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Guest

How to Use Social Media When Customers Aren’t that Into You

By: Guest | January 4, 2011 | 
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Guest post by Debra Ellis, founder of Wilson & Ellis Consulting.

Every marketer should ask, “How do conversations increase sales and improve service for our company?” The answer may not come easy because there is a major roadblock preventing companies from creating highly engaged communities. Their customers don’t want to talk to them.

People want to complete their business transactions with minimal effort. Conversations require effort. Sometimes, they require a lot of it. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but the majority of your customers want you to fulfill their needs without requiring their participation. In most cases, the only time someone will reach out to a company is when they have a service issue. Even then, their first step is to try to resolve the issue without assistance. A study by the Corporate Executive Board found that 57 percent of inbound customer care calls come from people who first tried to fix the problem themselves on the company’s website.

If you stop to think about it, this makes sense. When something exciting in your life happens, do you feel the need to tell XYZ Company? Or, if the company provides exceptional service, do you rave about it online? A few people may do this, but most aren’t looking for a relationship. They simply want their business transactions easily completed.

Social media strategies that focus solely on conversations and engagement will fail most companies. The exception to this are the few who have unique products or services that inspire a cult following. Everyone else needs to use social networks to make things easier for customers and increase the company’s exposure. Conversations are a bonus, not a necessity.

Making things easier for customers requires feeling their pain. This begins with listening. If they are chatting about it online, respond quickly, resolve the issue, and fix the process that created the problem. If the challenges aren’t public (hopefully!), then listen in your customer care department.

Customer problems begin with poor processes, ineffective communication, or a combination of the two. Listening to complaints is the easiest way to identify issues.

While processes require internal fixes, communication improvements can happen online. Use your blog, website, and social networks to provide answers to the most common questions.

Once you get started, your customers may join in and provide their insights, too. If not, don’t presume that no one is listening. Use analytics to measure traffic and monitor effectiveness. Reductions in complaint calls and returns are indicators that your social activity is working.

Social media isn’t just for resolving customer issues. It can also increase sales. People are increasingly looking online before making purchasing decisions. According to research by BIA/Kelsey and ConStat, 97 percent of U.S. Internet users use online media and 90 percent use search engines when researching products and services.

Real-time indexing of social networks by search engines provides an excellent opportunity for attracting traffic from both customers and prospects. Including information about discounts, new items, and bestsellers keeps your customers informed and expands your marketing reach exponentially.

Debra Ellis is a speaker, consultant, and author of the integrated marketing guide, “Social Media 4 Direct Marketers.” She is the founder of Wilson & Ellis Consulting, a boutique firm that specializes in integrated marketing and customer care.

18 comments
TedPendlebury
TedPendlebury

This article reflects my thoughts and opinions in a way far better than I could ever articulate them. Thank you for such a great post! The commentary below is some great stuff as well.

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

Debra, Great reality check. Reminds me of someone I know who keeps meaning to send Otterbox a note about saving her iPhone, but she hasn't made the time. And of my friends who are NOT on social media: they have busy lives, jobs and just other interests, don't want to spend their precious time to engage in your relationship just to find the best dishwasher. I'm like that, like you said often more interested in the quick and easy deal, don't want to work at it.

The caveat is while many consumers may not be social, most are online and searching. So they see YouTube videos and read Google chatter, etc. Even if they're not social, they may sign up for Yelp to post that one rant they could not let go. People have friends who are social, who forward and share things with those who aren't and vice versa. Per Howie's comment, listening and having empathy for customers has to be considered, beyond "relationship buidling." FWIW.

jackielamp
jackielamp

Great post! I really enjoyed your thoughts. One question that popped into my head...

You said that "Social media strategies that focus solely on conversations and engagement will fail most companies. The exception to this are the few who have unique products or services that inspire a cult following."

My question: Do you think conversations and engagement can inspire a cult following?

Vee
Vee

You mentioned that this applies unless the business has a cult following or has a unique product...can't that unique product (or at least general uniqueness) be great customer service? Also, as things continue to get more competitive online and off, companies all most have to offer something unique or they have to build that cult following in order to survive. General companies that offer general products or services, that also have general customer service are well...pretty general and have a hard time surviving. Point is, providing that exceptional customer service and having those "conversations" can be what sets a company apart from those who don't and I think that's a good thing.

DanMcKee
DanMcKee

Good read Curious. What do you use for social media analytics?

CLGraphics
CLGraphics

Debra, thanks for sharing this post. And Gini, thanks for having Debra as a guest.

