Customer care online: why we need to build robust customer care platforms on social media

This post was originally published on LinkedIn

While most organisations use some form of CRM tool or another, and use social media for marketing, it has become extremely important in these days to have an equally strong team taking care of your customers online or on social media. For every piece of content you post on social media, be ready to answer a product issue on the same thread. Customers of your product are increasingly becoming tech savvy and hope to have their issues sorted quicker on the social platforms. In a way, this is the place they come to as an escalation of their existing grievances, not to mention for lodging new complaints.

In 2015, Gartner, an information technology research and advisory company, had reported that ‘by 2018, more than 50 percent of organizations will implement significant business model changes in their efforts to improve customer experience.’ It seems that in 2016, companies are already in the process of changing business processes to improve customer experience, especially on social media.

So who takes care of your social media handles?

If you have outsourced it to an external team, and not a dedicated care resource, you are, may be, losing out on a stellar chance to improve on your online reputation. And that may have long term repercussions that you may not have thought about. A recent research by customer engagement company, Genesys Interactive Intelligence, suggested that 87% of consumers claim that their brand loyalty is affected by how a brand responds to them in the social media.

Online customer care plan

Yes, no matter how many customer contact points you may have, you will need a robust plan in place for dealing with customer queries on social media. It will need dedication and empathy of a care executive to plan and execute the offerings that will be part of your online care strategy. Some of the things you will need to put in place for this will be: who will answer the queries, how many times a day will the executive be online, what are the platforms that will form the crux of this care outreach programme, what will be the turnaround time for an executive to answer a customer query, what will be the escalation process etc.

Choosing the right platform

So what can be the most important platform for dealing with customers on social media? The common consensus is of course the private messaging services offered by the platforms. From Facebook to Twitter, platforms are experimenting with ways of engaging with the audience through direct messaging, and it’s time for you to jump into the bandwagon, if you haven’t already done so. As more and more customers are choosing social media messaging to talk to the brands, at this time private messaging is seen as the preferred choice of communication between organisations and their audience. As suggested by a report, over 90% of the conversations on social media are one to one.

Using social care data

Another important part of social care offered online is of course the data. Social care data can help brands in pre-empting potential crisis situations, and understand customer preferences. Social media data is also relevant in understanding what your customers are talking about competition, industry, and many things more. Your social care strategy needs to cater for data management and analysis as well as integrate it with your overall business objectives.

 “Statistics suggest that when customers complain, business owners and managers ought to get excited about it. The complaining customer represents a huge opportunity for more business.” — Zig Ziglar

Advertisements

The Long Road to Build a Product Community

 

Every Product Needs a Community

A great product needs a community, or let me put it this way, every product needs a community to help sustain it. In this day of instant access to social media and news, the only way to leverage the power of word of mouth for a product may be through its community, and it’s time organisations start building communities around their products to propel it to a path to success.

“A community is a social unit of any size that shares common values, or that is situated in a given geographical area (e.g. a village or town).” -Wikipedia

In the world of virtual connections, online communities are the platforms for brands to nurture product-centric conversations and build a great reputation amongst the customers. Working as an instant source of information, online communities these days can be built by brands to encourage their users to comment, discuss, advice or collaborate on their user experiences around the product.

Brands Need to Proactively Nurture Communities

Says Gary Vaynerchuk, an author, speaker and a social media expert, in Go Big on Community Management, “Community management goes way beyond customer service and crisis management. Making human connections is absolutely crucial to the success of your business. There is no avoiding it.”

Why a Company Needs To Create and Manage a Community

While nurturing a community may not be what every organisation indulges in, but what no organisation can deny is the fact that there does exist a community of people behind every brand, whether the brand can identify it or not. This community is made of the company’s customers, and their loyal supporters, and may be their detractors as well. These are people who find the company products useful, and would like to engage with the fellow users of the products as well. It depends on the organisation to set the pace on how they would like to herald such people together, offer them a discussion platform and listen and learn from their conversations about the products.

How a Product Community Differs From Any Other Community

A product community differs from any other online forum or community only in its less tolerant approach to any other discussions, except on the products itself. These communities are more focused on customer support, product related queries and discussions on every other aspects with existing users of the products.

