Posts Tagged ‘Social Media’

Beyond the Handshake

by on Thursday, October 18th, 2012

Bryan Bottger of The Buddy Group has an insightful post on MediaPost’s Social Media Insider about the need for “Experiential Marketing”. That means taking a variety of actions that break down the wall between a brand’s online or conventional media presence and its actual or potential customers, and create human-to-human interactions. As Bryan puts it:

“Without your creating “real,” non-digital engagement, consumers will start to consider your digital engagements as fake and overly self-serving. A handshake still means something — that’s why travel on Southwest continues to increase….”

(via Creative Commons)

For big brands, experiential can be a big deal. Long after Felix Baumgartner will no longer instantly be recognized as the guy who jumped from space with a parachute, Red Bull will be leveraging the video of his record-setting feat. Those of us who watched this amazing event didn’t mind the signage and the product placement, because this crazy obsession seemed so entirely real.

Fortunately for local merchants, providing live interactions with your customers can be as easy as opening the door. Local merchants, as a rule, do real … real well.

But there is plenty of room for improvement, and creativity. Clothing boutiques are masters of the “trunk show”, an informal way to give loyal customers a head start on a new season’s merchandise. Why can’t a hardware store do the same, perhaps with demonstrations of the latest tools or building materials. Or even holding classes for budding builders or DIY-ers. Home Depot does that, why not you? Many wine shops now hold tastings, why not the frozen yoghurt store? Years ago, a group of karate students in Canada demolished an abandoned house in a try for the Guinness World Record. Suppose a group from a local school joined with, say, Habitat for Humanity to clear a building site.

Local businesses have an advantage over big brands: the distance between the brand and the customer isn’t nearly so far. Why not take advantage of that shorter distance and connect with your customers … as people.

Hope Is Not A Strategy

by on Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

So said Hillary Clinton, and she wasn’t talking about marketing. Still, when local merchants think about word of mouth marketing, hope is often their only strategy.

It shouldn’t be. If your business consistently provides a rewarding customer experience you can do a lot more than simply hope that customers spread the word. Here are some steps you can take to extend the reach and effectiveness of your word of mouth marketing well beyond what hope alone can provide.

One happy customer tells another (via abardwell, Flickr)

There are 3 basic things you should do to amplify your word of mouth:

  1. Identify the most likely potential brand advocates
  2. Engage with them frequently and consistently
  3. Make it easy for them to be your advocate

Who are a business’ most likely brand advocates? In a recent post on All Things WOM, Cara Fuggetta of Zuberance outlined 5 characteristics of potential advocates’ “social DNA”:

  • They are inherently social people
  • They want to be looked at as experts
  • They recommend many brands and do so often
  • They are avid content creators and sharers
  • They want to help others

In short, they are not your typical customers, or even your typical satisfied customers. The reason they may become your advocates may have more to do with their own interests and motivations than with your business, but if you can get them sufficiently engaged they will be happy to be your advocates, too.

Even if you know what they are like, how do you find them? One way is to search: cross referencing valuable customers (you do know who your most valuable customers are, don’t you?) against social media activity should give you a starting point. But an even simpler way is to ask. Send your customers an email survey asking some of the questions Cara answered in her post. It isn’t a scientific survey but it doesn’t need to be.

Once you have identified at least some of your potential advocates, open a dialog. Ask for their feedback, and implement reasonable suggestions. And make sure they get the credit. Draw them closer with special offers just for them. Use soft benefits, too: early access to new products, or a cocktail reception after hours can strengthen the bonds between your business and your advocates.

Then do what you can to make it easy for them to spread the word. At the very least, return their emails, texts and phone calls. If they need content for Facebook, Twitter, or (recently) Pinterest, make it available – and in a format that makes it easy to use. Let them guest edit a catalogue, if you have one, or post to your blog. If they want you to speak at a local organization, jump at the chance. Remember, there is no shortage of media channels through which you – and your advocates – can communicate.

The Zavee takeaway:

  • Brand advocates are special people. Treat them that way.
  • They may have their own reasons for becoming your advocate. Insisting on your reasons won’t be helpful.
  • Brand advocates can be tremendously helpful. Don’t stand in their way.

Twitter Bringing News and Help After Quake in Italy

by on Monday, May 21st, 2012

Damaged clock tower in Finale Emilia, Italy (via Ansa)

You may have heard about the Magnitude 6 earthquake that shook Northern Italy around 4am local time on Sunday. There have been several fatalities, many more injuries and thousands out of their homes. Zavee extends its best wishes to those affected.

