Social media has given consumers a powerful medium to voice complaints and vent frustrations, Yeoh explores if there's a way for brands to move beyond the negativity.
A satisfied customer will tell three friends, a dissatisfied customer will tell 10 friends about their experience, as the marketing truism goes. In today’s digitally connected, 24/7 world, the effect of this truism is amplified even further.
This could not be more clearly represented than in the curious case of Mr Hasan Syed vs. British Airways (BA). Earlier this month, Mr. Syed took to twitter to complain about his father’s lost baggage. The difference, he paid $1,000 to promote a tweet in New York City and the United Kingdom, which was seen by close to 77,000 people, effectively using an advertiser’s tool against the advertiser themselves. In many ways, this could set a new precedent in the already growing trend of social media becoming a customer service channel where brand reputations can be built or destroyed via a single post or tweet. Thus, here are some simple steps for organizations to turn potential PR disasters into opportunities to engage and build brand loyalty.
Beyond the lost baggage, the biggest mistake British Airways made was stating they were a 9-5 operation with regards to social media. Syed’s understandably indignant reply was, “How does a billion dollar corporation only offer 9-5 social media support for a business that operates 24/7?” Organizations need to realize that social media is not a retail store, thus consumers on social media don’t have set tweeting or posting hours. In the close to 10 hours that BA took to reply to Mr. Syed’s paid tweet, it had been picked up by Mashable and thousands of Twitter users had retweeted it. What ceased to exist only hours before became a sizable online "channel" for negativity against the British Airways brand. By failing to respond in a timely manner, and instead posting their Twitter operating hours, BA managed to look callous, dismissive, and disinterested, all in one fell swoop. Like it or not, brands need to realize that the ability to be nimbly responsive to social media promptings is a prerequisite doing business in today’s digital age.
Admit your mistakes
Contrast British Airways own troubles with the FedEx employee videos that caused a social media firestorm at the end of July. A member of the public posted a minute-long YouTube video of a FedEx employee carelessly throwing items into a truck in New York on July 24. Within two days, FedEx replied with its own video from the Senior VP of Human Resources, apologizing and taking full responsibility for the actions of the individual, who had been swiftly removed from their job. For a company that prides itself on speed and reliability, their response was perfectly on-brand; none of the usual beating around the bush or spin about "conducting internal investigations", just quickly taking action and moving on. In doing this, FedEx nipped the issue in the bud without much damage to the brand, instead gaining plaudits on crisis management and social media handling. In fact, the FedEx response video itself has gone viral; gaining more than 1.6m views itself. Consumers are clearly as keen on how companies respond to possible PR disasters as the disasters themselves.
Do something unexpected
Beyond just responding quickly, some brands have gone the extra mile and done something unexpected to surprise and delight their customers. They’ve turned a negative situation into an opportunity to engage. This is best illustrated by specialist gaming peripheral manufacturer, Razer. Earlier this year, Razer’s CEO Min-Liang Tan announced that they would honor all purchases made with an unauthorized “90 percent OFF” coupon code. This rogue code went live on their U.K. site and within hours was flooded by thousands of orders from consumers hoping to cash in on the mistake. CEO Tan explained, “While we have the option of cancelling the orders legally, we’ve always had a "customer comes first policy" at Razer, and we’d like to do right by you.” As one would expect, the positive response from the Razer consumer base was overwhelming, even exhorting other Razer fans to cancel their orders and hailing the incredible generosity of the brand. Razer deserves kudos for sticking to its brand values and turning a negative situation into an opportunity to engage its loyalists and raise its profile with its core gaming fan base.
Harness the Collective
A final way to turn consumer negativity into an asset is the current move towards crowd support public forums that help companies solve issues and divert users from higher cost channels like contact centres. An excellent example of this is Telstra’s own Crowdsupport peer-to-peer support platform which is designed to allow and facilitate users to help each other. They can give kudos to useful messages, provide service feedback, and make suggestions. Since its launch at the end of 2011, CrowdSupport has accrued more than 10 million page views and driven down the cost of customer service considerably. By encouraging customer discussions and only stepping in to provide light moderation to ensure accuracy, Telstra is capably tapping into changing attitudes of trust whereby consumers tend to trust each other more than even the company themselves.
In summary, while social media has been garnering momentum as a key customer service channel tool, a lot of the press around it has been negative and how consumers becoming even more demanding of the brands that they deal with. However, as was the case with Razer and Telstra, there is always an opportunity to turn a negative situation into an opportunity to engage. Just remember that other marketing truism – Happy customers who get their issues resolved tell at least five other people about their experience.
By Andrew Yeoh, associate planning director at Visual Jazz Isobar.
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