6 Social Media Customer Service Tips for Small Businesses

"The Scream" by Munch

“The Scream” by Edvard Munch

We’ve all been there.  That moment we become so utterly frustrated and incensed over a product or service mishap that we angrily dial the phone to reach a live person for help.   If we survive the exasperating labyrinth of automated phone hell, we may finally connect with someone who – after all that – may or may not (“I have to check with my supervisor”) be able to help us. Argh!

Well, it seems that phone complaints are becoming passé.  The often profane-laden phone tirades, accusations and pleas have yielded to a new medium through which to get a company’s attention: Social media.

I believe there are several reasons for this. First, social media correspondence has taken over for many as a preferred method of communication, especially among millenials.  Second, today’s  automated customer service phone systems are designed to work more as a moat surrounding the corporate castle, and only the fittest and those with too much time on their hands can steamroll past the murky water to reach a representative. Third, consumers have realized that the last thing a brand wants is to be shamed on Twitter or Facebook for all their customers to see.  In my experience, consumers posting problems via social media channels have typically led to companies resolving matters fairly quickly.

Large brands employ a social media community manager whose job is to create awareness and engagement for the brand as well as observe and respond to customer inquiries and complaints.   However many small and mid-sized companies don’t have the time and resources for a full-time community manager.  So what happens in many instances is that monitoring the social channels becomes an afterthought.  Companies double up social media duties, throwing them into the lap of a sales executive, administrative assistant or even (gasp) IT.  And, I’ve seen many times with small businesses, the CEO/owner takes the helm of the social media channels.

If any of those scenarios are the case for you, here are some tips to effectively address customer complaints within social media channels:

1. Regularly monitor your social media sites – I believe one of the biggest assets of social media (particularly Twitter) is listening.  It’s not glamorous or edgy, but it’s one of the most important things you can do to help understand your customers’ wants and needs. You don’t want to hear it second hand that someone has dissed your brand on social media; you want catch it first.  Be active in monitoring brand mentions and complaints so that you can swiftly react and rectify the situation and nip situations in the bud. Jetblue social media

2. Respond quickly – but not too quickly – Waiting five minutes before addressing a complaint can help eliminate the possibility of a hot-headed response from a gut reaction for which we are all capable.  Just as you should think before you speak, think before you tweet or post and avoid the possibility of making the matter worse. Here’s a great example (left) of the airline Jet Blue responding to a customer’s frustrated tweet.   Brands that do it right respond to a complaint in four hours or less.

3. Don’t be defensive or condescending – Look, you and your brand are never going to come out ahead in a name-calling match, so try your best to avoid that scenario.  And, keep in mind that while most complaints are valid, there are a group of folks out there who simply like to stir the pot just for fun.  Make sure you can tell the difference between the two.

4. Acknowledge their problem – Customers – whether in-store, on the phone or online want to know that their voice is being heard.   Respond initially with something like “I’m sorry to hear your [product] is not working/broken/missing a part, etc.  I can help you.”  Then as a next step:

5. Do your best to get them offline – You don’t want the dialogue to go on publicly through social media, especially when the customer is very angry.  I recently voiced my frustration via Twitter about – of all things – the phone system maze at my bank.  Within an hour, I received a response from a point person at the bank who gave me her direct number and I was able to get the matter resolved.  If you really can promptly and effortlessly solve the problem, it’s alright to do so publicly – just be careful not to appear as self-serving.

6. Use humor when applicable – I’m not advocating that you make light of any complaint.  But, In some cases when the problem is not a grave or serious one, adding some friendly humor can help disarm some egghead who is ranting and raving without due cause (remember those folks who love to stir the pot). Sometimes the best way to silence them is with an unexpected, cheeky response.  Use discretion as this can be a tricky line to cross.  A great example of this is a recent letter written from BIC pens UK, in response to what we infer was one man’s outrageous and profane complaint about his new pens (strong and explicit language here so read at your own risk): http://www.brandwatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/bicletter.jpg

In most cases, acknowledging a customer complaint and responding quickly and purposefully will be enough to resolve matters.   As with all of us, customers appreciate being heard.

Advertisements

7 Tips for a Better Brainstorming Session

brain-storm-thinking-300x191

photo credit: clearmarketboard.com

Having worked in the marketing and communications industry my entire career, I’ve participated in my share of brainstorming sessions. Many have been very successful in reaching objectives; others not so much. One of the biggest misconceptions about brainstorming is that it’s only the marketing or creative department experts that can add value to a session. I completely disagree.

