Posts Tagged ‘Customer Service’

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Businesses – Are you failing to maintain your online presence?

April 13, 2012

Negative Comments Can Spread Like Wildfire

It’s not enough to have an online presence anymore.  It is great that you have a Facebook Page, Twitter Account, and YouTube channel, but are you maintaining them?  In 2011 we saw many businesses leap online, eager to try out social media and leverage the communication and business power of these tools. Now, a year later, the scary fact is that most of these websites and social accounts have been abandoned or are not being used effectively (or even correctly in some situations).  You may have had the right intentions by setting these accounts up, especially if you were doing it to secure your IP and registered business names to protect your corporation.  If you set up accounts in order to have access to the platform, to monitor or listen to feedback, criticism, and comments, that is also a great reason to be on social media, but only if you are engaging back. OK, so now you are thinking to yourself: “So what?  We have a presence on social media platforms as our bosses told us we had to do.”

What if I told you that these abandoned, neglected, and incomplete accounts are actually hurting your business, and that they were actually costing you money to your bottom line, in spite of the fact that it was free to set up accounts on most of these platforms. If you are neglecting, abandoning, and failing to complete and monitor these accounts, you are losing customers, for the following reasons:

  1. The perception that your company is “Out of Date”, “Out of Touch”, and downright “Incompetent” in engaging your audience on social media – Many customers that encounter your business on the web, will check out these accounts just to see what is happening.  If, for instance, your Twitter account hasn’t been updated in the last 90 days, you are perceived as being “out of touch” and therefore a company that is seemed as approachable and eager to listen to a customer.  Incomplete profiles, pages without headshots or branding, or important information missing, such as contact info, gives off the impression that you are incompetent, especially to the under 35 crowd that is pretty much living their lives on the internet and mobile devices.
  2. The perception that your company isn’t listening – 98% of all internet users expect you to not only have a presence on these social media platforms, but they want you to engage with them as well on these platforms.  Especially when a customer has a question or complaint. Today’s internet users in this text driven society, demand and expect to have a response from your company quickly on the social media platform where they made the comment or complaint.  24 hours is an eternity and will not gain you any favors.  You need someone to actively manage these accounts and respond. 
  3. The perception that your company is ( insert descriptor word here: bad, evil, inept, uncaring, etc.) – More and more web companies live or die by their online reputation. If your company lets too many negative reports build online over any subject, without addressing and responding to these comments and complaints, can lead to the escalation of the issue, and in turn its ability to go viral.

Ultimately, you can think of each of these social media accounts the same way you would as building little campfires.  If you neglect them, all sorts of things can result. Your best hope is that they fizzle, die, and disappear.  occasionally though there are those fires that can flare up, escape its confines and end up becoming a raging wildfire, leaving behind swaths of ruin for your business.  If you are struggling with how to maintain your social media accounts, contact us and we’ll help you to take control of your accounts. www.sterlingcrossgroup.com.

All stats were compiled from www.pewinternet.org

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Whistleblower: A Q&A with Mr. Fixit for online badmouthing

March 19, 2012

I was interviewed recently by the Minneapolis Star Tribune about Online Reputation Management and how damaging a bad reputation can be to a company’s bottom line. Here is an excerpt and a link to the rest of the article online:

Consumer complaints about businesses are migrating from the watercooler to the Web.

From Facebook and Twitter to Yelp and FourSquare, consumers can sound off about a company to hundreds of friends and followers with a click of a button.

That’s where online reputation management experts such as Christopher Lower come in. He and his wife own Maple Grove-based Sterling Cross Communications, helping Twin Cities restaurants, hotels and nonprofits monitor what’s being said about them 24/7 and respond within minutes. Click Here to Read the Rest of the Article

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Savvy hosts: Twin Cities restaurants embrace social media to boost loyalty – and sales

March 6, 2010

We were recently a part of a recent article by Julio Ojeda-Zapata in the St. Paul Pioneer Press about the restaurant scene in the Twin Cities.  It shows how well this market is really on the leading edge of social media and marketing for Hospitality related businesses.  Here is the start, then click the link for the full article:

A number of Twin Cities restaurants are embracing social media to increase loyalty — and sales — among fans.

