As I visit the websites of many startups, as well as more mature businesses, I still too often see a “contact” page offering nothing but a sterile form for customers to submit, never to be heard from again. Social media connections, if they exist, are buried elsewhere or reserved for monitoring purposes only.
Social media is here, and is the preferred mode of communication by a large segment of your customers, so make it a positive differentiator for your business. Don’t force them to use an automated phone response system, or a faceless unresponsive form. Customers are not all like you, and they have choices, so a “one size fits all” customer service is no longer a viable option.
There are now many resources out there to guide you on building social media into your business and improving your customer experience, including a new book from multicultural marketing expert Kelly McDonald, “Crafting the Customer Experience for People Not Like You.”
Her focus is on crafting a customer experience that caters to people not like you, including social media aficionados, to bring in new customers and create a competitive advantage. Every startup these days must adopt this focus to survive and prosper. Here are some key recommendations I gleaned from her book to make this work:
Empower your social media front line team. This front line team, often called community managers, are the “voice” of your company, and must have authority to make and carry out decisions that can make or break a customer’s experience. That means forget using interns or outsourcing this function. You need insider “deciders” here.
Be proactive and put on your listening ears. You absolutely must listen online, because that is where you will find the unvarnished truth about what your customers and prospects think of you. Proactively asking the right questions will get you to that truth in a positive way earlier, rather than having to learn from damage control later.
Respond online to feedback received online. Before social networking, an unhappy customer might tell three people. Now an unhappy customer can easily tell three million. If these three million see no timely response, your problem can go viral (like United Breaks Guitars). Respond online and let the positive vibes go viral instead. Don’t force customers to go offline to your customer support phone or email for resolution.
Guide customers to the right social media channel. As a startup, you can’t be everywhere all of the time, so it helps to tell people through traditional channels, in a positive way, the best ways to find you. All social media channels are not equal, and customers are still learning, so they may also appreciate some guidance.
Connect members of your market to one another. One vital aspect of relationship building requires that you become a true connector by introducing members of your market to one another, which will help them derive mutual benefit. A positive result could be a reputation that you put customer relationships first and sales second.
Providing the best customer experience to different kinds of people via different channels isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the strategic thing to do. It will improve your business in several ways:
- Grow your business by bringing in new customers.
- Give you a significant competitive edge, by better serving broader customer groups.
- Increase customer loyalty and therefore customer retention.
- Help differentiate you from other businesses or similar enterprises.
- Give you a greater understanding of and insights to diverse customer groups.
Although building social media into your customer experience sounds like work, don’t forget that social media is a gift to every startup and small business. The conversations that once took place only between people in private settings now occur more and more in public online environments, across a world geography.
By “eavesdropping” on the right customer conversations, startups can identify their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of their competitors on a real time basis. Essentially, you can think of social “listening” as a free tool for market intelligence, consumer research, and customer service all rolled into one.
But all this only works if you are wired into the conversation, your customers know how to find the conversations, and they trust you to treat them as respected and valuable members of your community. Where is your business along this spectrum?