By Ron Kaufman
Today, we tweet about the latest books we’ve read. We let our friends know where we’re eating lunch via Facebook. We post pictures of our latest purchases to Instagram. We post reviews of the businesses we frequent on Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Angie’s List. As consumers, many of us have gone social. We love telling people about our latest experiences, and we love hearing about what others have experienced so we know what to do this weekend and what to avoid. Unfortunately, this social reality is something that few companies have fully embraced. Until they do, they’ll be missing out on the social power of their satisfied customers.
Just think about the last book you bought on Amazon. Did you read the publisher’s comments first or did you read the customer reviews? Most likely, it was the customer reviews. That’s because people trust people like them. Companies that aren’t embracing social media today are missing out on huge opportunities to capitalize on the voices of their customers.
The voices of your customers can contribute immediately and powerfully to a better service experience. Companies should be saying to their customers, “If you did not enjoy our service, please tell us. If you did enjoy our service, please tell someone else.” Engage them. Tell happy customers to go ahead and be social about their great experiences and encourage unhappy customers to come to you via social media so that you can make it right and improve your overall service.
A lot of customer service is already being done online, customer-to-customer. Companies that embrace this behavior can improve their service and save on costs. It is not unusual for a customer with a problem to use Google to find an answer before approaching the actual company responsible for the product or service. A quick search brings you tons of answers via user forums or message boards. The truth is customers like helping other customers. They’ll go out of their way to help a fellow customer find a solution, but for companies to do that backend customer service there would be a cost. By engaging your customers to help each other, you can defray your costs, improve your customer satisfaction, and stimulate a loyal community by encouraging people in your online social space.
The trick, of course, is encouraging your customers to use social media in the most beneficial way for your company. In other words, how do you keep them spreading great things about your company while bringing their complaints only to you? Make it easy for them to go social.
How many times have you received an email survey after a pleasant hotel stay that didn’t include a link and a couple of lines encouraging you to share your experience on Hotels.com or TripAdvisor.com? It’s like companies don’t know if their customers are happy or not so they opt not to give you the link. When you provide such links, you show confidence in your service and you open up your company to the possibility of a lot of great word-of-mouth publicity. On my website, www.UpYourService.com, we offer a section called Spread the Word and a comment-rich blog arena where we encourage people to share their experiences. It’s a great way to make it easy for your fan club to tell their fans, friends, and followers.
Say thank you.
It sounds simple, but showing a little love for the love your customers show you goes a long way. All it takes is a message of gratitude that says, “Thank you so much for spreading the word. As one of our happy customers, when you tell other people about us, it helps us grow and serve you better.” Or, “Your voice counts. Thank you so much for spreading the word. You make us love what we do.”
Keep in mind that you shouldn’t incentivize this behavior. When you offer someone who posts a positive review 500 points, a discount, or a freebie, you’ll dilute the authenticity of their message. Those reviews won’t seem as genuine in the eyes of other customers. But you needn’t fear, because showing gratitude really does go a long way with happy customers.
Invite them to reach out.
Imagine the number of flights that took off today. Each had a captive audience of approximately 200 people or so, but it’s unlikely that very many of them were encouraged by the flight staff to tell their social networks about their flight. Now think of all those people arriving at their destinations and opening the doors to their immaculate hotel rooms with great views. They love it. But yet again, there’s nothing in the room encouraging them to share it with their network.
It’s amazing how rarely companies acknowledge their customers’ social networks during service delivery. The time of delivery of your product or service is a great time to capitalize on your interaction with your customer. It’s a great time to turn that experience into a positive invitation to them to share with people their experience with your company. Create a “Thanks for Being Social” promotional piece that includes the company’s Twitter handles, Facebook pages, Yelp and TripAdvisor pages, helpful Twitter hashtags, etc., with a line that reads, “If you enjoy our service, please let the world know.” Put it on the desk in a hotel room, in the backseat pocket on airplanes, beside your cash register, whatever works for your company.
Ask how you can improve.
