In today's market, your brand and reputation aren't always safe from the scorn of disgruntled and social-media-savvy customers. Some of the best-known brands in the world have fallen prey to online discussions across the blog community, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other social channels.
As a result, reputation management in this new era of the digital-native customer has changed the way we view customer service.
Looking ahead is critical to managing social media communications and anticipating when something may go awry. In doing so, organizations can both take meaningful action early into a crisis and arrive at a better understanding of customer needs and behavior.
The key to this new approach is an unyielding commitment to interacting with the customer. Such customer service focuses more heavily on "listening" to your customers across different channels and rethinking how to use customer data to re-evaluate and alter your organizational structure (if need be) and flexibly adapt to the changes around you.
The following are four important steps toward achieving the ability to sidestep social media disasters.
1. Be realistic
Instituting a social media strategy doesn't mean you'll be able to control all that your customers say about your company, products, and services. However, it does mean that you'll have access to their interactions, discussions, and conversations.
Having accounts across the standard social media networks is a prerequisite to becoming an active participant in online conversations; at the same time, social listening tools can help you monitor the discussions.
Many marketers fail to connect the dots between conversations on social networks and other types of customer interactions, such as calls to your toll-free number or foot traffic into your branded retail store. Often, what customers are saying about your brand online can be closely correlated to their experiences across your organization's other channels.
2. Listen to customers across the channels
Having a multichannel strategy and a model for customer sales and service is a must. You can't pre-empt social-media public relations disasters if you're monitoring only social channels. Once a problem becomes visible as an obvious trend on social channels, it may already be too late to change.
The next step, therefore, is to create a more holistic and centralized approach to listening to the "voice of the customer" (VoC) across various channels, and move away from the more common, "siloed" approach. Ask yourself, where are your customers talking to you? Are you capturing all of these interactions and mining them for insights and potential trends before they go social?
Customers are talking to you when they interact with a retail associate in your brick-and-mortar store. Customer-focused companies like Best Buy ask their associates to record these discussions in free-form text so they can be mined later.
Customers are also talking to you when they dial your toll-free phone number, or engage in an online chat with a customer service representative. Many companies are recording not only audio calls coming into their contact centers but also text-based communications (e.g., emails and chat sessions) and mining them regularly using speech- and text-analytics solutions.
However, they're talking about you only when they directly mention your product or brand.
The challenge with social media data is separating the "signal" from the vast amounts of insignificant "noise," and that's where the potential lies for a public relations nightmare to develop.
Regardless, mining customer interactions—such as phone calls, emails, and chat sessions—can help identify real issues coming from your customers that are likely to thereafter go social, and possibly viral, before becoming obvious, public trends on social media channels.
Are you truly listening across these customer touch points? If not, it's time to create a complete map of VoC. And technology can help facilitate holistic monitoring and analytics that move you beyond simply "listening" to becoming an active participant who is following a broader strategy.
3. Rethink and revisit your VoC approach
The next step is to look at your data and evaluate the technology that you have in place for understanding customer behavior and listening to VoC.
What applications are you using to monitor and analyze interactions at the retail store, record and analyze customer-service calls, listen to conversations on social networks, and analyze how your customers navigate your website or buy online? Which of these applications, if any, share data? Which are siloed? How do you bring everything together?
At this point, you're probably thinking about your IT department. Certainly, invite them into the discussion. But remember, you're trying to understand not only what technologies have been deployed but also who owns the various pieces. Many large organizations have social media and Web-analytics teams, brand marketers, and IT groups. Bring everyone to the table.
Interestingly, many of the large, more customer- and technology-savvy businesses today have developed small VoC working groups, or centers of excellence, that are explicitly set up to help solve the problem of enterprisewide listening. The size of your organization will dictate what the groups look like, their functions, and their goals. But, regardless of the structure, many companies need an evangelist with the organizational authority to get all those diverse groups (with their individual needs and perspectives) going in the same direction. That leads us to the final major guideline.
4. Re-evaluate organizational structures and examine your flexibility
In the last several years, the role of the chief customer officer (CCO) has risen in prominence. The CCO sits adjacent to the leadership team and typically reports directly to the CEO. Ideally, the CCO role should have not only full support and commitment from executive leadership but also access to the people and data that drive customer experiences.
The CCO should take a holistic, organizational approach, functioning as an internal consultant and regularly collaborating with business units and departments across the organization. Having a customer champion helps ensure that someone wakes up every day focused on this vital topic. This leader and his or her group can also look beyond the current people, processes, and technologies in place to identify gaps in the customer-experience delivery chain.
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With the right approach, structure, processes, and supporting technologies in place, today's customer-centric organizations can track, analyze, and act on the insights they gain from the cross-channel voices of their customers.
That bodes well for today's marketers and the rest of the organization. We can all benefit from having a complete picture into customers' likes and dislikes, their needs, and the health of their relationships and experiences.