If understanding what your customers are saying about you is "right now," then the tools and processes to tackle social customer care at scale is "what's next."
As the social web flows out of marketing and across your organization, the impact to the way in which a firm connects with its customers could not be more significant. Social technology - and the ubiquitous artifacts including "likes," friends, +1s, and follows - drives ever-deeper social connections and increases the transparency of transactions at all levels. Across the business landscape, social has become the new great democratizer.
What does this mean for you? It means you'll need new tools through which you can drive measurable improvement in margins. It means beefing up your marketing effectiveness as your advertising becomes more dependent on social amplification. It means harnessing and leveraging the social web.
Of course, if it were that simple everyone would be doing it, and the fact is that not everyone is doing it. Something like 90 percent of Facebook posts directly to brand pages go unanswered, and the majority of customer service questions posted to Twitter die on the vine. Given the power of search, that's not a good thing: like the mummies at Museo de las Momias in Guanajuato, Mexico, these abandoned tweets are like the ghosts of customers' requests left for dead. Unless you believe that this helps drive new sales, you need to be responding to all relevant posts, in public. That means building a massively scalable response capability.
As customers move en masse to smartphone-powered social and conversational networks, the burden falls to you - as a marketer - to raise your game. You'll want to move to a vantage point where you find and triage the thousands of individual conversations that directly reference your product, brand, or service every day, and then queue them for action in customer care. Why? Because your customer service team is uniquely qualified to build brand advocates.
Don't believe it? Try this simple test: pick five of your favorite brands and contact customer service by phone, email, chat, or social. Compare your emotional state before and after each interaction, based on how responsive each firm was to your request. Now ask yourself, "How likely are you to recommend (positively) each of the firms you interacted with?" Without getting mired in a discussion of the relative merits of any individual satisfaction methodology, the question that sits at the heart of the Net Promoter Score is, for my money, fundamental to success in a highly connected marketplace. Which is to say, in a world where social media is a de facto currency.
What's a connected, socialized market look like? It looks like customers, armed with new tools and new ways of exerting their collective influence that didn't exist 10 years ago. Against that, reaching for Big TV to cover for a track record of "less-than-excellent" customer experiences doesn't work. If the collective is aligned against you, your days (and your profits) are few.
A lot of forward-thinking marketers are properly focusing on new skills, new technology, and new ways of promoting their brands and building loyalty. The adoption of "social media listening tools" that collect and summarize conversations, reporting on macro measures like overall sentiment and conversational trend is near universal across larger consumer-facing brands. Some of these marketing platforms take the analysis of what's happening on the social web a step further, picking out specific influencers and attempting an assessment of their actual impact in a business context. To a certain extent, this works. Knowing who is influential and how to leverage that relationship is social media marketing 101.
But…and there is a big "but" here…without the ability to respond at scale - to respond to all customers - these same brands are finding it tougher going when it comes to creating large numbers of brand advocates based on social interactions. This is the next challenge, and the marketers that are gearing up now for an order of magnitude increase in the ability of their respective organizations to engage with all customers will emerge the winners.
What's it take to convert "uncontrolled social talkers" into business-building brand advocates? It means building your social points of presence at the same time you're expanding the visibility and use of social technology within your company. It means connecting to your customers and to your markets. It means enabling and empowering customer care agents to respond at scale, and according to reasoned, responsible policies that protect the firm and which themselves are aligned with your brand.
In the end, it means building advocates, one customer at a time, thousands of times per day through a replicable, sustainable process. Mostly, it means you, because when it comes to your brand and what it means to your customers, the buck still stops in marketing. Some things never change.
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Dave is the VP of social strategy at Lithium. Based in Austin, Dave is also the author of best-selling "Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day," as well as "Social Media Marketing: The Next Generation of Business Engagement." Dave is a regular columnist for ClickZ, a frequent keynoter, and leads social technology and measurement workshops with the American Marketing Association as well as Social Media Executive Seminars, a C-level business training provider.
Dave has worked in social technology consulting and development around the world: with India's Publicis|2020media and its clients including the Bengaluru International Airport, Intel, Dell, United Brands, and Pepsico and with Austin's FG SQUARED and GSD&M| IdeaCity and clients including PGi, Southwest Airlines, AARP, Wal-Mart, and the PGA TOUR. Dave serves on the advisory boards for social technology startups including Palo Alto-based Friend2Friend and Mountain View-based Netbase and iGoals.
Prior, Dave was a co-founder of social customer care technology provider Social Dynamx, a product manager with Progressive Insurance, and a systems analyst with NASA| Jet Propulsion Labs. Dave co-founded Digital Voodoo, a web technology consultancy, in 1994. Dave holds a BS in physics and mathematics from the State University of New York/ Brockport and has served on the Advisory Board for ad:tech and the Measurement and Metrics Council with WOMMA.
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