Until last year, James Flinsch’s contributions at Pazzaluna were strictly IRL (that is,’in real life’ in cyberslang).

As wine steward at the popular downtown St. Paul Italian restaurant, he often rescues diners at a loss for a killer pairing. Hired as a waiter in 1999, Flinsch still whisks dishes onto tabletops with some regularity.

While on paternity leave with a lot of late-night hours on his hands, though, he glimpsed another, online role for himself at his beloved restaurant. He noted that the establishment’s management company had created a Facebook fan page

Until last year, James Flinsch’s contributions at Pazzaluna were strictly IRL (that is,’in real life’ in cyberslang).

As wine steward at the popular downtown St. Paul Italian restaurant, he often rescues diners at a loss for a killer pairing. Hired as a waiter in 1999, Flinsch still whisks dishes onto tabletops with some regularity.

While on paternity leave with a lot of late-night hours on his hands, though, he glimpsed another, online role for himself at his beloved restaurant. He noted that the establishment’s management company had created a Facebook fan page… Click Here to Read the Rest of the Article

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How one Ad/PR agency’s actions is killing three brands: Disney Pictures, AMC Theatres, & MN Parent Magazine

August 10, 2009

Have you seen the excitement that ensues when a child wins a prize?  It can be any prize really, but how about if a child wins tickets to a new movie such as the new 3D Disney Movie, G-Force? You would expect the level of that child’s excitement would be pretty high, and if you’re a parent you’re probably rating the excitement even higher imagining your own child’s reaction.

Now, imagine the crash of disappointment that child experiences when they arrive at the theater to be told that the movie theater is full to capacity (a half an hour before the start time) due to the fact that the Advertising/Public Relations agency (Allied Advertising & Public Relations) purposely overbooked the theater to ensure they had a packed theater. Not overbooked by a few tickets, they overbooked by at least a hundred tickets based on the disappointed families left standing in the lobby of the theater.

Those families were outraged.  There was no second theater opened up to accommodate the families they overbooked. There were no offers of passes to see another children’s movie showing at the theater. There was no evidence of customer service skills demonstrated by the three people from Allied Advertising what-so-ever, and sadly that ended up tarnishing, damaging, and for those parents of disappointed children, killing three brands: MN Parent Magazine, AMC Theaters, and Disney Pictures.

The sad point is that many companies are often in the dark about how their brand is being handled when it is out of their “direct control.”  MN Parent Magazine and Disney Pictures were unaware of Allied Advertising’s practice when contacted.  AMC was worse; their onsite management team was apathetic. They could care less that their patrons were affected by Allied’s actions.  The AMC manager, claiming she was the “highest authority” I could speak to regarding the Edina, MN location, said that the theater was not “responsible” since Allied Advertising had rented the auditorium for the event.

As a parent, who had brought three children to see the movie G-Force (Who is also a PR practitioner) I was appalled by the actions of Allied Advertising and their practice of intentionally overbooking movie premieres.  One would have to wonder if Allied’s practice of this was to boost their numbers for their client, Disney Pictures.  Disney Pictures should be concerned then that they are paying for such surreptitious practices and not getting true results for their money being spent.  If Disney Pictures is testing or hoping to gain market research insight, then every event carried out by Allied is tainted, and cannot be considered valid data.

One of the Allied Advertising reps did finally offer to pay for myself and the three children to go see any other movie playing that night, but only after I identified myself as someone that worked in PR and after they witnessed/overheard me call a local news station to speak with the assignment desk to report on the events happening and see if they wished to send a reporter. At that point the Reps from Allied Advertising were willing to do just about anything to get me to leave. Of the three other brands associated, only MN Parent magazine has reached out to all of the parents that had received “free tickets” through them and promises to have Allied provide free passes to see G-Force in theaters.  AMC and Disney Pictures have yet to respond to complaints submitted via email on their websites.

So who controls your brand once it is out of your hands?  Do you have vendors, resellers, distributors, field reps?  How are they caretaking your brand?  Will they respond with the same level of customer service that you provide to your customers?  What are the repercussions if they don’t?  How will you know if they are carrying through your brand?  Are you set up to monitor your brand once it is out of your control? What is the cost if you don’t?  What do you think?

