Business and Operations
Marketing insights: April-May 2013
When you’re not in the room
By Michelle Brisebois
Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos defines branding as your reputation.
Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos defines branding as your reputation. “It’s what people say about you when you’re not in the room,” he says. Many of us have mixed emotions when we hear this because we recognize that even though we strive for perfection, sometimes customer expectations aren’t met and we disappoint. On the other hand, there are also times that we shine and excel but never get any feedback. Businesses have got used to functioning in blissful ignorance of the real conversation in the other room but social media has changed all of that for good. Get ready to be a fly on a wall.
Social media can be distracting. Most businesspeople feel they don’t have time in their 14-hour days to putter around on the Internet. You may be missing the point. You’re not spending time on the computer: you’re spending time with your customers.
“Social Media is about developing a personal relationship with your customers,” says Ciara McCann, communications specialist for Andrew Peller Ltd. “Set time every day to focus on checking your online mentions and responding to those conversations,” she says.
If you already have a business Twitter account then maybe you’re already reaping the benefits of social media. You can use tools such as HootSuite to manage your accounts.
McCann recommends that you follow some bigger companies and see how they engage their customers. Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart is very adept at using Twitter to conduct mini surveys to engage in conversations with her consumer base and to introduce new products.
Follow large restaurants you admire. As you’ll soon see, not all tweets are created equal and how you respond to them depends on the circumstance.
Customer feedback via social media tends to fall into one of three categories – a praise, a complaint or a mention. When someone tweets that they just ate at your restaurant and had an amazing time you need to respond immediately. First, respond to the tweet by saying something like “So glad you had a good time. Our team had a great evening too.” Ideally your response is positive and reads personal. It is less sales pitch and more dialogue,” says McCann. You should then post a copy of the comment for your team to see. Anyone with a customer service job loves to get praise from the people they serve, so acknowledging them will be appreciated. It’s also nice when you can have ongoing conversations through social media. If someone posts that they especially love one of your pizza menu items, you can comment back, “Thanks for the lovely compliment. Do you prefer the thin crust or thick?”
These mini conversations create a bond with your customers and allow you to converse with them in a public forum that gets your business noticed.
When you and the customer are having a pleasant exchange, an audience is a wonderful thing. But what about those negative reviews? People are not afraid to complain about service that did not meet their expectations; social media just means that now we can’t pretend it isn’t happening. When someone posts a negative comment, first assess whether the comment is valid and balanced or whether it is simply over the top. Ensure the key leaders in your business are aware of the comment and then respond to it on social media as quickly and directly as possible. Avoid the scripted response – it’s easy for customers to spot. Be genuine and offer a solution if you can with only a few sentences. If the situation warrants it, then give them your e-mail address and ask them to leave a number where you can call them to resolve things.
Resist the urge to delete those comments or to ignore them. If you do respond, followers watching this exchange will be impressed that you worked to resolve things and they will love you for it. If a comment is nasty, it is still a good idea to respond politely and to try to take it offline where you can resolve things in private. This generally works only when there actually is a service issue to be responded to. If the comment is simply nasty, then you may wish to not respond or to have the comment removed. Often business who are unfairly attacked by disgruntled customers find that their devoted customers chime in to support the business. When people love a brand or business, they may feel motivated to defend it.
Negative comments can still end in a positive way.
When you’re mentioned in an exchange, feel free to chime in and keep the conversation going by asking the tweeter a question, by recommending another event or by providing a sneak peek at a new menu item. Keep track of your regular followers and on Fridays you can recommend them by using the hash tag #FF which stands for Follow Fridays. Let’s say a fan named @pizzafangirl has been especially supportive by tweeting about your restaurant. You can tweet out to your Twitter followers Check out @pizzafangirl #FF which will get her more followers. Developing online working relationships with your customers can be powerful.
Being in the conversational room with our customers is a great thing. It lets us connect with them, get a handle on problems before they become bigger, and understand how we are perceived. Web 2.0 lets us truly live our brands.
Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical, financial services and wine industries. She specializes in retail brand strategies.