Making a Fan in the Moment of Failure: Hearing your customers on social media
Veronica Belmont, TV and Online video host and producer, startup advisor, writer, and voice actor
Your customers are on social. You are on social. Sounds like a win-win. Why do so many brands fail at engaging with their customers on social media? Veronica Belmont examines common pitfalls of business on social, including: lack of empathy, being inauthentic, and being an a**hole. Her inspirational talk will leave you with tactics and tips you can immediately use to improve social media engagement.
As the last slide mentioned, I’m Veronica Belmont I’ve worn a lot of hats throughout the years, as a tech journalist, video producer, podcaster, writer — but my other job has been to help the companies I advise figure out their social media strategies and how best to communicate with their audiences.
All of this means…
I spend a lot of time on the web.
So you don’t know this, but right now I’m on an airplane. My airline of choice doesn’t have a hot vegetarian meal for me on this five hour flight, and I’m literally paying money to log onto the internet so I can write a tweet about it. However! The internet on the plane is down, so I’m writing it on this slide instead.
Here we go… how’s this? Eh, I don’t really feel any better. What exactly am I hoping to accomplish? What does anyone hope to accomplish when they hop on Twitter or Facebook to air their grievances against a company? Fortunately, I know this from both sides of the fence.
I’ve always managed the social accounts for all of my projects, big and small, because for me it’s extremely important to have that emotional and direct line to what my viewers or readers are saying. This should be true for a brand of any size.
When you’re truly angry about an experience, how many of you out there immediately take to the internet to vent your frustrations? And what do *you* expect to get out of that? To have our problem solved? To get sympathy from your followers?
But I’ve been thinking a lot lately about brands, customers support, and empathy. Recently, I had a somewhat traumatic situation: Humblebrag, hosting the GoT Season 6 premiere, which meant I needed an amazing dress. I went to Rent the Runway, my absolute favorite way to rent dresses for events.
However, this is what I received. I ordered two dresses, with two free backup sizes, assuming I would be covered. But the dress that fit and looked the best had a decent-sized tear. I jumped on email, and customer service promised to send a new one to my hotel the following afternoon. Great!
I tried to be the cool lady and write positive feedback on the internet for once. RTR responded shortly after with a very nice reply. Everyone walked away feeling good. Until I got the replacement dress.
So now I’m in full blown panic mode. The event is the next afternoon. I do the only rational thing in my mind at that moment. I head back onto social media.
Again, what am I looking for here? Resolution, sure. But mostly I wanted to kvetch. So, I just fired off a nice little tweet storm at their social media rep, who did the smart thing and offered to reach out via phone.
Why am I making an example of Rent the Runway here at Relate? They’re a Zendesk client, btw, so someone from the company might be here right now. From a social perspective, they did everything exactly right… Supply chain issues happen, QC issues happen, but throughout the whole thing I felt heard, and so my rage never escalated.
But my POSITIVE customer service experience is out of the ordinary 8 out of 9 messages sent to brands on social media go completely unanswered (footnote: https://www.zendesk.com/blog/improve-social-customer-service/)
Can you imagine if that happened with phone support, or in person? If a brand or retailer just ignored almost 89% of their customers with issues? You, the customer, would feel like an invisible person, and that’s not going to be a great feeling to take away with you.
Oh, and by the way, before we move on. I’m sure you were very concerned about how the Game of Thrones thing worked out. I used the backup dress, and I looked dope.
The first step in all of this is to actually pay attention to what your customers are saying on social media They have many avenues to reach out to you, including email, your website, and via phone. But social is growing hugely.
And folks have many different reasons for reaching out to brands on social, from seeking advice to helping other customers. But as you can see, there’s one orb here that rather stands out on social media sites…
Yes, the purple orb of vengeance. Olga ter Voert from market research firm TNS NIPO in the Netherlands presented those findings a couple years ago, and she also stated that social cries for help are often a brands last chance to salvage the customer relationship.
This whole thing isn’t just about responding or not responding, either. Timeliness is a major factor, especially when travel and hotel issues are concerned. 83% of consumers expect a response on Twitter, specifically, within the same day of making their complaint. (footnote: https://www.zendesk.com/blog/improve-social-customer-service/)
So we have this two-fold issue: people are reaching out to brands on social media, and brands are responding either not at all, or not in a timely manner. In this very small time frame, you, the brand, have potentially exacerbated a small issue into a much larger one, and why?
Because your customer hasn’t been heard.
So… Why does being heard matter?
Let’s go back and think about the frustration in dealing with travel. United, my perhaps slightly masochistic airline of choice, is pretty great at responding via social media. A recent look at their Twitter stream shows they’re responding to customers almost EVERY MINUTE.
Every single one of these customers is coming away from that interaction, if not having their problem fixed or worked on, at least knowing that they’ve been heard by the company. Notice the great tone matching here as well. Keeping it light.
In a funny way, a brand is kind of like a celebrity. People send them messages all day long on social media, and kind of only half-hope that they’ll ever get a response. But have you ever sent a message to someone famous, or influential, and received a response? Do you remember that feeling?
When people reach out to brands online, it’s a similar feeling and a similar desire. The user wants to be noticed above the fray. They want to feel…
When you hopefully do get around to making a response, you want to make sure it’s the right kind of response. - This can really make or break that moment of interaction.
Personally, I hate canned responses. But you know what’s worse than a canned response? No response. But even a very perfunctory response is better than nothing. You can’t afford to miss that moment of engagement. But let’s assume you guys out there are more creative that just using a bot to point your customers to a phone line or email address.