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Horizon Realty – A Case Study in how not to handle online reputation management

August 3, 2009

It started out fairly innocuously, it was a single retweet on Twitter of a news source I monitor, but the headline was too intriguing not to read – Will one Chicago woman’s Tweet cost her $50,000? I immediately thought to myself; “boy, someone is in trouble…,” but as I clicked on the link and read the first article here, and then I saw it was a headline here and here, I quickly saw the writing on the wall, it wasn’t the person that was in trouble, it was the company referenced: Horizon Realty.

The company in their response and defense of the single tweet by a woman, Amanda Bonnen, with the Twitter username:  @abonnen, initiated legal proceedings seeking $50,000 in damages for claimed defamation.  This is the company’s right to do so.  It is even a recommended course in traditional public relations crises communications tactics, yet, it is never the first recommended course when trying to manage your brand and reputation online. It should be the last resort.

When someone brings out the giant cannon of litigation, without having investigated and addressed the message in a public forum, it is immediately seen by the public watching, as overkill.  The giant corporation is now seen as bullying, callous, and unfeeling towards its tenants in the actions it has taken in response.

The response the company was initially hoping to avoid (that of their reputation being besmirched by the remark, has instead inflicted 1000’s of remarks to their own reputation, when word of the lawsuit reached the Twitter community.  The Twitter community took the side of the woman, and began to tear the company to shreds online for its “heavy-handedness”, “Lawsuit-happy management”, and generally being “clueless” (all words being mentioned online as descriptors of the company).

The response by Horizon’s Jeffrey Michael in a Chicago Tribune interview  , was that they were a “Sue first, ask questions later, type of company.” Once again this irked the general public online. Michael later (1 day, an eternity online)  released a press release claiming the comments were meant to be “tongue-in-cheek”, and then delved into the details of some ongoing issues that Horizon has had with Ms. Bonnen and some prior complaints she has had with them.  AS you can imagine, this release was not received well online, and for a second day, Horizon was listed as a trending topic on Twitter as the negative conversations continued fueled by Horizon themselves.

In the first 72 hours that this occurred, the damage on the net was done.  It’s been classified as an example of the Streisand Effect - an Internet phenomenon where an attempt to censor or remove a piece of information backfires, causing the information to be widely publicized.  Companies can no longer scoff at the idea that their reputation online does not matter, and that they have to participate in and listen to the conversations.  Horizon failed to do so, and the end results so far are these:

  • They became a trending topic on Twitter, meaning that they went from the 22 followers of Ms. Bonnen’s to being seen potentially by over a million people (of their own doing with the news of the lawsuit). The most recent 1500 comments can be seen here (it would be more, but that is all that Twitter has room for in their search tool).
  • If you Google “Horizon Realty”, four of the eleven first page listings are negatively related to the lawsuit. (Think of how that looks to a future potential tenant or someone searching for a management company).
  • Their reviews on Yelp have exploded from three listings prior to this event to 26 listings (ranging from annoyed to enraged) as of today keeping their ratings as a lowly 1 and a half stars.
  • Google Blog search shows over 16,000 blog posts that are already indexed, of which over 1000 include the phrase: “We’re a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization.” There are also over 14,000 posts mentioning Jeffrey Michael (predominantly in a negative manner)
  • Not only has Horizon Realty earned the onus of being attributed to the Streisand Effect on Wikipedia, Horizon Realty has its own entry page.
  • The story jumped to traditional media as well – earning mentions in the Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times, The Wall Street Journal and too many other outlets (over 512 stories as of today’s writing) to mention.

Is there still doubt in your mind or in the minds of your company that social media doesn’t matter?

Crisis Communication on Social Media has to have different rules, since it is different from traditional media.  We recommend the following steps be in place as the basics for any online reputation management strategies and policies that need to be put in place:

  1. Always investigate complaints made & verify the facts and source.
  2. Responding to a complaint – where:  when possible, respond on the same site the comment was made.  If it was on a blog submit a comment – if the blogger refuses to post your response, notate this and publish your post on your own blog or website.
  3. When to respond: respond in as timely a manner as possible, when the complaint has been investigated. 24 hours is a lifetime on the Internet – waiting makes things worse.
  4. Legal action may be taken to protect your IP, Brand, & Reputation: but remember, Internet issues are tricky as there are 1stAmendment issues involved that may require special expertise. Slander, Defamation of Character, Harassment, and online Bullying laws can apply. Legal intervention is required in most cases to force removal of material from the Internet. Copyright Infringement could be involved in the case of brand or identity theft.

