Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Social Networks as a Customer Service Tool

I confess, at first I did not understand or realize the power of blogging sites like Twitter and Facebook. While other professionals have raved about the contacts, referrals, etc. that they have obtained from Social Networking sites, I initially did not see its true value or potential. However, a recent news story and my own experiences have shown me the power of these Social Networking sites.

If you have any misgivings about social networking’s business value, let me dismiss them for your now. Although social networks and online communities may not drive instantaneous sales, they can absolutely help you build customer retention - through gathering feedback, responding to concerns, sharing informational content, and more. In the case of responding to customers’ concerns, social networking is turning out to be a powerful retention tool. Many companies today are surfing online communities and social networking sites for customers’ comments and following up as a result. So, if you have a complaint many businesses are actively listening and willing to resolve the issue.

In this week's publication of BusinessWeek (March 2, 2009), there is a short article called "A Social Networker's Story: Zappos CEO and UPS Step In.“ The story describes how Tara Hunt, a marketing executive with Intuit, initially contacted UPS regarding the tracking of a delivery package and received a generic response from the customer service representative explaining that packages sometimes aren't delivered until 9 p.m. during the Christmas season. Not satisfied with the response, Tara called upon the power of Twitter and posted a message (known as a "tweet") describing how she wanted to walk her dog and was waiting on UPS to deliver a package. The message or tweet was relayed to the CEO of Zappos who was having dinner with UPS's President for the Western Region, who then mentioned the tweet to the UPS exec. The Zappos CEO replied to the tweet "someone will call." The UPS exec contacted the operations manager who then was able to schedule a pre-set delivery time. The UPS driver arrived not only with the package - but also flowers, chocolates, and dog toys. It was an excellent example of customer service. The question is though; did it pay off? Absolutely! Ms. Hunt now goes out of her way to use UPS and even purchased a pair of shoes from Zappos.

As word spreads of these types of stories, customers will increasingly want to experience it themselves—and may actually go to online communities before contacting a customer service department directly. (Or may look to see if they can contact a customer service team through their Social Network site.)

So here is what I’ve learned from the BusinessWeek article and my own personal experiences:

~Customers don’t like automated replies or generic responses.

~Customers love good information.

~Customers can accept mistakes and problems if they know what is going on with their problem or complaint and obtain timely updates.

~When blogging or posting, remember that others are or may be listening (including friends, family, employers, competitors, etc.).

~If you are a company, you may just want to listen in on Twitter to see what your customers are saying about your company and the service it provides.

~A satisfied customer is more likely to be a source of repeat business and referrals.

~An unhappy customer will shout (louder than the happy one) from the rooftops the bad service they received.

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