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How to become ‘best buddies’ with your customers

How to become ‘best buddies’ with your customers

By Piers Alington from Feedback Ferret

I often wonder if all the hype about social media monitoring is just a tad misplaced.  Could it be a smokescreen for the direct feedback that your organisation really should be inviting from your customers at every opportunity?

This topic came up again this year, after research from the Internet Advertising Bureau found that only 7.7% of consumers currently complain about organisations through some form of social media.

In our view, the vast majority of these consumers have probably tried to contact the company first. By the time people complain via social media, they are probably already really, really annoyed with you and willing to talk to anyone who will listen, doing considerable damage to your brand.

Take the celebrated example of Canadian country and western singer Dave Carroll, who having failed to get reimbursed by United Airlines for damage to his $3,500 guitar took revenge in a YouTube music video. United Breaks Guitars became a huge hit, generating almost 5 million views in 2009.

Carroll claimed that United Airlines had broken his guitar but that its customer service representative was unable to pay compensation: "United sees no need to make anything right, oh Ms Irlweg, we don't need to fight. We could be best buddies, but our friendship has been muddied," he sings.

Could United have nipped this all in the bud much earlier if it had listened more to its customers through traditional channels, let alone through social media?

I have to admit, that if my song-writing skills were up to scratch, I would be tempted to write my own ditty about United Airlines, after it sent my suitcase on a different airplane, and dumpied me in Frankfurt with no reimbursement of my costs to get home from there. Thanks, United.

So what can you do to become ‘best buddies’ with your customers?  Chances are, if you adopt the five steps below, your customers will be recommending, rather than complaining about your brand via social media channels:

1. Make it really, really easy for customers to give you contact you and to give their feedback

Your feedback forms should be prominently placed on your website, in your retail outlets and at the end of a call to your contact centre so customers don’t have to go looking for them. And they should be easy to fill in. Keep it short. It’s also really important to ask open-ended questions, so customers can tell you what’s really on their minds…

2.   Use multiple channels to invite feedback

It should go without saying, but customers want to contact you via their channel of choice and know that you will be ready and waiting to listen to them.  Invite SMS messages.  Create a smart phone feedback form so that they can give you feedback while on the move.  Create a link in the confirmation email that often accompanies a transaction.  

3.   Make sure they know you’re listening   
Now this one is not as easy as it sounds.  That’s why you need processes in place – and resources – to listen and respond to the hundreds, or thousands, of communications you are likely to receive.   And of course, it’s impossible to act upon each individual request, however large your customer service department.  

Which is why the next point is really important…

4.   Close the loop

Some customer feedback will be positive, some requests will be plain impossible to action and some will be genuine complaints that you can do something about.  Make sure that you take action to resolve the latter, but also that you close the loop every time. For example, “Thank you very much for your suggestion that we stay open on Christmas Day.  But due to legal requirements and our commitment to our families that is impossible for us to do. We appreciate your comment nevertheless”.

5.   Be prepared for cultural change within your organisation

If you are serious about listening to your customers, it is quite likely that this commitment will ultimately change the nature of your organisation.  Having a strategy is important. Yes, you will need to determine what themes and topics are most relevant to your customers, but beyond that, you will start to focus on what your customers actually need, rather than what you think they want. And that in itself is a radical step, perhaps beyond the scope of social media monitoring.

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