As you can see, escalating to legal action is an option, just not the first recommended option, and never until the first three steps have been taken.

The final thoughts I will leave you with are these – the best defense is a good offense:

  1. The conversation is happening online whether you like it or not – will you participate?
  2. It’s not good enough to be present online – You need to engage your audience and participate in the conversation
  3. Transparency and Authenticity rule the net – Lies and misrepresentation will always be found out and called
  4. True Customer Service comes from listening, observing, and engaging – then, providing a thoughtful, timely response.
  5. Perception online is always a consideration – if you are perceived as the bully in responding to a complaint, using threats, or worse – legal action that could be avoided, then you lose, even if you are in the right.
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Strategically Promoting Your Restaurant with Social Media Tools

March 24, 2009

This is an article I wrote for Restaurateur Magazine and appears in their April 2009 Issue. Due to popular demand, it was reprinted here for those who do not have access to the Magazine. Enjoy!

 

You work hard to get everything right, the food, the atmosphere, the service, the kitchen and back of the house staff, and once a guest comes through the door, you have the power to make sure they have the best possible experience. Then they go home.  A place you can’t control the experience – and you don’t know what they’ll tell their family, friends, co-workers, and anyone who will listen, about their experience. What if you could control it? What if you could extend the dining experience beyond the walls of your restaurant? With social media tools, you can.

 

You’ve heard the buzzwords: Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Linkedin, and YouTube.  These tools allow you to enhance and carry the dining experience beyond your front door. They allow your customers to take the physical connections and loyalty virtual to experience it online as well. With customers increasing their online activity, the online experience that guests have with you can make or break you.

 

You put thought, consideration and passion into every physical aspect of your guests’ interaction with you, but how is their experience with your website?  Does it convey your brand, atmosphere, and message? Is it easy to navigate? Are your menus and specials quickly found? Is your contact information, location, hours of operation and amenities crystal clear? These are just the bare minimum standards now needed to entice someone to interact with your online brand.

 

When they interact, they feel connected. When they feel connected, they’ll often be your evangelists and make a point to refer your establishment or brag about their incredible experience. They are inclined to take someone with them the next time they visit, and will want to connect your restaurant to others.

 

In the best of times, it’s hard to promote a restaurant.  With labor and food costs constantly battling to take the lead as your primary concern, you need systems and tools that can give you the greatest return on your investment of dollars and time. Social Media are emerging tools that fit that bill.

 

Social Media tools are increasingly moving from consumer to consumer tools to business to consumer vehicles.  6,000 people a day are signing up for Facebook and only a percentage of them are the college students that the platform initially attracted.  Many businesses are motivated by the opportunity to opt in at a fairly cost effective manner, and also the ability to bring them to an intimate space next to their customer. What you are seeing is a vast array of Social Media approaches that converse and connect. Once you realize who your customer is, what makes them tick, what they like and dislike, using social media can be that missing link that transforms a casual customer into a brand evangelist.

 

Using tools for the “cool” factor of saying you use them will not bring you a tangible return.  You’ll need to start with a strategy. Once you’ve determined who your customers are, you need to know which social media tools they use, and engage with them on their turf. The effectiveness of social media isn’t simply using the tool; it’s listening, answering questions and connecting with others. These tools are just opportunities to connect your customers to your brand and by connecting with them, they’ll help you build relationship and gain invaluable insight to their propensity to buy from you.

 

Here is a list of tools that any restaurant owner can use to connect with their customer to convert them to brand evangelists:

 

Social Media Tools for Restaurants

  • Make sure your restaurant can be searched and reviewed through local business guides such as Yelp.com, Urbanspoon.com, Getsatisfaction.com and TripAdvisor.com. Encourage your guests, that if they had a great experience to please post it to one of these sites.
  • Twitter – sign up for a Twitter account. Use it also as a tool to listen and converse with your customers.
  • E-Newsletter – Email a monthly newsletter with the latest happenings, new menu items, entertainment news, recipe of the month etc.
  • Blog – Customers want to be part of something more than just a meal; they want to feel like they belong. A blog can be that tool.
  • Facebook – Set up a Facebook fan page to connect with your customers on Facebook.
  • MySpace – If your clientele is the MySpace generation, create a profile page and consistently update it with fresh content.
  • YouTube – Incorporate video into your social media strategy.
  • The Business Card – Provide a business card or note-card to each customer that visits your establishment with their receipt that maps out where they can continue their dining experience online by connecting to you via social media.

