The customer may not always be right, but will they always be a customer?
How can a business convert a customer into a brand evangelist?
One way is to be methodical.
When I was designing projects for Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) one approach was based on the notion that employees can become emissaries who spread good buzz, as well as become extensions of the sales force.
If someone isn't fully aware of all its company does or produces, it means an opportunity to provide a recommendation could be lost. By arming employees with knowledge, it increased chances for potential customers to learn about a company through an enthusiastic, trusted source. AC devised fun and rewarding ways to familiarize employees with the capabilities of their companies.
Social media echoes a time when companies actually cared.
Recently I had two very different, but equally vexing problems. Instead of going through the normal channels, I tweeted.
Then I waited.
In both cases, within hours, something amazing happened: I was contacted to see how my problems could be resolved.
Tweeting isn't just muscle flexing. Through social media, businesses are realizing they can create more personal relationships with their customers. Being on social media provides consumers with a direct connection to a PERSON. And even if an outcome is less than perfect, being able to connect with someone instead of someTHING can lead to improved customer satisfaction. When we become "friends," friends support one another.
Great customer service is another way.
The two companies converted me from being a discouraged consumer into a brand cheerleader. How did they accomplish this? By demonstrating an interest, being quickly responsive and going the extra mile to solve my problems.
I recently helped one of my sons with his 10-year-reunion. A key person was unreachable during a critical time, meaning the much-needed guest list was unavailable. So I tweeted the ticketing company, Brown Paper Tickets, to see if they could help.
They care about each individual customer, and importantly, listened and responded quickly. They demonstrated how much they value their customers, and in the process they earned my respect and admiration.
The second, Adobe, has always seemed to take customers for granted. In graphic design, the Creative Suite is the toolkit of the trade, so whether they provide customer support or not, they know they are the only real game in town. (Microsoft support for Mac runs circles around Adobe's.)
After nearly 20 years of negative perceptions about Adobe's customer service and support, one person changed it.
Bev Gray mans their Twitter account, and took action to not just answer my question, but to go above and beyond to create a positive experience for me. It was astonishing and instantaneous.
I'd never had a question answered satisfactorily by Adobe until that moment. Their standard response has always been either apathetic, or designed to frustrate me to the point where I would simply give up. What a terrible attitude to display toward the very people who helped make them successful.
Businesses should be proactive through social listening.
When a company treats a customer dismissively, it telegraphs a sentiment, whether or not they are aware, that they don't value your patronage.
Recently I had an unfortunate experience with Delta Airlines. They canceled a flight and the domino effect had myriad negative consequences. Tweeting did nothing. Mentions on various channels of social media did nothing. Finally, a letter to the EVP/COO (sent by registered and certified mail) was the only thing to elicit a response. Though the situation was addressed and a solution was offered, it was surprising to see it required an old-school effort to effect any action.
In order to connect with customers, it's more important than ever to monitor social streams. It is easier to bypass a problem through direct contact, and the action can cultivate a positive relationship, but importantly, it can also avert negative buzz in the social media sphere.
Take the wide view
When a business quibbles over something small, it diminishes their net gain. Their triumph may yield a few dollars of profit, but there are huge negatives resulting from the ill will and dissatisfaction that lingers.
The customer may not always be right, but when a company views their customers as allies instead of adversaries, and is willing to sacrifice small financial gains in favor of building good will, they have the power to convert customers into cheerleaders. This is the kind of positive word-of-mouth money can't buy.
Have you had experiences that have changed your perceptions from negative to positive? I'd love to hear about them!
Illustration © Whitney Sherman