How to Build a Product Community

It is not easy to build a product community. It takes concentrated effort from the organisation is creating, promoting, and nurturing a community over a long period of time, before customers begin troop in to join into discussions centring around a product. While the Internet is forever buzzing with communications surrounding the product, channelling all that communication into a single platform may seem difficult, if not impossible. You cannot simply force your customers to come to your company simply because you want them to. As a brand, you have to develop a face and an environment of trust in your community, where customers can say everything they wish to talk about your brand. Most important community development happens when a brand engages with the customers actively, in listening and solving actively the customer issues voiced in the platform.

The Role of a Community Manager

A community manager plays an important part in adding a human face for the brand in the conversations on the community, as well as listening and moderating the discussions on the platform. He/she is the person who develops an environment surrounding the community, develops a coordinated way of answering on behalf of the brand by all the brand representatives, address the customer concerns raised in these platforms, and mitigate potentially disruptive situations that may arise out of any heated discussion.

Using Owned versus Existing Platforms

Should you use an existing community platform like Facebook or Quora? Is a social media platform a better place to create a product community than an owned platform? What can be the pros and cons of the platforms?  Says Patrick Groome in ‘Product Community vs. the Social Community: Which Is Better?’, ‘There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach that is guaranteed to work for your company, and there are a few things you should consider before deciding what kind of community you want to have.’ While owned community can give you greater control over the conversations, and allow you to do a hard sell, organisations will still have to be careful in setting the right environment, or may run into trouble from the word ‘go’. Social media platforms, on the other hand, offers an existing space to develop a community for almost non-existent expenditure. And yet efforts to build a community on both the platforms remain almost as much, especially if your brand is struggling to establish an online identity.

Have a different thought about building online communities? I would love to hear from you. Do share your thoughts in the comments section.

Corporate Branding, Facebook and Terrorist Attack in France

Where you one of numerous people who had changed their profile picture on Facebook to reflect the French national flag, to show your solidarity with France, as it battled with one of its most bloodied terrorist attack that killed more than 120 people?

facebook Profile Photo courtesy: gloveo.com
Facebook Profile Photo Courtesy: gloveo.com

When Facebook allowed users to add a French national flag to their profile photos, my newsfeed got flooded with my family members and friends who did that. Exactly like the last time when Facebook allowed us to put Indian flag colours on our profile pictures, after Indian PM Narendra Modi visited the Facebook headquarters. That time, users were asked to support Digital India. Only days later there was a huge controversy over this move by Facebook, with allegations against the brand for using the temporary profile picture as a support for its Internet.org, touted to be much against the concept of net neutrality. The controversy took such proportions that Facebook had to come out with an explanation that the changing a profile picture is not equivalent to supporting Internet.org.
But that was then, and this is now. And sadly, once again, changing profile picture in solidarity with the French tragedy is facing a lot of flak. Says a report on Independent, ‘Euro-centrism – a worldview which centres and places overemphasised importance on the West – reinforces its supremacy through actions like these… If you want to show true solidarity with those who’ve been wrongfully killed, the first step is to acknowledge and mourn their deaths equally and genuinely, not just because they’ve brought to your attention by a tech giant’s misguided marketing tool.’

So has corporate branding reached a new high, or a new low, depending on how you look at it? Since Facebook has just started to offer this feature of adding a coloured filter to your profile picture, can this be the new way for users to offer support, or is it simply armchair activism, a way to say I care, but only this much? An article on Wired reported, ‘Facebook has put itself in the business of ranking human suffering, and that’s a fraught business to be in.’

Photo: http://www.newzulu.com/
Photo: http://www.newzulu.com/

I tend to agree with French editor, Charlotte Farhan, who said, ‘I won’t be changing my profile to the French flag even though I am French and from Paris. The reason for this is that if I did this for only Paris this would be wrong. If I did this for every attack on the world, I would have to change my profile everyday several times a day. My heart is with the world, no borders, no hierarchy, I hold every human’s life with value who is attacked by extremist beliefs whether they are based on religion, prejudice or profit! Don’t be part of the “us and them” mentality which the war mongers want you to do!’ It’s no wonder her message got picked up by every newspaper around the world.