Despite the loss, and fear, there are also some amazing stories. La Repubblica (Italian) was the first to report about the woman whose 5 year old daughter was trapped in the wreckage of their home. She could not get through on any of the local emergency numbers, so in desperation she called an Italian doctor she knew who was living in New York. The doctor called someone in Rome, who called someone in Modena, who called someone in the woman’s town. The firefighters were dispatched and the toddler was found unharmed.

Stories like that naturally have attracted media coverage. But the more granular, day-to-day issues that face the residents of the affected areas, have been covered mainly on Twitter. If you want so see people using Twitter to help each other, use the hashtag #terremoto and check out the stream. It’s mostly but not entirely in Italian, but you don’t have to speak the language to get the drift.

3 Ways The Customer Isn’t Always Right – And What to Do About It

by on Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

In a recent post on MediaPost’s Marketing Tools: Customer Relationship Management blog, Kathleen Stockham writes about the appalling situation in which a terminally ill Spirit Airlines customer, who was medically advised not to fly after he bought his non-refundable ticket, was repeatedly rebuffed in his attempts to secure a refund. After taking a beating in mainstream and social media alike, Spirit relented, although none too graciously.

This event led Ms. Stockham to write her post, in which she posits the following three rules:

Rule #1 – We screw up; customers, brands, retailers. We all have our blind spots, but it is in how we recover that customers remember and react to.

Rule #2 – The customer is always right. Yes your mileage may vary but in the end, the customer is always right or rue the day you tell them otherwise.

Rule #3 – Social media is your best friend and your biggest adversary, when in doubt, see Rule #1 and #2.

No refund for dying man? That's NOT the Spirit!

I take issue with Rule #2, although Spirit should have found it easy to accommodate its customer and put him in the right. There are situations in which the customer is “wrong” and can’t be accommodated – and these have to be some of the most difficult customer relationship challenges around. Here are three examples:

  1. Accommodating one customer will severely inconvenience others. This actually happened to me. A few years ago, my family and I showed up at the airport check-in counter for a flight to the Dominican Republic one minute – one minute! – after the doors closed. The airline would not accommodate us (or anyone else on line) by putting us on that flight. The background is that the night before we had been hit by a disastrous ice storm. Our usual half hour trip to the airport took 2-1/2 hours and we passed countless accidents and abandoned cars on the way.

    The airline explained that if they held the flight it would lose its place in the de-icing queue and takeoff would be delayed by up to three hours. In addition, the airline put us on a flight to a different part of the island (waiving change fees) that took off only an hour later. And while it took us all day to traverse the DR – it’s a big place! – we believed we were treated very fairly. Here’s what the airline did right:

    • They explained the situation neutrally, without making the situation “us vs. them”.
    • They had the facts on their side. We could just imagine being “those people” responsible for a planeload of passengers spending hours sitting on a cold plane instead of a warm beach. No need to rub our noses in it, and they didn’t.
    • They tried to find a solution. The counter staff sent out a radio call for staff familiar with the DR. They got us on the next flight and gave us detailed directions to our original destination. Insisting on change fees would have left a bad taste but they waived them without being asked. In short, the airline successfully balanced our interests against those of a large number of other customers
  2. The customer has an agenda. The customer is angry that the company is unionized – or non-union. Sells products made in Israel – or has taken them off the shelves. The list of potential grievances is endless, and the ability of aggrieved customers to reach an audience is growing daily. What to do?

    • Take the customer, and the issue, seriously. The customer might be factually mistaken, and might be willing to share correct information, especially if he/she has already shared content that is misleading or untrue. If the customer is factually correct, it is a good idea to engage to the point of taking the complaint seriously. There is no need to agree with the customer’s position, but there is no need to treat him/her as a wingnut, either.
    • Promise consideration, not change. In most cases, it is reasonable to forward claims from advocates to the appropriate person in management, and it is therefore truthful to tell the consumer that that is what you will do. It’s probably true that management is open to feedback from customers on almost any subject, and if so, say so. If the issue is one like Chick-fil-A’s “Closed on Sundays” policy, which is well-known and immutable, it’s only fair to politely inform the customer that, although you respect his/her position, the company’s policy is not likely to change. The best that can be hoped for is that delicate handling defuses the customer’s hostility before he/she reaches the keyboard.
  3. The customer wants a benefit that hasn’t been earned. This is something that can give businesses fits. A free bottle of wine, an upgraded rental car, a pass to an airline lounge – these are just a few of the soft benefits that companies use to reward loyal customers. When the benefit is conferred right in front of a less deserving customer, feelings can be hurt and demands can be made. Here are some suggestions:

    • Always have access to customer profiles in real time. A customer who is one visit away from earning the benefit he wants probably should get it. The first time customer … not so much. It’s easier to deny a request for a benefit (politely, please!) if you know the facts and they are on your side.
    • Explain the rules. Even if eligibility for soft rewards is somewhat discretionary, explain to the customer what it takes to qualify. A customer who understands your expectations, and knows how to meet them, is less likely to go away angry.
    • Consider half a loaf. It’s important to determine whether this is a customer you want to retain, and it’s sometimes difficult to make these judgments on the fly. Associates should always feel free to bring in a supervisor without fear of an adverse evaluation. You don’t want to incentivize bad behavior, but if this is a customer you want to keep, and the request was made politely, consider trying to meet the customer part way. A free dessert instead of the wine, perhaps?

Is the customer always right, when he/she has ready access to social media? Let us know in the comments.

Making Social Media Easier

by on Monday, January 23rd, 2012

When we talk with local businesses about Social Media, the most frequent objection to becoming more socially engaged is time. Many local merchants believe that the time required to attend to Facebook and Twitter is better used for tasks more directly related to running the business. Rather than argue the importance of Social Media, we’d like to pass along a post on Mashable that introduces some tools that make it easier than ever for a small business to manage its Social Media presence and derive maximum value from this powerful marketing medium.

via Kevin Moore (Creative Commons)

Some of these tools are geared toward agencies or at least larger companies, but there are two that we have used successfully at Zavee: HootSuite and TweetDeck. Both applications live on the desktop although both have mobile versions. TweetDeck is free and HootSuite has a free version that should be fine for most businesses. Both apps let the user manage multiple streams (e.g., Facebook and Twitter) simultaneously, including posting the same content to several streams. Both apps make it easy to schedule posts, so an hour or two on the weekend can result in a week’s worth of posts.

It’s also easy to redirect content, so a link, image or other content that is found on Twitter can be shared out on Facebook (and vice versa). This can be especially valuable for Zavee merchants, because Zavee shoppers now can share merchant-related content on Social Media even more easily than before. So merchants that sees a good review or recommendation can increase its reach by putting that content in their own Social Media stream. Merchants also can push news announcements published on Zavee to their Facebook and Twitter streams. That gets their own content noticed by even more potential customers.

Social Media can’t be fully automated, any more than any other marketing tool. But these two apps (and others mentioned in the Mashable post) can make the time devoted to Social Media time well spent.

Loyalty Marketing [INFOGRAPHIC]

by on Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

Sometimes they are brilliant and sometimes they are useless, but infographics are almost always fun. Here is one about brands and loyalty programs, courtesy of Get Satisfaction.

One of the most interesting factoids is that 60% of respondents intend to use the social web and networking tools to derive ROI from loyalty programs. If so, that would be a significant change from how the loyalty industry’s historically slow adoption of technology.



Airlines and Loyalty … It’s Not Getting Better

by on Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Bill Hanifin of Loyalty Truth recently posted about airlines and customer service, a post prompted by his trip around the world (Malaysia and back – that qualifies). My trips are rarely as exotic but I fly almost every week, primarily between Newark and either FLL or PBI, and primarily on Continental. Like Bill, I have a soft spot for airlines, having begun my career in aircraft finance. Again like Bill, I am amazed – and not in a good way – by the unforced errors airlines commit when it comes to customer service.

Bill writes that airlines should be using the wealth of data available to them to build in more flexibility in dealing with customers, some of whom may be very valuable to the airline. I agree, but I think that ignoring their own data is only half the problem. A lack of empowerment is the other. Associates can only be as flexible as the rules allow. And I have a hunch that consolidation has made carriers more rigid and reduced employees’ sense of ownership (anyone have similar – or different – experiences at newly-merged carriers?).

Bill isn’t a fan of unbundling, but my view is mixed. I think baggage fees are a slap in the face to passengers. Airlines ask us to cooperate in limiting what we carry aboard, then charge us for our cooperation. Nice. On the other hand, unbundling food is a win-win, because concourse food concessions are improving steadily at many airports just as on-board food is disappearing. Carrying on our own food is one of the few freedoms we have as passengers, and I wouldn’t want to turn back the clock.

via Flickr - where are the jonses

Maybe it’s because there aren’t any bosses or unions at 35,000 feet, or maybe it’s because the airlines know how to hire for the cabins, but most flight attendants do a great job despite more crowding and fewer amenities. One recent flight departed “on time” by pushing back before the aircraft was fully catered. Not surprisingly, grumbling ensued. Very surprisingly, the flight attendants up front decided to open bags of almonds left over from the inbound flight and serve them in wine glasses. It showed that the flight attendants cared and it put a smile on every face in first class. Airlines can’t teach that kind of resourcefulness, but I hope they reward it.

