As Web 2.0 matures, the line between marketing and customer service is beginning to blur.
Service mishaps and product breakdowns can no longer be swept under the rug. That’s because more than 70% of US and Canadian consumers use the Internet (InternetWorldStats) and can share their experiences with the world.
“The social revolution is forcing companies to evolve and redesign any and all strategies that include existing or potential customers and stakeholders,” said Brian Solis, Founder of FutureWorks and blogger at PR 2.0. “And,” he added, “many don’t even know it yet.”
There are dozens of popular Web 2.0 vehicles – including blogs, wikis and forums, and sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Technorati, del.icio.us and FaceBook — that add hyper dimension to word of mouth marketing. Word of Web, we might call it, can reach thousands and even millions of people in a matter of minutes.
Case in point: When I agreed to switch telephone providers, Rogers Communications pulled three no-shows, mislead me, and billed me several times for services that were never rendered. After wasting countless hours on the phone to rectify their errors and having my concerns fall on deaf ears, I felt obligated to share my experience on my blog.
Now, when prospects and customers alike type Rogers Customer Service into Google, Yahoo and Bing, many read about my experience. In fact, on some days the blog post ranked higher than Rogers’ official website. Thousands of people now know about the experience, and many have added comments outlining their negative dealings with the company.
Similar stories are constantly shared in cyber space, from an influential gamer telling followers his biggest regret: buying a Hitachi plasma television, to a YouTube testimonial about JetBlue leaving passengers stranded in a New York terminal for two days.
Embrace New Media to Prevent Destructive Marketing
Social media empowers consumers to radically influence your brand – for better or worse. In fact, prospects and customers have the ability to participate directly in your marketing. As a result, one bad experience can result in a major dose of destructive marketing. And the stories don’t disappear the next day. Web pages indexed by search engines or picked up by bloggers can sustain exposure indefinitely.
Rather than ignore or try to stifle opinions online, companies are better off embracing the new and upcoming Internet technologies to discover concerns in the marketplace, and communicate with and learn from customers.
“Companies that apply resources to help steer and bolster their brand across the social web create relationships that ultimately pay dividends in the form of customer loyalty and referrals,” said Solis. “Relationships are the currency of social media.”
However, he stated: “Those companies reluctant, naive, or ignorant to the conversations taking place without them will be introduced into social media out of necessity – usually in the form of damage control.”
Kris Krug, President of Raincity Studios, which builds “people-powered web communities,” wholeheartedly agrees. “Since the Web is where people find you,” he said, “it’s in your best interest to monitor and influence what shows up there.”
In the digital age, stories matter more than ever, says Krug. In fact, he claims the adage “You are the story you tell,” has evolved into “You are the story Google tells.”
What Story is the Web Saying About You?
Here are some basic tips on how to approach customer service 2.0:
1. Type in your personal or company name into Google
Krug says everybody needs to know their top 10 results on the main search engines, especially Google, which controls about 78 per cent of the globe’s search engine market share (source: Net Applications Market Share).
Are the messages that appear positive or negative? Is the information outdated or irrelevant? Or are you nowhere to be found?
Knowing your ‘searchable reputation’ is an important starting point to deal with negative comments, or leverage and maximize positive press.
2. Go where your customers are
Be proactive and build relationships of trust and develop business connections well before you need them.
Join networks, and regularly dedicate time to get involved in industry sites, blogs and forums where your market meets. By listening, participating in ongoing dialogue and creating in-depth conversations, you’ll build a bigger and more loyal customer base.
And always be on the lookout for traces of smoke. Responding to customer concerns swiftly with frank, sincere dialogue can turn angry customers into ambassadors.
3. Create a feedback platform
Customers can tell stories better than we can, so empower them to share their views, suggests Krug.
Launch a blog or forum for prospects and customers to converge and discuss your products or services. The opportunity for your customers to be heard will score points alone, and it’s easier to monitor opinions in your own backyard.
Worried about defamatory or vulgar comments? Fear not; today’s consumer-generated content can easily be moderated.
Market Credible Messages
Don’t try to outsmart customers. It’s not about clever or tactful spins in a bid to outwit the marketplace.
Your participation in new media should be honest, transparent and authentic to create a human face to your company that promotes a credible image, trust and goodwill.
The bike manufacturer Cannondale, for instance, launched blogs about “the wacky world of mountain biking” to provide informal information about company developments and respond to customer questions and inquiries. The company reported one of the main blogs – The Brad Blog – is having great success building closer ties with customers and retailers, generating sales and enhancing its brand.
Make a Good First and Lasting Impression
Realize the fact that conversations surrounding your products, services, company and industry at large occur online 24/7 — with or without you.
The Web offers a high-speed, far-reaching vehicle to begin and build relationships with consumers and build your brand. Take advantage of it. Get involved.
Sitting on the social media sidelines can result in broken relationships and a tarnished brand.