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Monday, 11 February 2013

Ignore Customers on Social Media at Your PR Peril

picture shows a diagram of social media sites and feedback

Gartner predicts that by 2014, refusing to use social media to communicate with customers will be as harmful as ignoring calls or emails is today. They point out that you need to not only monitor, but also analyse interactions. This allows you to both learn from them, and also manage communications by classifying incoming comment into groups requiring different reactions.

The advice given is of necessity generic and the trigger points for specific levels of reaction will vary according to individual companies and products or services. This is where I believe sales and PR skills should be involved to ensure a customer-focused approach is combined with an eye on the bigger picture: reputation impact.

Gartner say that currently only half of organisations monitor social media interactions and even less -  23% - analyse. These failures are already costing them a significant chunk of quantifiable sales.

Here's a brief run-down of the key points they recommend:

Carol Rozwell, VP at Gartner says, "Dissatisfaction stemming from failure to respond via social channels can produce up to a 15% churn rate for existing customers."

She suggests businesses have a system for deciding
a) whether to respond and
b) what action is required as a follow-up to a response.
c) rules to define who should deal with different kinds of comment
d) a process for deciding how a response should be posted.
They point out, some comments just need monitoring, while others will require an immediate response.
For smaller businesses, it's more a case of taking a deep breath and thinking about the options. It may be tempting to rush in and respond, but a measured approach is called for.

Rozwell says, "Generally the best practice is to acknowledge the issue on social media but to move attempts to resolves the issue offline."

That's standard complaint-handling advice and we agree. Consider using the telephone at this stage. At first glance, email or direct messaging seem more sensible as they allow measured responses and can be captured to form a message trail. A written communication on social media would appear to point to a written response. If emotions are running high, a reassuring phone call from an experienced and empowered individual may be more effective. Many people have a need to feel they are being heard/listened to when aggrieved.

If a complaint has sparked action to try and prevent a recurrence, that's a powerful demonstration of listening to customers and needs to be said. People are more likely to forgive a company that is taking steps to ensure there is no repetition.

We'd also suggest admitting if someone has made an error. It is only human to foul up sometimes: it's how you fix it that helps to demonstrate the difference between a well-run customer-friendly company and one that is not. Obviously there are exceptions: for example, where serious injury has been caused there are often multiple factors involved. Admitting culpability before an incident has been properly investigated would be premature, possibly inaccurate and certainly damaging. No reasonable person should expect you to do that unless it is a very clear-cut scenario. But expressing sympathy for the injured party is an entirely different matter and shows the company cares.

Gartner's final advice summary:
1) do participate
2) respond appropriately when comments fall into actionable categories and
3) prepare for doing more of this with inevitable consequences on job descriptions,  performance metrics and business processes.

With up to 15% of your sales at stake, can you afford not to?

Image courtesy of nokhoog_buchachon /

."PR blog posted by Penny Haywood Calder at PHPR Ltd, Edinburgh, UK. URL: PHPR TV Channel on YouTube: PHPR Ltd on LinkedIn Follow PennyHaywood on Twitter

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