I've said this before, and I'll continue to say it—social media for the sake of social media is pointless. If you really want to "own" this thing we call customer service in the social media world, you need to understand one thing: It has to drive revenue. It can drive revenue in any form:
- It can save money.
- It can earn money.
- It can bring in new clients who will spend money.
- It can cut costs and let you keep more of the money you're already earning.
But at the end of the day, customer service must generate revenue. End of story, case closed, go start the car.
Here's the ultimate, absolute kicker: Ready? It's really not so hard to do. Honestly. So, let's talk about it. How do we do it before they're even customers?
Find Out Where Your Customers Are
The First Rule: Before they're even customers, find out where the heck they are.
Casey Stengel, the manager of the 1969 New York Mets, was once asked how the team had such an amazing winning season. He thought for a second and then responded, "Well, we hit 'em [the baseball] where they [the opposing players] ain't." In other words, the Mets won ballgames by making sure to get hits. How did they get hits? By hitting the ball to places where the opposing team members weren't.
Your job is to do the opposite. Hit 'em where they are. So, before your customers are even customers, how do you use social media to find them?
The answer is simple: Know your customers before they're your customers by finding out where your current customers are. Creating a company page on LinkedIn won't do a lot for you if all of your current customers only use Facebook.
So, to paraphrase Casey Stengel: How do you find potential new customers and convert them into current customers? "Hit 'em where they are." Find your current audience's hangouts, and start there.
But, that raises several questions: in a world full of fractured media—where people have multiple options to receive their email each day in different formats, genres, and paths—how do you know how to reach them? How do you find the right way to contact them? Where should you go to make sure your audience is not only receiving your information, but also responding to it and acting on it?
In other words, how do you know where to reach your oh-so-coveted audience?
The answer is surprisingly simple: Ask your audience how they like to get their information.
How does your audience like to get their information? Twitter and Facebook? A podcast and an RSS feed? The New York Times and BusinessWire? Telegraph? Whichever way they choose to get their information, you'd better know. And you'd better make sure you're doing regular updates to see if anything's changed.
If you're just getting your feet wet in the social media space, talk to your most trusted clients and customers. Ask them where they go. Ask them where they hang out online. (You'll see several repetitive themes here—asking is way, way underrated.) You want to know where your best customers spend their time. Why? Because that's probably where your potential customers are, as well.
Take good notes. The information you get from your best customers will be goldmines. Here are some questions to ask your best customers:
- How did they first find out about you?
- Where do they spend most of their time online?
- Do they use social networking? In what capacity?
- What kind of mobile phone do they have? (You think this is too nitty-gritty? Well, if for some reason, 85% of your audience DOES NOT carry a smartphone, investing in mobile campaigns might be jumping the gun and a waste of money right now.)
- Where does your audience hang out online?
- Where does your audience hang out offline?
- How would your audience prefer you communicate with them? (This is an important question—the answers from this alone, if appropriately understood and used, can double or triple your sales overnight.)
- How socially active are your customers online? Unless you're selling party equipment, you don't need to know how socially active they are, well, socially.)
And so on, and so on. If they're truly your best customers, ask them and they'll be willing to share. Don't bombard them, but get some information out of them. Then look at that info. Are you seeing patterns?
- Are most of them on Facebook? Twitter? LinkedIn? Foursquare?
- Do they prefer email?
- Do they have smartphone devices?
- Do they text? Email? Both?
- Do they have kids? (Ask this because, if they don't know how to use the features of their new smartphone they got for Christmas, their kids surely do.)
- Or, by chance, are they part of the 21% of the United States that's NOT on the Internet?
This is the kind of data you want and the kind of information you can use to start building your customers' social profiles. That social profile will enable you to target the right areas and get to the right places. For you, those right places are, simply like Casey said, where they are.
Chances are, where your customers currently are is the place you're going to start finding new ones. So that's the first rule: Hit 'em where they are.
The second rule: Listen.
I don't think anyone would argue that right now, the number-one real-time social media listening device is Twitter, with Facebook a close second and closing the gap daily. The ability to listen to your audience (or your competitors' audiences) in real time, as they complain, compliment, or just talk in general terms about your industry is unprecedented. Take full advantage of it.
Use the free tools at your disposal to listen in: Tweetdeck is one of the best and easiest ways to listen to multiple conversations about multiple topics in real time.
Head to Facebook and start searching for your company name and for your competitors' names. Don't forget to include popular misspellings!