I really like what you've said here because it cuts to the heart of something so many of us (and our clients) know, but hate to admit. While you may foster great relationships with your clients and do you absolute level best to take the best care possible of each and every one of them, there is always going to be a group that simply want you to get done what they've asked you to do.

Even in 'cult-like' followings, I've not been inclined to check into a large # of the Facebook Fan Pages that I 'like' and share all the cool exciting stuff that's happened on a personal level over the past few weeks. Even though Coke would probably dig knowing that I was having a nice tall glass while getting some of the coolest news I've received in a long time... Just not that inclined to share it there.

And - I'd love it if all of our clients and customers would jump in on our fan page about how things are going; involving us or not, by and large it's not gonna happen.

Deb, again, great post and thanks for sharing. This really lends to conversations that have already been circulating within our group :)

Peter

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

So true.. and I've read reviews that started with "my friend/neighbor/sister" has such and such or stayed at X hotel blah blah.. Definately have to keep your eyes and ears open, look at the whole picture, not just the social or web part either.

Debra_Ellis
Debra_Ellis

@3HatsComm Excellent examples, Divina. I know several people who rave about products to their friends, but wouldn't consider posting it online. But, they read every online review before they make a purchase. Businesses have to keep people dynamics in mind when they plan their strategy.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@Debra_Ellis I have always had a mantra focus first on a great product or service, don't skimp on support, and have the right price point. If you do these things you won't need as much marketing of any form or channel as others. You will create your own cult following.

There is a fast food joint in Massapequa NY called All American Burger. Been in existence for 40 years. People drive 50 miles to get their fries. You rarely have to wait more than 10 minutes even if there is a big line. Its an old joint. Almost dingy. But they have the best fries anywhere and their prices can't be beat. Its a gold mine. They do zero advertising. Everything is word of mouth.

The key part of your great post I have discussed many times. We all have at most time to interact/engage regularly with 10-20 brands. Yet open your closet, your pantry, your garage. Every single product/brand wants to talk to you today via Social. 1000's. Good luck making the 10 or 20. But people want you available when they are pissed, let down or just to pop in and praise. And Social is a great listening channel!

Debra_Ellis
Debra_Ellis

The delivering on the promise issue is huge for multichannel companies. Customer experiences define their expectations. A great online conversation followed by a mediocre shopping experience disappoints and disillusions. Similarly, when a company is deaf to customers raving about exceptional customer care or complaining about issues online, it limits growth and profitability potential. The issue will remain as long as marketing is segmented by channel and customer care is considered an expensive operational function.

MVNUSID
MVNUSID

@CLGraphics @jackielamp I don't disagree about Lowe's in-store experience. I had purchased a couple of things online because of the FB interaction and chose the in-store delivery method. I had to wait half an hour for them to find them when I arrived the next day. I was disappointed. Always under-promise and over-deliver.

CLGraphics
CLGraphics

@MVNUSID @jackielamp True, Lowe's FB interaction was great! However, at least in my experience, they fell extremely short on backing that presence up during in-store visits.

Over the past 2 months during some extensive home projects my wife and I have been in and out of Home Depot, Menards, Lowe's, Ace & True Value stores throughout the northeastern IL and southeastern WI areas. Based on our experience we wound up placing Home Depot at the top of our list and Lowe's made it dead last for overall customer service and knowledgeable staff during our in-store visits.

Lesson learned? If you're going to create excellent on-line community experiences, be more than prepared -- in fact be over prepared to back that experience up in person.

MVNUSID
MVNUSID

@jackielamp In answer to your question, I think that conversations and engagement can definitely inspire a cult following. I think Lowe's has done this on Facebook through their recent Black Friday and Pre-Christmas holiday giveaways. The conversation was amazing!

Debra_Ellis
Debra_Ellis

@Vee Yes, great customer service is a distinguishing factor. You make an excellent point. In fact, as we become more competitive in our global economy, it may be the only one that differentiates companies. And, it is light years better that being the low price leader.

Debra_Ellis
Debra_Ellis

@DanMcKee I personally use a variety of tools including ObjectiveMarketer, GetClicky, Google Analytics, Giga Alerts, and old fashioned search. My clients use these along with some others. They integrate them with their in-house systems to see cause and effect.

Debra_Ellis
Debra_Ellis

@CLGraphics Thank you, Peter. Your example is perfect! I'm an extreme Coca-cola fan to the point that I stocked up on "Classic" when they tested the new Coke. Until now, the only people who knew that were the ones that laughed at the stack of cans in my home that were taller than me. Calling me a fan is an understatement. Expecting me to share details of my daily activity on their Facebook page is a huge stretch.

This doesn't mean that I'm not paying attention to their social media activity. It simply means that I'm not sharing.