A recent article in the UK’s The Observer points out that Twitter-savvy companies are using the medium to provide customers with a way to get instant feedback and resolve problems. It’s a great way to encourage customers to bring their complaints directly to you so that you can begin the service recovery process right away.
Companies might be afraid that customers will say bad things about them online, but really, you should encourage your customers to bring their complaints to you. Always explain to your customers that you are looking for ways to serve them better and that their feedback matters. Tell them, “We appreciate it when you share your experiences with us. Please don’t hesitate to let us know how we can improve.” The invitation should always be open to your customers to share with you the good and the bad. When that is the case, they’ll be more likely to come to you first when there is a problem. Hear them out, provide them with great service, and then THANK them for sharing their experience with others via Twitter, Facebook, or whatever when you’re done. When you provide this kind of uplifting service, you’ll turn them into a loyal customer in no time.
Encourage them to recognize great one-on-one service.
United Airlines recently began its “Outperform Recognition Program,” which its MileagePlus members can participate in via the company’s mobile app. The program encourages customers to let United know when its employees have provided great service. Customers simply enter the employee’s name via the app and then both the customer and the employee become eligible for a random drawing for cash prizes, mileage points, and even roundtrip tickets.
Through this program, United is showing it understands that getting customers to recognize great customer service leads to more great customer service.they’re making it easy by running the program through their mobile app. They understand that most people are traveling with smartphones today. Social programs like these boost employee morale, get customers focused on what employees are doing right, give employees another measurable feedback for giving great service, and create a lot more social input from customers to the company. An added bonus is the content—for example, specific complimentary comments—that can be used in internal and external publicity campaigns.
Funnel customer questions through social media. Then share the best answers.
Much of the feedback you receive from customers on a daily basis comes in the form of questions. Whether it’s customers asking your service providers to clarify a new discount offer or when a new product will be coming out, when you funnel these questions through social media, the benefit is twofold.
First, this enables you to easily share useful information with other customers. If you ask your customers to post such questions on your Facebook wall, you can answer the question there for all of your other customers to see. Secondly, it provides a perfect opportunity for your company to build up its informational capabilities. You find out immediately from your customers what information isn’t clear and what you need to do to clarify messages and information so they are easy to understand.
Make talking about your brand irresistible. Of course, the best way to ensure your customers are spreading positive, encouraging messages about your company is to provide such great service that they simply can’t resist telling people about it. That’s exactly what Ritz-Carlton recently did.
In a blog post on The Huffington Post, Chris Hurn, CEO of Mercantile Capital Corporation, shared how the hotel staff went above and beyond after his family accidentally left his young son’s favorite stuffed animal behind after a recent stay. Not only did the staff find and safely return the stuffed animal, but they took pictures of its extended stay to show Mr. Hurn’s son what a great time his stuffed animal friend had while staying a bit longer at the hotel.
As you can see with Mr. Hurn’s story, going that extra mile was a great way for Ritz-Carlton to get people talking about their brand. That blog post was seen by a portion of The Huffington Post’s 26 million monthly readers and was then tweeted, retweeted, and posted by many on Facebook. Taking photos of a stuffed animal in funny situations didn’t cost Ritz-Carlton a penny, but it delivered social value in a huge way.
Your customers’ voices are vital to your organization. Social media provides an incredible opportunity to engage those voices, to turn one customer’s great experience into an advertisement that attracts new customers and gets current customers thinking positively about you. It’s an incredibly advantageous way to address customer concerns and improve your company’s service culture in real time.
Ron Kaufman is the author of the New York Times bestseller Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet. He is a premiere thought leader, educator, and motivator for uplifting customer service and building service cultures in many of the world’s largest and most respected organizations, including Singapore Airlines, Nokia Siemens Networks, Citibank, Microsoft, and Xerox. He is the founder of UP! Your Service, a global service education and management consultancy firm with offices in the U.S. and Singapore. Kaufman is a columnist at Bloomberg Businessweek and the author of 14 other books on service, business, and inspiration. He is rated one of the world’s “Top 25 Who’s Hot” speakers by Speaker magazine. He is passionately committed to uplifting the spirit and practice of service worldwide.