Tragedy of any proportion, man-made or natural, affecting few or many, is unfortunate. Most of the time, in our urge to do something concrete and yet not much time consuming, we land up picking up the first thing that comes our way in the name of support. Changing profile picture in Facebook is probably the easiest thing to do, corporate branding notwithstanding. A few clicks, and we land up feeling satisfied to have done something for the victims of the tragedy, and the social media platform records maximum engagement from users!! Do we feel good about it? Oh yes!! Does it help the victims or their families? No, sir. And yet around 100,000 people had changed their profile pictures on the platform, and the platform itself saw a spike of 3,000 times its regular traffic (Wired report), making it surely one of best engagement strategy for the company ever. This is corporate branding at its best, definitely.

No, I didn’t change my profile picture on Facebook, not now, and not much likelihood of doing that in future either. If there is a post on the French tragedy that moved me the most, it’s an Instagram post by karunaezara, ‘It’s time to pray for humanity. It is time to make all places beloved. It’s time to pray for the world.’

karunaezara
Photo courtesy: Instagram

What You Need to Know If You Are Blogging for Your Brand

If you are blogging for a brand, personal or that of your company, here are my tips to get you going:

Blogging

You will need to build an image in the virtual world that resonates with your target audience. If you are trying to woo today’s readers, let me tell they are extremely tech-savvy people, and mundane simplistic content doesn’t impress them.

Find your niche knowledge area and you can devote your writing on trending topics about your knowledge or expertise areas. Your emphasis can be setting a tone that you understand technology and is ready to share our proficiency to help your readers benefit.

Your business-related inputs need to be in tune with the time, and may include discussions about changing trends in HR, best practices in marketing, topics which may be discovered in Google news, or Twitter. You can write your opinion on any newsworthy item, with proper acknowledgement given to the original news source.

Go for a content calendar, if that makes you more organised in your blog posts. The content calendar is fine, but cannot be sacrosanct. It needs to remain dynamic to cash in on the breaking or most talked about news pieces in your domain.

You will be needing to use very good pictures, so must have access to great images. Paying for a good image site may be a good idea. Alternately, search for images especially marked for reuse or are under creative commons license.

Credentials of the author is important. Make sure you offer some good pieces to work with. Bad English, poor quality of work, or lack of knowledge in the bloggers will hurt our brand.

At the end of the day, as an avid blogger, I believe in using blogging to build an image, rather than only use it for marketing. Having a content strategy in place may help.

How Small Businesses Are Using Social Media to Generate Business

A friend of mine has a small jewellery boutique she runs out her house. The store stocks really stylish and fun pieces, and she uses social media platforms as her main source of advertising. Looking at way the small businesses use social media to sell their products, it makes me wonder at the scope of business these platforms offer to their users.

Exposure to a Larger Audience

Even when these businesses are not using the paid promotional posts, social media platforms are the best places to showcase their niche products to a large audience. A ‘like’ on the update and ‘share’ on the product photo actually works wonders for these businesses, which only depend on their organic reach of these posts for popularity. I guess it’s easy to be a big brand and pay your way to popularity on these pages, but if you are a small brand, it’s your unique posts and strength of your designs that carry you through. For a small business, even a thousand likes can turn into actual sales at a ratio far more favourable than inorganic reaches of promotional posts.

User Engagement Matters

I am often amazed by the way small businesses get users to engage with them. My friend’s page, for her brand Adorjo, is always a vibrant discussion of a day’s schedule, or a new trend, or even a discussion of the latest design. My very creative friend often uses mystery as an ingredient to a product launch. Her posts often read, ‘A sneak peek of our next collection, stay tuned,’ and is often added to an expertly designed product photo, that keeps the audience guessing about the nature of the upcoming jewellery designs.

Effective Use of Contests

No, the boutique page doesn’t use the social media contests as blatantly as the big brands. But often it coaxes its users to post photos of them wearing a designer piece, and I am always delighted to find a whole lot of buyers actually complying with the idea!! Yes, contests can have many forms, so long as you hit the pulse of your audience, the prize may be in participation itself.