 

Christopher Lower is the Co-owner of Sterling Cross Communications, a Social Media, Public Relations, & Web Design Firm, that focuses on the Restaurant, Hospitality, Hotel, and Lodging industries. In addition to over 20 years of PR & Marketing experience, Chris worked over 8 years in the Hospitality Industry. He can be reached at www.sterlingcrossgroup.com or can be found on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mrchristopherl.

 

Sterling Cross is a proud to have been selected as a preferred vendor for Hospitality Minnesota. Hospitality Minnesota is the management entity for
 

 

 

The Minnesota Restaurant Association, Minnesota Lodging Association and Minnesota Resort and the Campground Association. These Associations provide legislative and regulatory advocacy, marketing, education and information and money-saving programs to members. In addition, Hospitality Minnesota operates a non-profit education foundation, the Hospitality Minnesota Education Foundation, which provides a high school curriculum in foodservice and lodging management and provides scholarships to students pursuing higher education in the hospitality field. For more info: www.hospitalitymn.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Crisis Communication in Social Media – A Live Case Study, or hints for Matt Bacak

December 18, 2008

There is no such thing as a “24 hour” news cycle anymore.  It became crystal clear when 6 hours after President-Elect Obama brought down the house at the closing ceremony for the Democratic Convention in Denver; his historical triumph was punted from the headlines and airwaves. This happened when Republican candidate Senator John McCain announced his Vice-Presidential candidate, Governor Sarah Palin.

In today’s age, we’re lucky if we get our fifteen minutes of fame as Andy Warhol touted.  News is a 24/7/365 stream of thought and information, travelling the bit streams of the interwebs at lightspeed. Breaking news is tweeted, blogged, Dugg, posted, and processed across social media platforms quicker than you can say Motrin.  News is being disseminated via social media platforms quicker than any corporate mouthpiece can, unless you are monitoring what is being said about you online and you are participating in the conversation.

With the advent of the cellphone, your disgruntled employee, customer, vendor, boss can instantly blast out their 140 character tirades across Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, the blogosphere, basically anywhere they can reach, all with the click of a button. Imagine if you were unaware of what was being said about you?

In one such instance, it is exactly what happened to a marketing consultant named Matt Bacak.  I won’t rehash it all, but you can click here, here and here to get caught up.

Matt (I don’t know him personally) is, by all accounts a decent guy.  He made a blunder in his attempts to promote his own skills and hype in a manner that is totally antithetical to the way social media tools should be utilized. He sent out a press release claiming he was conquering Twitter in his city of location.  Matt relied up on a fun little web application as being a confirmation of his skills in amassing followers, and thus decided to declare this news to the world.  Apparently then, he left off on a seminar or training session and failed to see the hornet’s nest of backlash he caused himself.

Matt’s problem went viral.  What started, innocuously enough, as a press release, which was released over an optimized distribution service online, quickly spread across Twitter, Digg, and multiple blogs, as some vilified and others were quick to point out his hubris in the content of the release.  Within hours was his poorly crafted release completely spread across the social media platforms, it was only catching steam.  It became a trending topic which brought more folks into the fray.

Meanwhile, Matt had no one to monitor his personal brand online.  The uproar, furor, fervor, and rancor about him and his brand continued.  What could have been stopped early (if monitored) quickly became the common held perception.  Unfortunately there is now, and will be forever – massive amounts of negative connotations easily found all over the web.  Imagine the damage to the perception of future potential customers of Matt’s from what they will see and read online.

Matt’s answer I guess (Matt & I haven’t connected to speak, at the time of this posting) was to try to listen and learn.  In the time since the incident, he has taken to heart some of the advice of his peers, and is (by appearances) actively joining in the conversation. He has started (on Twitter) to allow for a two-way communication by following those that wish to follow and engage him in conversation. The cloud of wrath seems to have dissipated, and only Matt will know how this affects his future business.