Use Google alerts (http://news.google.com) to find the same things in the blogosphere, as well as what you might have missed when you were sleeping or not paying attention. (Face it, we all have to watch http://www.tmz.com at some point in our day. It can't all be work.)
From a simple glance on Tweetdeck, Google, or Twitter, I can see who's talking about my company, who's mentioning my name, who's talking about my industry, and what the hot trending topics currently are. It's quite easy, and I can leave it running on my desktop, glancing at it a few times an hour for a few seconds at a time. There's literally no easier way to take an immediate pulse of any topic in which you might be interested, professionally, personally, or otherwise.
What are potential customers saying? Are they complaining about the way a competitor does business? If so, is there a way to engage them and turn them into customers for you? (We discuss this later in the book.)
Like any construction worker or contractor, you want to use the tools that work best for the situation in which you find yourself.
Let's go back to the first rule for a second (finding out where your customers are): Once you know where your audience is, it's a lot easier to reach them.
Again, we should go back and remember the "ask your current customers questions" rule. They're already your customers! Asking them a question or two won't hurt! In fact, it'll help. (I bring that up again because it's relevant again, and it always will be.)
It could be something as simple as, "Are you on Facebook?" Or perhaps, "Do you tweet?" Afraid to even go there? Ask them simply, "How do you get your information?" They'll talk. Trust me, they'll talk. Simple questions like that will tell you where your audience is. Stop asking people for their home numbers. Ask for their mobile numbers, and only their mobile numbers. Ask them if they text. (Betcha they do.) Find out if they use any GPS on their devices.
Consider it covert ops. But know that you don't have to be covert about it at all. So, I guess you could consider it...ops. Just ops. Tell all your employees as well. There's nothing wrong with everyone asking the occasional question or two. Good operatives ask questions. That's what they do. Haven't you ever watched a James Bond movie? Villains (and for that matter, customers) just love to talk. It makes them feel important. Why do you think James Bond always gets out of those sticky situations? Because the villain has some random need to tell Mr. Bond exactly how he's going to kill him, what he's going to do once Bond is dead, and how he's going to escape.
The REALLY smart wanna-be worldwide dominators and psychopaths would be smart to just shut the heck up once in a while, no? But anyway, I digress. Ask your customers questions, and get them talking. And, hey—taking notes every once in a while wouldn't hurt, either.
Devise a Plan to Reach Your Customers
The third rule: Once you know where your customers are, devise a plan to get them.
There's a survivalist named Les Stroud. He used to have a TV show called Survivorman, on which he'd go out into the jungle, or a snow-covered tundra, or the top of a mountain. He'd be there, all alone, for one week, having to film the entire ordeal himself. Totally fun show. The part I loved the most, though, was how he always managed to make things out of nothing. He'd be in the hottest spot in Africa, yet he'd find a way to make water out of sand. And the coolest thing was that he'd show you what he was doing, so you could do it, too! You know, just in case you ever randomly found yourself in the hottest spot in Africa. I usually find myself at my local pizza shop, but if the whole place ever just randomly turned to sand, I'd be set for water, thanks to Survivorman.
Point being, you can't just find your audience and then walk to where they are and start talking to them. You have to have a plan. You have to do something I call LLR: Listen, listen, react.
You want to listen to your audience, then listen to the response your audience gets, and then react with something that provides value to both parties. Some quick examples and lessons follow:
Example: When a passenger complained via Twitter about Airline A making an unscheduled landing at an unexpected destination with no valid way to get the passenger home that day, the airline could have listened and immediately reacted. They didn't. In fact, they didn't say anything at all. They stayed silent, reacting by not reacting and ignoring the pleas of the customer. Airline B listened to the complaining customer, listened for a reaction from the Airline A, and when they didn't hear one offered the customer a flight leaving an hour later—at no cost. The customer is now a huge fan of Airline B, tells everyone who will listen how great they are, and travels a few hundred thousand miles on Airline B each year. Quite the financial windfall for Airline B. How could Airline A have staved off such a poach? By listening and responding. They did neither, and Airline B has a new customer. Perhaps more importantly, Airline A doesn't have that customer anymore.
Lesson: To grow, listen, and respond.
Example: When a restaurant in the Midwest saw more and more of its current customers using a new geo-location game called Foursquare, they hopped on the bandwagon to figure out what it was all about. They discovered that their best customers were coming to their restaurants more often than those who didn't use the game. Those customers were visiting often to gain "status" on the game at this particular restaurant. So, the restaurant threw its own prizes into the mix and attracted more customers than it ever thought possible.
Lesson: To try something new, listen, and respond.
