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Turning Customers into Online Advocates

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Social media has created a whole new method of customer interaction. While many companies have attempted to hide their heads in the sand, there is no denying that the public is ready to engage with brands online. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that more than 65 percent of all adult web users are on social networking sites – equating to 50 percent of the total US population.

Whether a customer experience may be positive or negative, companies can leverage online interaction to create a loyal online fan base.  I recently waged an online complaint against a major insurance company that ironically had no known social media presence. Within minutes, I received a phone call from a dedicated social media resource who was able to connect me with the proper people to get my issue resolved quickly and to my satisfaction. That type of interaction, along with the speed of response, helped turned this detractor back to a promoter in less than 30 minutes.

Manage Online Criticisms… You Can Turn Critics into Fans

According to Maritz Research, customers who have used Twitter to complain about their customer experience with a company overwhelmingly want those companies to listen to their comments. And, they want their public complaints addressed.

Interestingly, older users have higher expectations: 65 percent of those 55+ expect their tweeted complaints to be read versus 50 percent of frequent Twitter users age 18 and older. Unfortunately, few companies are engaging. Among those who have issued a complaint to a company via Twitter, only 33 percent say they have received some type of follow-up to their complaint. 

Companies that are responding to complaints have a chance of recuperating any potential damage… and even winning back a customer. Among those who have received responses to their complaints, 83 percent like hearing from the company they had complained about and 75 percent were very or somewhat satisfied with the company’s response, according to the same Maritz study. 

However, must you respond to all online criticisms?

Online consumer boards such as PissedConsumer.com give customers another way to voice public complaints. However, in this avenue, you must carefully weigh the pros with the cons of posting a response. In some industries, guerilla tactics such as competitors posing as customers can cause serious issues and tie up your social media teams. Ask yourself:

  • Does a response legitimize their complaint, particularly if it seems suspicious?
  • Will other readers and potential customers consider this post to be credible?
  • Will adding additional mentions about the brand via a response cause it to improve its search rankings – and is that exposure worthwhile?
  • Will the company open itself up to even greater attacks from competitors if this is either not addressed or addressed in a very public fashion
  • Is there enough information to approach the customer offline?
  • If the issue is resolved, how can I encourage the customer to share their new-found satisfaction?

Regardless of whether or not you decide to post a public response, monitoring these sites can still dramatically enhance your business and customer satisfaction. You should be viewing this data as free customer research. You wouldn’t spend thousands of dollars on customer research and not do anything with the data; the same is true for feedback you receive from social media. Categorize the data and turn it in to operational initiatives.

Give Your Advocates a Voice

While it is easy to see the value in recovering unhappy customers, it’s also important to create a platform for your happy customers.

Luckily, social media programs make it simple to ask for a public recommendation. Sites like Yelp, for instance, manage user-generated reviews while brand-advocacy programs like Zuberance allow businesses to be more proactive in asking for online testimonials. These testimonials can even weave into the company website and Facebook page.

In fact, since implementing a test program with Zuberance, Safelite AutoGlass® has been able to garner more than 25,000 positive online testimonials and increase average star ratings on various sites from 2.4 to 4.0 within a one-month time period.

This also creates a community of advocates within the social media networks. Not only is this helpful from a customer recovery perspective, as advocates often come to our aid before our social media team can, but also from an expectation perspective. Advocates are happy to answer questions on our social networks to aid those that do not know what to expect with their service.

Develop Your Social Media Plan Now

While there are certainly more areas of consideration when dipping your toes into interacting with customers through social media – from internal resources to costs, from senior-leadership buy-in to engaging operations – you simply cannot wait any longer. Just because you don’t have a plan to engage with customers, doesn’t mean that they’re not already trying to engage with you.

About the Author

Jennifer L. Kielmeyer is the Web and Emerging Technologies Strategic Marketing Manager at Safelite AutoGlass®, the nation’s leading provider of vehicle glass repair and replacement services. She is responsible for managing social media; search engine optimization; search engine marketing; online reputation management; e-commerce; web analytics; usability; and e-mail marketing for retail, commercial and wholesale brands nationwide. 

Comments 1 comment

  1. Serena Corby wrote: (on 10/30/2011 @ 11:34 pm)

    This was a great article and it goes to show how much the world has done a 180 in their way of thinking and believeing what is great and what is not, all by the touch of a few keys.
    Thanks for making this an interesting read, and providing us with a little more insight on how this affects our company overall.

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