"Customer service is the new marketing."
I've probably tweeted that a dozen times, and I think about it almost every day. But social media conferences - and the practitioners who attend them - have continued to be divided into two tribes as if they were playing Survivor: the Marketing tribe and the Customer Service tribe.
Well customer service finally had its day at the recent Social Media Marketing World conference in San Diego. Not only was it woven into many presentations and panels that were intrinsically about marketing, two superb keynote speakers hit the point home - hard.
While my fingers could hardly keep up with the demands of real-time tweeting, I managed to capture a good deal of the fantastic advice doled out by numerous social media experts. Here are some of the best ideas, curated from my tweets:
John DiJulius Keynote
If you don't already know or follow John DiJulius (@JohnDiJulius), the passionate president of The DiJulius Group, you should. John is one of the world's foremost experts on customer service across all channels, not just social media. But, he says, "social media has turned customer service upside down."
The first step to developing a customer service culture within your company, John says, is to "create a Customer Service Vision Statement and incorporate it into every role and channel." The purpose of the Vision Statement is to gain consensus across the entire organization on what your brand stands for, how it approaches customer service, and how customers should expect to be treated.
Next, "create a simple list of Never(s) and Always." The list should pertain to your specific business, and also be shared broadly. Here are some examples he shared:
- When someone asks where something is located, NEVER point. ALWAYS show them.
- When someone asks a question and you don't know the answer, NEVER say, "I don't know." ALWAYS say "I'll find out."
- When something goes wrong, NEVER make excuses. ALWAYS own up to mistakes.
Finally, "A smile should be part of every employee's uniform - even online," he says. If that sounds a little like Walt Disney World to you, it's because it is. Disney is famous for its happy, smiling employees, no matter what their role - ticket takers, shuttle drivers, or the person dressed as Cinderella. "World-class customer service starts at the top," John added, which was never more true than with Walt Disney himself.
When you do get started, and especially in social media, "Approach every customer service interaction with charitable intentions," says John. That means spending the time to listen to your customer, understand them, and fix their issue. The goal, he says, is that "while they may complain about what happened, they'll rave about how we handled it."
Ultimately, if you are successful, your brand can be the one "customers can't live without," making even price irrelevant.
Jay Baer Keynote
Jay Baer (@jaybaer) is perhaps best known for Social Pros podcast and best-selling book, Youtility, which advocates the idea that marketing content should be helpful rather than sales-oriented in order to drive greater customer loyalty. Now Jay has turned his attention to the world of customer service, in particular those scary people we refer to as haters. His advice, and the title of his upcoming new book? Hug Your Haters.
The first step toward "hugging your haters" is taking the time to actually find them, because sometimes they aren't directly @mentioning your brand. "Haters are the canary in the coal mine - the early warning detection system," Jay says.
The second step is to acknowledge that "haters aren't the problem; ignoring them is."
"You can choose to ignore your haters or you can embrace them," Jay says. But when customers are upset and you ignore them, you make them doubly upset. It's like "throwing gas on a fire of your own creation." And importantly, answering customer complaints increases customer advocacy, while the inverse is true too.
The third step is my favorite: "Answer every complaint in every channel, every time." Too many complaints is not an excuse for not responding. (My advice: address the root cause of the problem and the complaints will stop.)
Jay also introduced two types of haters: Offstage Haters, who complain in 1-to-1 channels like phone or e-mail in hopes of getting an answer; and Onstage Haters, who complain in social media first in hopes of getting an audience. When you fail Offstage Haters, you create Onstage Haters. 62% of complaints start in 1-to-1 channels, but those that are ignored go to social media, according to Jay's new research. (Anecdotally, I'm seeing a shift toward social as the channel of first resort - perhaps driven by millennials who don't care to talk on the phone - as customers learn that it's one of the fastest and most efficient service channels.)
To sum it all up, Jay reminded the audience that "In every complaint, there's always a kernel of truth". Find it, fix it, and you too may learn to Hug Your Haters.
Random Tweetable Moments
Of course it's great when a John DiJulius or a Jay Baer can capture the attention of a huge audience as keynote speakers, but I also noticed many other speakers and panelists invoking the "customer service is the new marketing" mantra. Among them:
- Mari Smith (@MariSmith): "Service is the new social" and "I don't care for it when brands disable the ability for followers to leave comments on Facebook"
- Ted Rubin (@TedRubin): "Empower your people to ask, 'How can I serve you?'"
- Joel Comm (@joelcomm): "On social media and in real life, when you screw up, own it."
- Pam Moore (@PamMktgNut): "It's sad, but it is a delight when brands respond to us."
It's great to see so many leaders understanding that customer service is just as important as marketing in social media, and in fact can often become marketing. Questions, compliments, and even complaints provide opportunity for a brand to show off service as a competitive advantage while simultaneously engaging with their customers and advocates. Over time, we should see more brands participating, and more conferences highlighting this critical aspect of social.