One of the biggest customer engagement problems the airlines face as they impose more rules, charges and limitations is that the customer-facing staff is constantly required to disappoint or frustrate the customer. The trick, whether in the cabin, at the gate or at the ticket counter is to avoid turning delivering bad news into delivering bad service. Being told your bag has to be gate-checked is bad news; being made to wait for it at baggage claim is bad service. Being handed your bag at the Jetway is a smart way to ease the sting.

Flexible rules, empowered associates and a premium on resourcefulness can do wonders for an airline’s word of mouth. At a time when consumers are increasingly willing and able to share their experiences effectively, bad service is just reckless. If I hated Continental – and I don’t – I’m sure I could find a different way to get to Florida every week. Travelers under fewer constraints can drive to a more distant airport or just drive to their destination. And many people would just as soon stay home. Customers like me who really have to fly can use social media to make sure that everyone in our social graph – including whoever runs social media at the airline – knows exactly how and what the airline is doing.

The Zavee takeaway:

  • Airlines need empowered, resourceful associates applying flexible, data-driven rules. The alternative is an ongoing low-intensity conflict with customers that the airlines can’t win.
  • Every customer has an alternative to a bad airline, even if it means staying home.
  • Social media levels the playing field for airline customers. They can sit us down, but they can’t shut us up.

Customer Engagement (Part 1)

by on Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

Richard Meyer has a typically thought-provoking post about customer engagement on his New Media and Marketing Blog. In the post he tees off on a research report that uses ‘likes” on Facebook as the sole metric of customer engagement. Richard has a big problem with this: “Who the hell cares who ‘likes’ your posts?”

Richard goes on to say that engagement “doesn’t mean a damn thing”. I completely agree that clicking the “like” or “follow” button doesn’t mean that customers are engaged, but I think there is such a thing as engagement. I also think that marketers can and should take steps to encourage engagement, but that ultimately they can’t control it. I also think that we are a long way from effective engagement metrics.

Scuderia Ferrari

(Helena.40proof via Flickr)

I would define an engaged customer as one who acts as if he/she has a stake in the marketer’s business that extends beyond the specific transaction. These are the customers who can provide valuable insights and information both to the marketer and to other consumers. Under this definition, “liking” or “following” is about the weakest possible form of engagement imaginable.

Even in the absence of marketer involvement engaged customers can have a significant impact on sales. Because they may know more than the typical consumer and be more willing to share, they can be effective advocates for the marketer’s brand and products. Even if they point out product flaws or own up to having made a mistake in purchasing the marketer’s product (although Richard disagrees, Yelp and Trip Advisor contain plenty of reviews in which customers take at least some of the responsibility for their negative experience).

If the marketer does involve itself with its cadre of engaged customers it can do more than increase short-term sales. It can increase long-term sales by optimizing its business in areas such as product features, merchandise mix and customer service. By bringing them inside the tent the marketer may make these customers even more engaged and even more vigorous advocates for the brand and its products.

Customers don’t have to become unpaid product testers or spokespeople to be engaged. Engagement can include attending marketer-sponsored events or participating in marketer-endorsed charitable activities. By concretely affiliating oneself with the marketer and — critically — by sharing about it, engaged customers can drive the marketer’s message and build the marketer’s brand. Whether these activities result directly in sales depends in part on how they are structured and how the sales cycle normally works (cars and colas aren’t purchased the same way).

How vital is the marketer’s involvement to customer engagement? The short, if obvious, answer is that it can’t hurt. Perhaps surprisingly, however, some marketers with highly engaged customers have little if any involvement with them. One example, admittedly atypical in terms of both product and customers, is Ferrari. The Italian sports car maker has a passionately engaged base that includes not just current owners but past owners, hope-to-be owners and probably-never-will-be owners. This high level of engagement takes place with virtually no involvement from Ferrari, which pays attention only to the very top tier of its customer base (even for Ferrari, all customers are not created equal).

In the absence of marketer involvement, the Ferrari faithful have turned to enthusiast sites such as Ferrari Chat as well as marque clubs such as the Ferrari Club of America and Ferrari Owners Club (which hear from the marketer mainly when it believes its trademarks are being infringed). They have returned Ferrari’s lack of involvement by creating their own communities, whose benefit to the marketer goes unrecognized and unrewarded, but probably not unnoticed.

