Sunday, September 30, 2012

Turning customers into brand advocates


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. 

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Have you had experiences that have changed your perceptions from negative to positive? I'd love to hear about them!

Illustration © Whitney Sherman

14 comments:

  1. Anonymous2:30 AM

    Enjoyed reading your latest article, "Turning Customers Into Brand Advocates"...and although I know nothing about graphic designing, which is what you do, and know little about the advantage of social media in today's business (success and\or lack of) I do find what you cover in your article interesting and informative. Your thorough and down-to-earth style of expression, really helps make your articles that much more impressive to me...and I will certainly continue to look forward to them. :-)
    Mike, the mariner

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    1. Dear Mike,

      Thank you so much for the comment. I have sadly been unable to get into this account and apologize for the delay in replying.

      In a way, I feel social media has given the average consumer more power. Prior to Twitter and other social media channels, if a customer was unhappy it was often not easy to navigate phone mazes to get to a person who would be interested in or willing to help.

      Because most legitimate businesses now have a social media presence, there is a direct line between them and the consumer. When a company is seen as caring as well as valuing their customers, the goodwill can have a domino effect. If you or I see positive buzz about a business or product in the form of a personal testimonial by someone we know and trust, it carries more weight than seeing a movie star endorse something. A movie star is being PAID to say nice things!

      Anyhow, I've missed seeing you on Twitter. I hope wherever your travels take you, you are happy and well.

      Warm regards,

      Terri

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  2. Hi terrinakamura, I enjoyed your article.
    I've had really positive experiences with Amazon.com recently. I've purchased 2 Kindles from them and had problems with both of them. The response from them was immediate. They sent the replacement items to me before I even returned the defective ones. They went out of their way to make sure I was satisfied with their product. A refreshing attitude!
    See you on Twitter!
    jiminkansas

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    1. Dear Jim,

      First, my apology for the delay in my reply here. For some reason, I was having problems getting in here!

      It's so good to hear of a positive experience with Amazon.com. They are here in my backyard, and one of my sons works for them!

      When Amazon first started, I felt they WANTED to provide a good customer experience, but didn't have the infrastructure in place to do their best in resolving issues. Now they seem to really have it down. I even became an Amazon Prime member and LOVE IT!

      I am wondering how in the world you would have problems with two different Kindles?! Were they different models or the same one? Yikes...I have been thinking about getting one! I would love to know!

      Yes, I hope to see you on Twitter! I'm normally there "live" from 11:30 PM to 12:30 AM Pacific. If you are awake at that time of night, there's a good chance you'll find me!

      Thanks so much, Jim, for reading and responding. I will pass along your comment to my son, too!

      Warm regards,

      Terri

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  3. Marianne8:54 AM

    I think your article hits on something very fundamental in today's world: the population - individuals, businesses, families - are in a tech transition. About a year ago at my school, there was buzz about the iPad. A cheerful luddite I worked with, who often could not figure out how to print, scorned FB and Twitter and panned laptops in education, quickly embraced the iPad. He still rolls his eyes about social media, and yet he is never without his iPad and just bought the newest version. I also have students at my school who resent the idea that because they are young, it is assumed that they are facile with tech. So your ironic story about Adobe and your old school interaction with Delta makes perfect sense to me. That is the world that I live in, and it's full of surprises.

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    1. Hi, Marianne!

      Thanks for sharing your observations, and thank you very much for reading.

      It's interesting how the iPad has made technology more accessible to people who profess to have zero interest in it. Making technology easy to use is one of many reasons why Apple products have been world changing.

      Another great insight you made concerns the assumption that because one is young, one will automatically know how to use technology. It must put undue pressure on kids when an adult hands them a device and says, "Here! Fix this!" It's amusing when I introduce features or techniques to people who are much younger than me. It shows one can be a teacher or student at any age!

      Delta is supposed to be one of the most highly rated airlines, so it's surprising they aren't more with the program. Normally companies on social media are on the lookout for ways to quickly resolve customer issues while derailing negativity. Let's hope they get up to speed on it soon.

      Adobe, on the other hand is in its metier with social media. I think when they had to deal with things the old-fashioned way, they simply were not good at it.

      If you are a teacher, or work in (or participate in) education, my salute to you! You are making the world a better place!

      Thanks again for your response and I send my best wishes to you for the weeks and months ahead.

      Best regards,

      Terri

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  4. An absolutely beautiful and well written article, Terri. I found you through Empire Avenue and so glad that I did... I too am a graphic designer who loves words, and I really enjoyed this article about turning customers into advocates. Terrific business wisdom.

    Happy Holidays,
    Randi Walsh

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    1. Hi, Randi!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

      Empire Avenue has been a great place to meet people and, if desired, forge a greater than 140-character connection. Speaking of turning customers into brand advocates, Empire Avenue could become a tool to help accomplish that. If only it could make the leap from early adopters to the second and third wavers, I feel its potential is huge.

      If you are also a graphic designer who loves words, I suspect you and I are among the rare designers who actually read copy for the projects we design. It's always surprising to me to see something where the look and feel have nothing whatsoever to do with the actual content! Reading first can inform the design and make what we do more effective.

      Happy holidays to you and yours, and I'll look forward to seeing you on EAV and elsewhere!

      Cheers/Thanks/Terri

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  5. I love this story. You provide a roadmap for businesses to follow. Those who still require old-school, certified letters are destined for failure. And what wisdom in this line: "When a business quibbles over something small, it diminishes their net gain."

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    1. Hi, Skip!

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

      By staying abreast of current customer communication channels, a company offers consumers two things: an easy and expedient method of addressing issues, and the positioning of the company as relevant and "relatable."

      This is not to say the old-fashioned letter should slide into oblivion. But it shouldn't be the ONLY path available to solve a problem.

      Again, many thanks for the thoughtful response!

      Have a great weekend!

      Terri


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  6. Nice Blog, really i appreciate the effort you made to share the knowledge

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    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Graphic Design, and best wishes to you in all you pursue in your life and your work!

      Cheers/Terri

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  7. Graphic Designer San Jose

    I really enjoyed this post. You describe this topic very well. I really enjoy reading your blog and I will definitely bookmark it! Keep up the interesting posts!

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    1. Thanks, Webati, for stopping by! And I hope you'll come back again! Happy Sunday :-)

      Best regards, Terri

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