Here are some sights and scenes from one wicked cool tradeshow.
Once upon a very good time for the limousine industry, reservations were booked in person and over the telephone. Then came a little big thing called the Internet that changed the way people around the world communicate, receive information and conduct business. Many companies today have websites, online reservations and communicate with clients through email.
Now there’s a little big thing called the social network, and it’s consuming more and more of people’s time. But because it’s still a new species in cyberspace, companies aren’t sure how to use it for business. Some companies think social media is a one-way broadcast medium and don’t bother to engage their fans.
That view is a digital deathtrap. Ignoring a message on social media is just the same as ignoring an email or phone call, except it is amplified by the public nature of social networks. Other clients or prospects will take note of a company’s response, or lack thereof.
Customers call the shots
Businesses should consider social media an extension of their customer service outreach, because clients already do. It requires less effort for a customer to contact a company it’s connected to via social network than to visit the company’s website and look up contact information.
San Francisco-based tech company Zendesk discovered that 62% of consumers polled have used social media for customer service issues. 34% contacted travel and hospitality companies.
A BBC poll of 2,000 U.K adults in April 2012 revealed that 65% of respondents believed social media is a better way to communicate with companies than call centers. While social media is associated with Gen Y, 27% of respondents ages 55 and older used social media to contact a company.
DMG Consulting, a firm that focuses on call center and analytics research, said in a benchmark report published this year: “In the near future, all organizations will have to address social media. It will become the second most important servicing channel, whether companies are ready for it or not, because it is a very comfortable way for a growing percentage of the population to communicate.”
Del Rollo, national director of Visitor Experiences for Vincor Canada, the largest wine producer in Canada, says businesses that ignore social media communications are “missing the opportunity to have a deeper relationship with their consumers. When you create a deeper bond, you see an increase in sales and you also create ambassadors for your brand.”
Monitor the conversation
“In our opinion, customer service is a five-pronged activity: We recognize that we need to educate, listen, learn, respond and most importantly service customers/prospective consumers,” says Alysia Morris of Redding, Conn.-based Absolute Transportation.
“Social media affords us the opportunity to do all of these things on a broad scale. [In the past], we would have only been able to reach a targeted local audience with traditional advertising and at a much higher cost.”
The first step to using social media as an extension is to monitor the conversation around the brand at all times.
Crispin Bottomley, office manager and community liaison for Niagara Classic Transport, monitors the company’s Twitter and Facebook accounts throughout the day and responds to any questions addressed to the company.
“Our goal is to provide clients with the same level of service regardless of the channel they choose to interact with us,” Bottomley says. “If someone puts a request on Twitter or messages us on Facebook, we get back to them. We don’t leave it on our page unanswered for a few days. It does require you to check social media often, but that’s become part of the evolution of communication between companies and customers.”
Niagara Classic has some frequent travelers who send reservation requests through Twitter because they’re most comfortable using that to communicate. “Because we know their habits, the amenities they like and where they live, all they do is tweet their flight information and dates, and we will take care of them,” he says. “In 140 characters or less, they can book a reservation.”
What sets companies apart
Bill Faeth, president of Inbound Marketing Agents, a firm that specializes in lead generation and conversion through inbound marketing methods such as blogging and social media, speculates that very few operators are using social media for customer service.
The ability to communicate with customers in real time through social media is a great tool operators can leverage to build brand loyalty. He uses the example of Comcast, which, about three years ago, took to Twitter to answer complaints about the company. When customers tweeted about a late technician or having to skip work to stay home for the eight-hour service window, Frank Eliason, Comcast’s director of digital care at the time, responded to resolve the issue. He pioneered the trend of using social media as a customer service tool.
In a 2009 Bloomberg article, Eliason said: “[Twitter] is a little more personal. More back-and-forth discussions, and it’s less formal. And it gives immediacy to interactions.
Social media engagement with clients enhances the entire customer experience. In an age where technology has evened the playing field, customer experience sets companies apart the most.
If no one in your market is using social media to reach out to and help clients, then you might as well be the first one to take advantage of it, Faeth says. “It will differentiate your company from your competitors.”
Which social network to select
With so many different social networks to choose from, the best path to take is to start with one or two. The obvious options are Facebook and Twitter because of the sheer number of users and activity level. But sites such as LinkedIn, Pinterest, Foursquare and Google+ are also worth exploring.
But when it comes to customer service and real-time engagement, Twitter wins hands down because it’s the easiest place to engage clients, Faeth says. It allows companies to easily track any conversations that involve their brand.
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