Example: When a small flower shop wanted to drum up some new business, they created a Facebook fan page and encouraged their current customers to post their best reasons for giving or receiving flowers. When they posted, each fan was given a code to use for a few dollars off his next flower purchase. Some of the stories written were so good that they got passed around—and each one had the flower store name included. Result? New customers through old customers.
Lesson: To build, listen, and respond.
So now they're your customers....
Congratulations! They've bought something! That's always a nice feeling. But now what? Just because they're customers doesn't mean they'll stick around. Remember that other companies sell the same things you do. You've got to be better.
Following are some additional ideas for reaching your customer:
As the Sale Is Happening
Remember the rule listen, listen, react. Ask questions. Are you on Twitter? Do you use Facebook? Would you care to follow us/fan us? One online store will automatically deduct a dollar from your order if you become a fan on Facebook. How do they do that? They have a new coupon code each day on the fan page. If you go to the fan page and enter it, it takes a dollar off the price. That's an easy way to gain some valuable insight about your new client while adding a fan. Additionally, it makes the customer happier because she saved a buck!
I know a small bottled water company that personally includes thank-you notes written by the packers for each new customer the first time they buy their water. It's just a quick note, explaining how they're happy to have them as a customer and look forward to serving them again in the future, but it makes a world of difference.
Zappos almost always upgrades to free overnight shipping on a customer's first order. Why? Because they want you back, and they want you happy, and they want you sharing those emotions!
A diamond dealer started giving out little flip-cams (www.theflip.com) to his best customers to let them record the look on their wife's or girlfriend's face when they opened up the small little box. He posted some online and got rave reviews. The cost? Each camera is about $100.
What can you do—what little thing can you do—to make a customer happy that they purchased from you? Remember that happy customers talk online second only to unhappy customers. You want to tip the scales in your favor.
Customer service has changed dramatically thanks to social media. Now more than ever, the little things matter even more than the big things because it's easy to get people to talk about the little things for you.
Right now—as you're reading this—come up with three little changes that don't cost you much (if any) money that you can implement today to make your customers smile and talk about what a nice surprise they received from you. Go ahead. I'll wait.
I can implement the following ideas right now:
SeamlessWeb.com, an online food delivery service in several major cities, lets you tweet your order right after you buy it. "I'm starving, but getting Ray's Pizza delivered, thanks to Seamless Web!" You know they can monitor who's tweeting when and back it right up.
If your customer is ordering online, it's easy to put a "tweet this!" button next to the order. People love to share when they buy stuff—perhaps it makes them less likely to regret spending the money.
Once the Sale Is Complete
Mom always told me to write a thank-you note. I hated them, but what an impression they made. Thank-you notes are great for countless reasons. They make you think of the person sending them, sometimes a few weeks after the initial transaction. They're a physical object that is received via mail, yet almost no one sends them anymore. Today? The mail is primarily bills and junk. All the real stuff happens on email. Or does it?
What would happen if, every time a new customer bought from you, you sent a thank-you card to her? Not after every purchase, but the first time. What if the card had a code for 10% off the second purchase, as a thank you?
Every time I call my concierge at American Express for something, I get a follow-up email a few days letter asking how what they did for me was. Did I enjoy the dinner they reserved? Did my mom like the flowers they sent?
They're always striving for improvement. You can, too. Doing so will result in repeat visitors and word-of-mouth action.
If the product is physical in nature, ask for photos of it in action! Tifosi makes really nice sports sunglasses. After I received a pair, they emailed me to invite me to submit photos of me wearing the sunglasses during a race. I did, and it made the front page of their fan page. It didn't take long to do, and everyone got a little happier from the experience. Check them out here: http://3.ly/EyNT
I'm a huge fan of SportBeans, which are jelly beans designed for people who do strenuous workouts—adventure racers, marathoners, triathletes, and so on. When I signed up to complete my first Ironman, I knew I'd have a lot of training ahead of me. So I emailed SportBeans, told them I kept a blog where I wrote about my training, and asked if I could somehow get them involved.
Two emails later, four huge boxes of SportBeans showed up, along with racing shirts, a cap, and a few water bottles.
SportBeans fan for LIFE, yo! And think about this: not only do they get the knowledge that I'm going to tweet about it (which I did) or mention it on Facebook (which I did), but I also now have clothing to wear during my race. And, of course, what happens as I race? Photos get taken, which get uploaded to my blog and to Facebook and to friends' Facebook pages. And they now all have giant SportBeans logos floating across the middle of their pages. Not bad as a result of my email, is it?