If it’s clear that marketers shouldn’t use likes and follows to measure engagement, what are some appropriate metrics? That will be the subject of Part 2 of this post.

The Zavee takeaway:

  • Customer engagement exists, but “likes” and “follows” are its most trivial form.
  • Engaged customers can help marketers improve their business, and not just by purchasing more.
  • Marketers can ignore, monitor or facilitate customer engagement, but it isn’t always clear which strategy will have the highest ROI.

4 Things to Consider About Negative Reviews

by on Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Now that a New York court has dismissed claims against Yelp by a New York dentist based on a (very) negative review and on Yelp’s alleged removal of positive reviews, this might be a good time to think about what makes a review “negative” and what negative reviews mean to – and for – your business. You may think that negative reviews are just angry people taking shots at you. Here are four other ways to look at it:

via Marten Bjork (Creative Commons)

Readers recognize – and discount – outliers. Positive or negative, excessive emotions in a review diminish their credibility. It’s great to get an exceptional review for exceptional service. But if the glowing adjectives are out of proportion to a typical customer experience, readers are likely to apply the old saying: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Same thing with negative reviews. The surest way to lose credibility IS TO WRITE IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS WITH LOTS OF PUNCTUATION!!! These are actually the best negative reviews you can get, because even if they are accurate, who will believe them? It’s true that some people write reviews to blow off steam, but readers know that, and respond accordingly.

Mixed reviews are not necessarily negative. Have you ever used Rotten Tomatoes to decide whether to see a movie? The site’s “Tomatometer” rating is based on whether published reviews were positive or negative. However, a review can only be either “fresh” (i.e., positive) or “rotten” (i.e., negative), no matter how mixed or qualified the review might be. For “Going the Distance” (51% rating), the fresh reviews include “solid but totally forgettable” and “hilarious in many individual scenes [but] less than the sum of its parts”. Rotten reviews included “funny but forgettable” and “The laughs kept me involved … but after I left the theater, it occurred to me that this slight comedy hadn’t gone very far at all.” Hmm. Many reviews – of anything – are mixed enough that it would be hard to give them either a thumbs up or thumbs down rating. So don’t consider every mixed review a thumbs down.

A mixed review is often more thoughtful, detailed and nuanced than an outright rave or pan. A customer who writes a review that contains some negative feedback isn’t venting, she’s helping. These are the reviews your customers will take seriously – and you should do the same. When you respond to reviews like these (easy to do on Zavee) you can use the review as the basis for an ongoing relationship. If you want a second chance at the customer and a more positive review the second time around, being proactive is the only way to get results.

Yes, competitors can try to hurt your business with fake reviews, but there are reasons you don’t hear about it happening very often. If you are running a good business deceitful reviews are unlikely to harm you, especially if you are actively communicating with your customers. Why? First, as discussed above readers will tend to discount rants whether or not they are malicious. Second, users of social shopping sites tend to be very skeptical of reviews that differ greatly from what most (real) customers experience. The unusual experience is another kind of outlier. On the other hand, negative reviews that go into detail about the experience and/or are written by a reviewer who has demonstrated credibility based on other reviews may well be taken seriously, but how many of your competitors are willing to invest that much effort just to undermine your business? If you are actively communicating with your customers you should be able to deflect even the most sophisticated malicious review. Finally, social shopping sites are trying to safeguard against malicious and fraudulent reviews. At Zavee, our system will reject a review unless the author has had a transaction at that merchant within 30 days of the review. Could a competitor jump through all those hoops just to hurt your business? Probably, but how many would bother?

A negative review is a positive experience. On the most basic level, a thoughtful review that recounts a negative experience provides valuable information for your business. You can’t be everywhere, and if a waiter or a sales associate didn’t behave appropriately, or if a product or service fell short of expectations, wouldn’t you want to know? Of course you would prefer to hear it privately, but in our increasingly social world these conversations are being held in the open. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A negative review can be a positive experience because your handling of the situation – again, in public – gives you the chance to move the conversation forward: increasing customer engagement and loyalty, building your reputation and your brand, and even persuading non-customers to give you a try.

The Zavee takeaway:

  • Readers are smart, and they are good at recognizing which reviews to take seriously.
  • Negative reviews can hurt your business only if you ignore them or react passively. Especially on Zavee, where we make it so easy for merchants to interact with customers, make sure you respond to every review.
  • Always follow through on anything you promise – and don’t forget to talk about it.