Pictures Speak A Thousand Words

A food blogger friend of mine, who wanted to get some good shots for her own food blog, decided to master the art of photography, and now successfully runs an extremely popular and award-winning food blog as well as her own agency for food photography. Rekha’s social media presence is all about amazing photographs of food she has cooked, or arranged and designed. A set of good photographs can often take your social media presence to great heights.

Build Your Brand by Sharing Yourself

In this day of content strategies and automated posts on the social media channels, my friend Monica successfully has turned her social media page about her baking venture into a discussion about her likes, her taste in food, and the events she attends as a food entrepreneur. She keeps her audience hooked into her creations by sharing tit bits about her life. Her pages are full of everything that is her, and her brand’s page stands tall with a neat 6k followers waiting to hear the next thing from her.

I tend to agree that small entrepreneurs of today has got their social media pages so right, that too without any dedicated professional help, as they believe in one single most important thing, that it’s all about their audience, a point which some larger businesses are surely missing at this time.

Photo Courtesy: Flickr (Page by Rosaura Ochoa)

(Initially published this post on my LinkedIn profile)

Content Curation: a New Way to Establish Your Authority

If you check the internet for an information nugget, you are flooded by content from websites. Most likely if you will not need to proceed to the second page of Google on the topic, before you get what you want. In this flood of content, how to do you establish yourself as an authority in your niche business? Sharing relevant information with your audience is one such way to keep yourself abreast with the latest in your field, as well as establish your credentials as an authority for the same.

Pic Courtesy: www.flickr.com/photos/gleonhard
Pic Courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gleonhard

This is exactly what content curation is all about.

So how will you curate content? This is very simple, actually. You can do it through any of the social media channels or through a blog. All you need to do is decide on a theme and start collecting interesting articles on the theme. If you have a blog, it is possibly the best place to share the articles. But always remember, you will need permission to repost someone else’s work. But if you are just posting a link with a reference to the original work, I suppose that is acceptable.

I use Twitter to curate and share the content I want to keep a tab on. I often use a particular hashtag to create it. Right now I am curating content under #ContentStrategy. This is a great way to keep myself abreast with what everybody is doing on the subject as well. When I share such content I hope I am helping someone else in their quest too.

What do you say? Does content curation work for you?

Update: since the time I wrote this, I have come across yet another praise of content curation. Check this out too.

Connecting Socially: The Power of Writing

There exists, for everyone, a sentence – a series of words – that has the power to destroy you. Another sentence exists, another series of words, that could heal you. – Philip K. Dick

If you are a writer, then you must have thought at least once, to change the world through your writing. Okay, not once, but many times, may be? We writers are dreamers and we love to dream of changing the world order through our writing. Haven’t we grown up hearing, pen is mightier than sword? But is it? Really?

I am of the opinion, that yes, it is. Well, in this day, I can perhaps modify it to include the keyboard of the laptop as well. But the essence remains the same, words are powerful. Words can build of break things, people, or change course of history. You don’t believe me? Egyptian Revolution of 2011 gained momentum with Wael Ghonim starting a Facebook page called “We Are All Khaled Said.” Protesting against police atrocities on common people, including 28-year old Khaled Mohamed Said, who was killed by police, the page has more than 250,000 likes.

If you look around, there had been many such instances of words changing the course of events. Remember Anna Hazare and how his movement gained ground? It’s because you and me, we wrote about it. Today, it doesn’t matter if you are a blogger, or a full-fledged writer. So long as you lend your words to a cause, so long as you strike a chord with your audience, you have the power.  Coming from the land of Bengal, since childhood we have been told about the power of words and how our history has been shaped by it. We are always reminded of Rabindranath Tagore, and Bankimchandra, people who wrote India’s national anthem and song. If that’s not power of words, then I don’t know what it is.

So next time you stare at a blank page, waiting for an inspiration to hit you for your newest blog post, think social, think change. Donate a thought and watch it influence people. Never underestimate the power of words in changing a society. May be the society is waiting for you? What do you say?