And by the way, other companies who are doing this right are listening to what their competitors are doing. What does this mean? It means they're doing it and you're not. If I could wag my finger at you through this book, you know I'd be doing it right now. Come on, now. No one likes to have a finger wagged at them. So to avoid that, here are a few more examples of things you can do to trounce your competition and assume that first customer becomes a customer for life and, more importantly, does your PR for you!
I showed up at a Sheraton Hotel a little while back and found waiting for me in my room not just the regular "here's a bottle of water" that one would normally get, but a plate of fruit and a few PowerBars. Why? Because someone at the Sheraton Overland Park in Kansas City had taken the time to research me. I'm one of their most loyal customers, but they went above and beyond. They found that I had a blog at www.shankman.com and had mentioned that I was training for an Ironman. The Sheraton included a note saying how much they like my blog and if I needed anything, to call them. Check it here: http://twitter.com/petershankman/statuses/14734644857.
That blew my mind. So the first thing I did was tweet about how spectacular that hotel was. I mean, come on, they read my blog!!
Ask yourself this question:
With the information your new customer has given you, what can you do to make that customer feel special? What can you to do make this transaction "the transaction of the day" for him?
I'll take it a step further. What kind of homework can you do on your client before he even buys/steps foot in/checks in/walks through the door/makes the purchase? What can you tell him about him? And not in a creepy-stalker kind of way, either!
I know a woman who runs a shopping service for men. When a man calls her looking for the perfect gift for his wife, not only does she help, but she also sends a "top-ten-ways-not-to-screw-up-your-anniversary" PDF file that she wrote a long time ago. The article is written tongue-in-cheek, and all of her customers get a kick out of it. A lot of them forward it to their friends, and of course, on the bottom, is her website and contact info.
Can you write a quick article that you can send out as a "pre-thank-you?"
There's a restaurant in Manhattan I go to from time to time. Not a lot, and I'm certainly not what they'd call a frequent diner. But one day, I walked in and there was quite a line. I mentioned to my friend that we should go somewhere else and started to turn away. The person behind the desk came over to us when he noticed we were leaving and said, "Hey guys, there's a bit of a wait, but why don't you have a drink at the bar on us? What's your name? We'll let you know when a table is ready."
It cost them the price of a drink, but it kept us there for dinner and made us loyal. We go there more often now. That, of course, leads to better treatment and recognition, which is what we all desire, anyway. What do you desire? Can you give it to your customers? Chances are, they desire it, too.
You want that first customer to "go loyal" from the second she walks in. Customers who "go loyal" are more likely to blog, post, Facebook, and so on and are more likely to become influencers for their friends. You want to spot the person in the group to whom all the others turn for questions and advice. Treat that person well, and she'll do your PR for you. And again, that's your goal—both online and off.
Think really hard. You know this has happened to you in the past. The key is remembering how you felt at that point and turning it around so your customers feel the same way.
Remember how you felt when you got your last airline upgrade? Or when you got the free drink or someone got you in without waiting in line? Remember how you wanted to tell people that so fast and share it with the world? Welcome to that world—you can do that now. Social media will get it there. And you don't even have to ask your customers or clients to do it. They'll want to do it to simply show how well they were treated!
Look around and ask everyone near you to raise their hands if they DON'T have a camera installed in their phone.
Or worse, you probably aren't even reading this book around other people. You are alone; in front of your computer; or reading this on a Kindle, an iPad, or an iPhone. Okay, if that's the case, post it in your status, "Hey, @petershankman wrote this book I'm reading and he asked everyone to tell if they don't have a camera in their phone. Anyone reading this NOT have a camera in their phone?"
Then watch no one comment.
So, if everyone's walking around with a camera in their phone and a way to transmit, then that means that everyone's a journalist. And if everyone's a journalist, then everyone has to be treated like a journalist.
And I pretty much guarantee you that if Larry King or Bill O'Reilly walked into your restaurant, you'd give him a free drink while you cleared a table.
Do you have to do that for everyone? Of course not. But simply "reacting nicer" is one of the easiest ways to go about starting that shift.
"Sitting at the bar, having a drink because my table isn't ready" could easily turn into "Sitting at TaCocina; they just gave me a free drink because my reservation was delayed! Sweet!"
When was the last time you heard anyone say "Sweet!" in conjunction with "My reservation was delayed!" Win!
Even the simplest things can make the biggest differences. The thank-you card is one example: "Thank you, @petershankman, for becoming part of the <company name> family." I don't care how big your company is, you're not so automated that you can't figure out a way to thank your new customers. This is how you turn them into fans for life.