers or specialty retailers who have “bricks and mortar” boutiques but also sell through an e-commerce channel.
Being on social media cannot be a one-way street
When clients come to me, they want to either establish a social media presence, or they want to enhance their existing social media presence so that they can use it more effectively to promote their brand, build relationships and enhance their sales.
Very seldom do most business owners ask how they can use social media to provide better service to their own customers. They are not the only ones thinking that way.
Too often we think about new technology in terms of how it will work for us, not how it might work for other people.
One of the negative consequences of this line of thinking is that too many companies today are merely paying lip service to social media.
And they are not alone.
Sprout SocialTM, a Chicago-based social media engagement, advocacy and analytics solutions firm, regularly checks the pulse on how companies are responding to their customers on social media. Their latest edition of the Sprout Social Index, reveals that brands are taking over 10 hours on average to respond when most customers think under 4 hours would be acceptable.
Think about the significance of that to business. What may be even worse than that is that most brands – small and large – still don’t get social media. On average they are putting out 23 promotional message for every 1 response given to their audience.
Isn’t communication supposed to be a two-way proposition?
Imagine the anger of those who are ignored
Consider the impact of this unresponsiveness. On Facebook, the average user has 339 friends, and on Twitter over 200 followers. Look who is listening to them and how fast the bad news about your company can spread.
You can see how quickly the message can spiral out of control if at least even 20 percent decide to share the post with their friends and so on and so on.
If this doesn’t drive home the urgency of getting your social media response protocol in place quickly, you may still be laboring under the illusion that an unhappy customer is more likely to call or write an email than go directly to social media.
That is an illusion, since 36 percent of customers who have a bad experience with a company immediately turn to social media to talk about it. Not only have that, but how many of them would simply go to another brand if they are ignored?
If you don’t get right back to them, they assume you don’t care. A spurred customer can turn from mildly upset to downright angry when they feel you are not treating their concerns as valid.
While your marketing department is happily planning a great promotion, your sales team is trying to sign new deals, and you are reviewing your bottom line, your business can be eroding like a shoreline in a storm because nobody is watching what’s happening on your social media channels.
It doesn’t matter what kind of business you operate, you can’t afford to just pay lip service to social media anymore.
How to set-up a winning response process
Every company needs to seriously consider their strategy to listen and respond to social media, as well as to post on it.
If you see it just as a one-way street, where you post things and market your brand and people accept it without comment, you could be seriously torpedoed by a viral campaign.
You need to establish a well-considered, ongoing process to ensure that what is said about your company reaches your attention immediately, and that you have a policy for responding quickly.
According to Sage research, one quarter of people who have an issue with your company are more apt to turn to the social media sites Facebook and Twitter rather than a call centre.
Large and small companies may need different strategies that are realistic for their resources.
In a large company, for example, the biggest problem is that social media is seen as the domain of the marketing department. It is a “push-out” vehicle for messages as opposed to a “pull-in” vehicle for customers.
With more resources at hand, the large company can quickly solve the issue merely by transferring or sharing the responsibility for social media from the marketing department to the customer service centre.
For a small firm of a professional or other business where the owner/entrepreneur handles the majority of the work, this is a job that could be allocated to your receptionist or assistant. At the very least, you should be setting up Google Alerts so if something is said about you, you will be aware.
In both cases, it is vital to remember that just acknowledging that you have received their message isn’t enough. You have to engage with them, talk about the problem and learn what they want and how it can be resolved.
If you engage with those customers, even if they don’t get 100% of what they want, they are more likely to respond favourably to your next promotional offer, according to Rosetta Consulting.
Responding isn’t the whole challenge
Once you have established a system for monitoring what is said about your business on social media sites, and you have set in place a protocol to handle any issues promptly and to turn unhappy customers into online relationships, you are still not finished with the social media challenge.
It is a poor social media strategy that sees you only responding directly to messages from unhappy customers. You need to move one step past that.
As you monitor the conversations about your business online, why not join in? If someone says something nice, say thank-you. If someone poses a hypothetical question, get into the discussion that follows. If someone shares or likes some of your content, say thank you. Remember the word “social” is contained in social media.
Acknowledge thoughtful opinions. Share information as an authority on your subject that can contribute to the discussion in a meaningful way.
Finally, don’t forget to follow-up. When the crisis has passed and a reasonable solution put in place, take the time within a few days to contact that client directly and ensure that the matter has been resolved.
It’s a simple thing that usually only takes a few seconds, but it is on such follow-up that lifelong loyalties are built. Make that the story people tell about your company, not the complaint.
More often than not, an unhappy customer is a terrific opportunity to learn about your company’s shortcomings and how they can be improved, but even more than that it can be a new way of creating a raving fan.
Until next time. I wish you continued success.