I recently came across a Twitter account for a well known, national retailer that sells its products online and via telephone. While I was glad to see the company had a social media presence, I quickly noticed the company’s account is being used mainly as a way for consumers to file complaints – many of which center around unresolved customer service and product quality issues. A majority of the online dialogue was negative, and the Twitter account – which seems to be used solely to promote discounts and communicate one-way messages – has a little more than 100 followers. The situation underscores something that many companies are quick to forget – that social media (and any word of mouth marketing) is based on the concept of customer satisfaction and recognizing that a happy customer is the greatest endorsement. In other words, for social media strategies to be successful, you must have a good product or service that does what it is supposed to do. You must create happy customers, and happy customers can’t be faked.
“Listening to the groundswell will relentlessly reveal your stupidity,” said Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff in Groundswell. “When customers can complain, bitterly and accurately, about the way you do business and you can measure and quantify their complaints, it’s hard to deny your own flaws.”
This post certainly isn’t written to provoke fear or discourage social media engagement. It is, however, designed to encourage companies considering a social media strategy to think through the potential issues that could arise, and – more importantly – be ready to fix them. Companies should ask themselves, “how can we make our customers happier?” Listening to the social media dialogue before engaging is a great way to answer that question and keep your finger on the pulse of what consumers are saying about your brand.
It’s also important to realize that all companies will have a naysayer or two. Even the best companies can have a product flaw or a negative complaint – and that’s OK. In fact, many people believe that a negative review (especially when publicly resolved through social media) can actually add credibility to positive reviews. Problems occur when there are consistent, unresolved issues – and the cold hard truth can hurt. And if you think you can avoid complaints by ignoring social media altogether, think again. The conversations are happening whether you are involved or not.
On the other side of the coin, a company that produces happy customers can effectively engage in social media to build long-term relationships. If you are one of these companies, figure out how you can engage these folks. Turn them into your evangelists, and empower them to share their experience.
In the example I mentioned earlier, the retailer needs to focus not on promoting discounts via Twitter, but on fixing the underlying customer service and product quality issues brought up by customers online. It also needs to use Twitter and other social media as a way of engaging in dialogue and adding value to the conversation. By doing so, my guess is that that the company will gain more followers. More importantly, the company can begin to change public perception, earn credibility and build relationships.