Watch the Master
One of my fondest brainstorming bombs was when I worked for a vacuum cleaner manufacturer years ago. While the small marketing department had always done a fine job of naming products, on this particular occasion, the chairman of the company had hired a “real expert” advertising consultant to join us in the session. This guy was some big-shot ex advertising agency CEO who now peddled his years of experience and expertise to consumer products’ companies in exchange for big consulting bucks.

The new product was a hand-held vacuum cleaner that actually housed a light, stretchy hose (for suction in hard to reach places) on the little vacuum itself. It’s old hat now, but at the time in the early 90s, it was a real breakthrough for the hose not to be a separate attachment.

The team was on a roll spewing out words and phrases that embodied the new product’s main feature and benefits: the hose on board offered power, ease of use and convenience.

We were a half hour into the session and our consultant hadn’t uttered a word. We all figured he was drawing from his vast experience and wizardly marketing talents, strategically waiting to wow us. We knew that once he did speak, he would utter the ‘be all end all’ of names, one that would end the session and henceforth be the genesis for all new product names.

Then he magically spoke. We waited for his wisdom.

“How about,” he asked while beaming and nodding his head, “…hand vac with hose?” He looked around the room, now nodding his head more fervently. The group was silent as we couldn’t tell if he was joking. Soon enough, we realized he was indeed serious.  We did our best to contain our laughter, and a few of us offered several disingenuous nods.

Correctly interpreting our silence for disapproval, he appeared to have another “Aha” moment and stood up with excitement, waving his arms. “No, no, no. Wait,” he shouted proudly. “This is it. I’ve got it! I’ve got it.” He could no longer contain his own excitement and flashed a huge smile, “What about… hose vac!?”

Needless to say, that was not what we named the product.

Tips For A Better Brainstorm Session
Over the years, I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t, and I’ve come to recognize a few practices to get the most for your time and money.

  1. Include a mix of people from different departments or areas of expertise – Creativity and great ideas aren’t just limited to the marketing folks (as my story clearly proves). In fact, sometimes marketing folks are too close to a project and lack the objectivity to see an idea from all sides. Plus, everyone is a consumer. I was in a brainstorming session once when someone from the financial department had a great idea that eventually germinated into the platform for a successful new product launch. You really never know where a great idea will come from.
  2. Have a desired result for this particular brainstorm – Be sure to establish what you want out of this particular meeting. Are you looking to develop an employee incentive program? Or maybe a great new product name or the theme for your next annual meeting? Remember that it will likely take a few meetings to reach your goal. Define what your objective is and let the team know so that everyone is on the same page at the session.
  3. Have the meeting off-site if possible – A different setting helps get people out of the usual “work mode” which can be stifling for brainstorming. Being offsite also better prevents the chance that a fellow brainstormer might be paged or interrupted and consequentially throws off the momentum of the entire session.
  4. Implement at fun exercise to get people in a relaxed and positive mood – Start off with a fun exercise to get the group in a mindset that lends itself to creativity. It could be a group game of MadLib’s, or the game where everyone tells two truths and one lie about themselves and the audience guesses the lie. The point is to create a sense of belonging and camaraderie where members won’t feel embarrassed or restrained to contribute.
  5. No bad ideas – Try not to be discouraging to ideas you don’t agree with or like. Write everything down. Be open-minded to know that any idea can ultimately lead to “The” idea. Well, except for ‘hose vac’ maybe.
  6. Provide a recap to participants – This is beneficial because, as stated above, seeing these ideas and notes from the brainstorm might actually trigger other creative thoughts and ideas from the brainstorm members.
  7. Don’t be disappointed – If you don’t reach your objective in the first brainstorm session as it typically the case, realize that the initial brainstorm is a stepping stone to other ideas and insights from participants. Who knows, someone might even mull the idea around at home over the family dinner and come back with some great options.

Remember, brainstorming is a process. Treating it as such helps eliminate the anxiety of having to come up with a solution with your back up against the wall. Of course, this will happen from time to time, but in most cases, if you choose your group wisely and determine goals, you’ll be able to reach your objective in a reasonable time frame. If not, I think I might know a very talented, retired ex agency CEO who might be able to help you…at least he’d be good for a laugh or two.