[Read quote] This doesn’t necessarily have to mean that the interaction started out positively. It just means that was how the customer felt walking away from it.
Now, this is where customer service and empathy cross paths. To be a good customer service representative, you need to have empathy for what the customer is experiencing — the ability to put yourself into their shoes. I realize now that this looks like a butt. I’m sorry.
Who doesn’t want compassion when they’re frustrated? It’s fair to say that most people working in customer service or handling your social media feeds have the capacity for empathy… though, I certainly feel like I’ve dealt with a few sociopathic CS agents before.
The trick is reminding people to be empathetic. Asking them to call on their own experiences so they can better understand what they’re trying to accomplish for customers online. Acknowledging pain is an amazing first step to resolving an issue.
I don’t know why Twitter user Michael Powers liked this response. He’s another Delta follower just glad to see these two come to a mutually happy conclusion!
All of this ties nicely into one of the main themes here at Relate: the Promoter Economy. Upset customers AND happy customers are talking about you online — how you respond to those comments and how successfully you tone match can have a lasting impression, and serious business implications.
[read] Indeed, this is absolutely crucial. But in order for it to work, to blossom, the brand has to take that first step and respond.
Since social media already feels more personal than an email, and it’s a lot more public, you have to be able to shape your responses accordingly. I had to look up what a “plaice” is, but it’s a kind of flat fish. Here we have a response that is both matching the tone of the customer and having some fun with it.
I took to Twitter to ask my followers for some examples of situations where a brand or company not only made their situation better, but went above and beyond the call of duty.
- Hello, Promoter Economy!
Casper responded with an adorable animated gif of a cat highfiving his owner. So, they maintained tone, responded to positive feedback, and also managed to leave me with a positive impression of them — and I’m not even yet a customer.
Those are just a few small examples of people having an issue, and even if it couldn’t be fixed online, at the very least they felt listened to and better (sometimes to the point of evangelism) from the experience. And that was exactly how I felt after my Rent the Runway experience. I’ll still be a return customer.
I especially loved the British Air example, because it was so easy: the Airline probably had some kind of list ready to go for customers in that situation, and get it felt curated for the customer. That’s awesome.
Now, I want to go over a few ways to set up your social team for success. This is definitely going to be different for each company, depending on size and how your company is organized.
We know that large companies like Comcast, Delta, United, all have the ability to have swift response times because they can afford to have an entire team of people devoted to social media customer service responses. Resources like that are great, but what do you do if you’re a small company just getting started?
First of all, you need to empower your social. Your social team, especially if they’re part of the customer service team (or the only customer service person handling all incoming requests) need to be able to affect change. They either need to be able to make changes themselves, or have a direct line to the person or team that can help the customer in need.
We’ve been focusing mainly on Twitter in this talk, but you can’t always depend on @mentions to cover all your bases. It’s important to train your social staff in the art of Social Listening. Monitoring hashtags, your brand’s name, and important keywords can point you to conversations about you that aren’t directed TO you.
Now would be a good time for Postmates to jump into this conversation, for example. Timeliness is always key.
The longer they have to wait to fix a problem, the worse the issue is going to become. Plus, the earlier you bake this into your culture, the easier it’s going to be down the road. The social team shouldn’t be second-class citizens at your company, but an important part of an existing team in your org.
This can change depending on what the focus of your brand is: if you’re a web service, your customer service person might be a part of your dev or engineering teams. Or perhaps they’re a function of PR or Marketing. The important part is they are empowered to be an effective change agent.
Why is this so important? Have you ever been on a customer service call where you’re constantly being sent up the chain to the next manager? Just so you can get something pretty simple fixed?
This is the internet. We’re supposed to be more efficient than that. It’s what customers expect when they reach out to you online. A well-oiled machine. With careful attention to the needs and to the tone of your customers online, you can take a bad situation and potentially have a greater outcome than if they had never complained in the first place.
And that sounds crazy counterintuitive, right? Like, shouldn’t you get it right the first time and not have to field any complaints? Clearly, no one and no company is perfect. But with the right attitude, both you and your customer can come out on top.
And finally, if someone writes a compliment on social media praising you, give them some love in return! Ignoring a user in that moment is also a huge missed opportunity to make a fan for life.
Making a Fan in the Moment of Failure: Hearing your customers on social media
Making a Fan in the
Moment of Failure
Hearing your customers on social media
Empathy, Tone-matching, and the
consumers, 87 percent indicate
that the online social interaction
with the company ‘positively
impacted’ their likelihood to
purchase from that company.”
- J.D. Power McGraw Hill Financial
Customer Service Empathy
Where your social voice should live
“A little empathy can go a long
way. Customers are generally
frustrated when seeking support,
and showing them compassion
creates a better customer
- Chelsea Larsson, Zendesk
I love Zendesk! Me too!
“When a brand has chemistry
with a customer, it creates an
advocacy effect. Satisfied
customers share the love of
your brand online.This is the
basis for the promoter
economy that’s crucial to
business success today.”
- Chelsea Larsson, Zendesk
Probably a fan for life because his order issue was resolved
Stay on top of your
brand on social
31% of brand mentions on Twitter DO NOT include
your company’s handle!
Reply like a human
Your customers are looking for empathy as well as
having their needs met.
Time is of the
The more time you waste, the angrier your customer
Give social some
Autonomy to help in a meaningful way.
Respond to positive
Ignoring someone in that moment is also a huge missed
opportunity to make a fan for life!