Could your business survive an onslaught like this?

There are several lessons and takeaways from Matt Bacak’s episode.  I’ll cover a few here:

1.      Some of this could have been avoided if Matt had utilized a professional PR person/firm (he appears by claims of his friends and his own materials to be successful and have the means to hire a firm) which should have killed the release in the first place if due diligence and facts had been checked. Part of our job in Public and Media Relations is to make sure our clients don’t come off as fools. We actually walked away from a Home Mortgage client that demanded to be put on CNN to refute claims against the industry in general.  The client melted down in mock interviews we held for training, and would have damaged their brand beyond recovery if placed in that actual situation.

2.      Actually putting out press releases that are newsworthy. Had Matt sought to actually garner third party validation of his “greatness” rather than self proclaiming it, he might have come across as actually being credible. The value of a third party, such as a reporter or editor declaring your news vs. declaring it on your own is priceless.

3.      Monitoring is essential.  Much of this could also have been mitigated if Matt or someone in his office was monitoring what was being said about his brand online.  Many companies are starting to get this – Comcast, Jet Blue, Zappos, etc.  The ability to know about a problem and have a chance to address it is imperative.

4.      Engaging, participating, and seeking relationship with your audience rather than broadcasting, interrupting, or holding it captive.  These are the new tools of marketing v. the old.  The old methods of marketing are abrasive and ineffective in this medium.  If your company thinks it can, you will be in for a ruder awakening than Matt received.

5.      Complete transparency online.  If you are hiding something, trying to spin something, or misleading your audience online, they will find out about it, usually in seconds, and they will let you know about it. If you remember Target wanting to plant “raving fans” online, you know how terribly wrong that went for them.

All of this leads into my next post on The Cost of Not Entering into Social Media – How it Hurts Your Company (Part Three). Stay tuned!  Be careful of what you are doing – Don’t get Bacaked!

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The Cost of Not Entering into Social Media – How it Hurts Your Company (Part Two)

November 23, 2008

We previously covered the cost of loss of new market share and new business growth by not keeping pace with the new communication tools of social media in The Cost of Not Entering into Social Media – How it Hurts Your Company (Part One). Now we need to cover even a cost that is potentially more devastating to your company – the loss of your existing customer base.

In a challenging economy, it is not only important to grow your customer base, but to retain your existing customers. Perception is one of the leading factors that play a central role in customer retention.  Perception of your goods and services, customer service, methods, practices, are all formed by your clients, and thus their opinions and decisions.  If the perception of your advertising, communications, website, and public relations is out of date, or old-fashioned, that typically translates in how they perceive your business. Your website and online communications are now typically the first point of contact now that a customer has with your company.  This includes your existing customer.

Being out of date is not the worst association that will be felt by your company, what is worse is that you will be seen as out of touch with your customers!  Customer’s that perceive you as out of touch also think that you don’t care about them, and that, according to a Rockefeller Corporation Study, is the number one reason cited by customers that leave the current company they are doing business with.

At Sterling Cross Communications (www.sterlingcrossgroup.com), we offer and perform an in depth survey and perception check of our client’s customers called checking the Pulse of the Customer.  In this process we speak with a few of our client’s biggest customers, a few of their most recent customers, and if possible, with two customers that chose not to do business with them.  Our own work this year has proven out the theory that many clients are not paying enough attention to the perception of them in the market.  One of a client’s largest customers was considering leaving them because of a perception that they were out of date and weren’t going to be able to keep up with them as they were about to experience a major expansion due to a merger.

We also were able to help our client’s understand that the conversation about their company, for good or for ill is happening every day online, and that through incorporating Social Media, they can start engaging customers in that conversation.  The cost of not participating continues to become crystal clear.

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What is the cost to your company to not utilize Social Media to connect and grow your business?

September 17, 2008

I’ve been asked several questions lately about Social Media Tools such as; what can I really do with them, do they apply in my Industry, should I really be talking about my everyday life, what if someone doesn’t like what I say, or any other of a similar nature.  All good questions indeed, but the most important one is not being asked – What is the cost to my business if I don’t utilize Social Media Tools?

