I am getting ready to head to Atlanta to speak at Usher’s New Look Foundation conference on social media and my main message is that at the end of the day, it’s all about relationships.
When it comes to the era of social media, where brands can have a new relationship with their customers, many miss the mark. Mostly because they are using old world marketing paradigms instead of seeing the social channels as a way to either build relationships and/or provide experiences. Too many brands see Twitter as an extension of their “customer service” function, which is a huge mistake.
What they need to realize is that customers, today, interact directly with a brand and want immediate responses to their issues. These customers want to have conversations directly with the company through these channels. What companies need to realize is that social customers know how to impact other customers on a large scale who are like them and use social channels that are not “controlled” by the brand.
There is a plethora of customer relationship management software and customer loyalty programs. Yet, many brands are stuck in the old world. The currency today when we interact with your brand is the experience. If we have a great experience with a restaurant, hotel or airline, we are likely to come back. Yes, many times we do get suckered in by loyalty programs but we are also likely to switch brands when the experience fails us.
This is the Time to Engage; Not Service or Broadcast
Imagine a time when a customer can tweet they are having a poor experience at a hotel. This is an opportunity for real time action. The role of the person who is responsible for being the brand’s voice on Twitter, for example, is critical. And too often, the person misses opportunities for true customer relationship management. As who knows who they have the delegated the function of “tweeting” versus being the key relationship builder?
On my vacation in December, I tweeted photos and provided positive comments about my get away in Thailand on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Foursquare. As a result, a number of people in my network have already asked me for more information about The Naka Island as they are looking for a great vacation spot. (And I haven’d had a chance to add my reviews to other sites and travel communities yet).
Missed Opportunities: Listening and Responding with Cookie Cutter Responses
My last stop on this holiday was Singapore and I decided to be a loyal Starwood customer and stay at the St Regis, especially since I have always had a great experience at the SF property. This was a real mistake on many levels as it was a poor experience and even a worse failure on the social customer “experience” or lack of it.
After not being able to talk to the Manager on Duty at the hotel because they “were busy with other guests,” I expressed my disappointment on Twitter and sent a note to Starwood. This was a huge missed opportunity for them. They responded quickly online. But they were ineffective. They provided cookie cutter responses and did not listen. Their response was to send me an email letting me know they will credit my account with more points and send the GM my follow up email. How does that help my poor experience?
They had an opportunity to have the local management respond directly when I was still staying at their hotel. And after expressing my disappointment to the manager when she finally called me back after 35 minutes, I never heard back from the hotel management during my stay. My expectations were low especially after my call with her where she said in an exasperated voice “I understand you have some feedback on your stay.” All that went through my head when I heard her comment was “Wow, did she really just say that she wants feedback or does she want to know how they can make it up to me?”
When I was checking out and mentioned to the bellman in the elevator that I was thankful I set the alarm on my mobile device as I never got my 4:00 am wake up call, he apparently told the manager. The manager came out and instead of apologizing told me they had it on record as a 4:15 wake up call and they are working on checking their records. Here is a live opportunity to try to recover; not be defensive. I don’t really care how their internal operations work. I am on vacation and want NO drama. I want to get the experience I am paying for.
Brands really need to think about who they give the keys to their customers.
As he walked me to the taxi, he shared with me that he read that email that they were sent by their brand Twitter person (@starwoodbuzz). So, he just told me they had the information to go out of their way while I was staying at their hotel and did nothing but investigate. This is not about customers giving feedback, it is about building a relationship, which means listening with action; not empty words.
Whoever manages the Twitter account is merely acting as the customer complaint department, which is a huge missed opportunity for the brand. Brands really need to think about who they give the keys to their customers.
As I was leaving the hotel in Singapore, the manager says “I hope you will give us another chance.” my response was “why?” Think about the customer. The response to my tweet was an email that told me they will address my concerns with … More points … But I wanted a great end to my vacation. I left with a poor experience that no one addressed while I was at the property. I don’t want to be marketed to. I want an excellent customer experience.
So What’s the Bottom Line?
But let’s get back to reality. I am pretty grateful for all I have and that I have built for myself so far. I do not take it for granted. I just want simplicity.
My advice is to use the tools that enable your strategy. Whether you are an aspiring rapper or poet or an entrepreneur in Kenya or a big brand like Starwood. It’s all about relationships! Don’t focus on the tools but where they will help you get to.
I am getting ready for this trip and I chose not to fly with United even though I am a million mile flyer with them … because I had a choice and I have a voice. I will tweet about it …