Marketing Tools of the Tirade

A bold claim: Customer Service is the New Marketing.

Now that I’ve gotten that big rock out of the way, let me drill down a little on the statement. Effective Customer Service is the New Marketing. And to put this in a bite-size perspective, let’s say it this way: Effective Social Customer Service is the New Marketing.

Now, let’s focus on what this means. In this era of social interactivity, commonly called Social Media, your customer is much more empowered than in the old day’s (let’s say five years ago) marketplace model. This is because the dynamics inherent in the social web gives the little guy (the individual consumer) the power to positively or negatively impact the positioning of your brand by expressing their feelings or opinions to a potential World Wide audience.

What does this have to do with the concept that Effective Social Customer Service is the New Marketing?

The social web has increasingly become a multi-dimensional powerful publishing platform that can have great influence on how a brand or product is perceived. Now couple that concept with the principle that “Companies Don’t Position Products and Brands, People Do.” Then add the dynamic of web-wide engagement — where anyone who can read a post or watch a video can make a comment — and you’ve got a situation where the customer is in the driver’s seat of the commerce model, not the manufacturer or retail outlet.

Engagement between consumers is not new. Word of mouth as an influential marketing force has been alive and well since the caveman era.

What is relatively new with this concept of word of mouth is the ability for this type of engagement to spread like wildfire across the social web and become a broad conversation. The roots of ideas going viral and spreading quickly go deep, but we can identify a key flashpoint in the modern era for this phenomenon: Frank Eliason, Comcast and @ComcastCares.

The year was 2007. Eliason had joined Comcast (who was already enduring a rash of customer complaints) as Executive Support Manager, a middle level management customer service position. At the time, Comcast was getting pulverized across the social web for all sorts of issues, from its uncovered practice of blocking certain types service to poor response times to consumer complaints. Many of these unhappy customers abandoned the traditional method of calling the company and were taking to Twitter to express their hatred for the company.

Eliason was an early adopter to the newly emerging interactive social media landscape. Twitter had just exploded onto the scene at South by Southwest, and Eliason had begun experimenting with Twitter on a personal level. Once he began seeing all of the rants online about Comcast on Twitter, Eliason took it upon himself to do something about it.

He liked the Comcast brand and took the rants against the company personally. He wanted to do something. He had no idea that his grassroots efforts on behalf of Comcast would spark a new style of customer support and interaction.

So Eliason asked his boss for permission to start experimenting on the social web by interacting with Comcast customers via Twitter — read: letting them know they were being heard and trying to solve their problems.

The rest is an Internet success story of epic proportions. Almost singlehandedly, Eliason not only turned the negative sentiment about Comcast around, but created a perception of the company as one who cared about its customers. Indeed, Eliason’s Social Customer Service handle on Twitter was “ComcastCares.”

Eliason went on to become an Internet celebrity in the area of customer service, setting the standards for effective social customer service, many of which still apply today.

Which brings us to the subject at hand, as referenced in the blog title: “Marketing Tools of the Tirade.”

If your marketing department’s mentality is not collectively connected to the level of real world engagement and interactions that are going on about a brand or service online, there’s a stong possibility that marketing dollars spent on proactive messaging and sales pitches are, at worst either going to waste, or at best, being severely discounted. That’s because the aggregate noise generated by the complaints (negative messaging) is more than likely going to overshadow — and out-influence — the proactive messaging garnered from paid media.

So how can traditional marketing departments and people get involved, and become a part of the changing era of social marketing and social customer service? Here are some tips, and a quick overview of the marketing tools of the tirade:

The Big Three: Twitter, Facebook, Blogs

Here are a few general guidelines for using these tools to build the profile of your brand using a customer service approach.

  1. Monitor the web for flashpoints. Whether you use a free tool like Google Alerts or a paid tool like CustomScoop, there should be no excuse for not knowing that your brand, service or product is being talked about. It’s simple: add the keyword you want to track into the tool of choice, and watch for pickups.
  2. Deal with sensitive conversations or rants immediately. Conventional wisdom says that it’s a best practice to address a social web flare up within 24 hours. And yes, this does include weekends and evenings. Why? Because the real-time component of the social web has set the standard for quick response. Notice I said “address,” not “answer.” Sometimes, you may not know or have an answer within 24 hours. If this is the case, the response could simply be to acknowledge the comment. i.e. “@username thank you for your comment. We hear you and will address this shortly.”
  3. Take sensitive conversations or rants into a private channel as soon as possible. When you think about this, it’s really just practical sense. Don’t argue or have a difficult conversation with anyone on the social web in public. Besides the fact that this will encourage additional negative comments (“birds of a feather flock together”), it’s a no win for the brand.

Here’s how to take a sensitive subject offline:

  1. Twitter: Acknowledge the comment in the public channel. Then follow that person and ask them to follow the brand channel. Reason – you cannot have a private conversation with another Twitter user if you are not both following each other. Once that person follows your brand, send them a private message to let them know you have heard them and want to help. If possible, get a phone number so you can take the conversation to a voice-to-voice format. Once the problem is solved, go back on the public timeline and let that person (and all of their followers) know you addressed it.
  2. Facebook: Look for comments in posts that indicate a customer is unhappy or frustrated. Trust me, they will tell you! The same principle applies to Facebook as with Twitter. Ask that person to Like your page so you can move the dialogue to the messaging channel. Then, get it a one-to-one chat with that person via Messenger. Once the problem is solved, go back on the public channel and close the loop with a short Reply, such as “Glad we were able to solve this for you!”

The era of Social Customer Service is here to stay, and it’s only going to get more robust as new generation customers, who are more comfortable with texting and digital communications, become influencers in the market. If your marketing team is not ready to integrate your outreach efforts with social customer service efforts, you’re going to get left behind quickly as more progressive companies recognize the marketing value in helping customers online, and on their own terms.

If you would like to discuss how we can help you implement a successful social customer service program, please give me a call or send an email, or post a comment below.

Bill Threlkeld
President Threlkeld Communications

Bill Threlkeld is the president of Threlkeld Communications, a marketing communications and public relations firm that helps businesses develop the right marketing strategies to grow their businesses and meet financial goals. He can be reached at [email protected]

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