Social Media platforms are the fastest growing segments of the internet user population.  New users of Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and so on, number in the millions daily. Besides the basic benefits of networking, there are a myriad of ways you can utilize and incorporate social media tools into your business to support and enhance such functions as communication, customer service, PR, Marketing, Sales, New business Development, research, education, Human Resources, recruiting, training, and more. 

Businesses both traditional (Defined for our purpose today as the Fortune 500) and more non-traditional (Defined for our purposes today as the Inc. 500, although these companies really aren’t all that non-traditional – they are the fastest growing 500 private companies) are rapidly adopting social media tools and incorporating them into their business. According to research today, 62 (12.4%) of the Fortune 500 are blogging as of 9/9/08[1] and 39% of the Inc. 500 is blogging, which is a 20% increase over the previous year.[2] In the Summary of the report they predict the Inc. 500 will grow by a 40% adoption rate in this year alone.

What does that mean?  First of all, they are beating you and leaving you in the dust if you’re not already in the social media game, and more importantly, they are reaching an audience that prefers to receive its information and do its communication, via such tools. Combine that with the increasing number of consumer activities online, from product research to e-commerce, and the web is a critical battleground your business will need to play on in order to stay relevant today and in the future.

So, what can you do from keeping yourself from joining the ranks of the dinosaurs?  Follow along in my next few posts as we’ll talk about strategy, ground rules, and offer a few case studies from the clients we’ve helped, to other noteworthy business case studies.

To kick it all off, why don’t you take a moment to leave a comment on what is your biggest fear or roadblock to adopting Social Media Tools at your business??


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Customer Service – The second most important use for Twitter

May 1, 2008

By now you are aware of Twitter’s potential for promotion (if not, feel free to scroll down to get a few ideas…go ahead, I’ll wait…).  I believe Twitter can have an even more relevant and practical purpose for your business – customer service.  Twitter’s basic premise is that it’s tighter premise of micro-blogging (sending out your stream of thought in 140 characters or less) should be broadcasting trends and pulses of activity through the internet and across cellphones at the speed of light.  If you plug in and listen to that stream, you should be able to take the pulse of the twittersphere, quicker than it will spread to the traditional media outposts.  If your job is customer service that can allow you to diffuse situations before it becomes one.

Before I get into that, let’s take one step back and set the rest of the stage. Twitter forces the participants to actually be someone where there is an opportunity to form a personal relationship.  If a Twitterer (user) is merely a retweeter (auto-forwards news, stories, songs, links, etc,) of press releases, headlines, or favorite links, without personality, it basically defeats the purpose and becomes a one-way RSS feed.  Developing a personality that customers can relate to on a one-on-one level is something that not only the customers enjoy, but large companies struggle with creating no matter how hard they try.  It gives a perception that you are open and accessible to your customer base.  You will also give of the perception that you are acting quickly (if you respond in a timely manner), since the Tweets (messages) are delivered either via cellphone or online to two of the most popular and oft-used tools for communication.

Several companies have taken the leap into Twitter and a few are even delving into Customer Service.  Comcast (@Comcastcares) and Dell (@RichardatDell) both have a Twitter account to field issues, answer questions, arrange for service and solve problems.  Both of these companies have had major problems with their reputation on the internet (bloggers and others are quick to vocalize complaints).  Both companies are now trying to make sure they have their own voice on the web.  I would encourage business owners and those on positions to decide to do this, to make sure that whoever takes on this role has the following attributes:  great communication skills, customer service training, social media proficiency in the tools they are using, and are empowered to take the action necessary to solve the issues that will arise. Customers are savvy and can smell a corporate spokesperson a million clicks away.

Another use for Twitter that is closely related to Customer Service when there are issues is that Twitter can be used as an online information desk as well.  H & R Block (@hrblock) and Jet Blue (@jetblue) are two great examples of this function in use.  Both companies monitor the Twitstream for mentions of their companies or questions, and form responses back to these people.  This again puts a more personal face on your company, and allows for me (and several more of your customers) to avoid one of my biggest pet peeves, the automated phone systems.

At Sterling Cross Communications we are assisting clients is setting up services like these and would love to see how we can help you with any questions or initiatives you may have with Twitter.  You can reach me via Twitter @MrChristopherL) or at our website: www.sterlingcrossgroup.com.  Feel free to tweet anytime!

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