Posts Tagged ‘customer service’

One of the biggest questions related to social media is, is it a sales channel? Can it be a sales channel? How do you monetize it? A billion $ question, if you ask me. Social media is like a black hole – every company is trying to figure it out. Ones that have figured it out and are looked upon as “best-in-class” have yet to monetize the channel.

One of my favorite sites is the award-winning much-touted OPEN forum. It is a forum by American Express for its small businesses. It provides content relevant to small businesses and keeps the user engaged enough to come back for more. It performs extremely well in organic search. It is a website all by itself. I have seen online advertising on sites such as http://www.entrepreneur.com just for OPEN forum, displaying video content. Many people have cited the forum as a best-in-class, and it makes perfect sense for Amex because the company not only signs up small businesses for its card, but also provides services. Now for the big question – does it increase leads?

Starbucks got a lot of attention when it made its “free pastry” promotion viral on social media. However, the company did not share results on how much sales it got as a result in its stores.

There are ways to monetize this channel, but it will never be a big component of e-commerce. Facebook and YouTube are the largest visited social networks, and users are there not to buy, but to interact with networks and watch videos. Users are likely to buy after visiting forums, communities, and blogs, but these are not as widely and frequently trafficked. Hence social media as a whole will not have a positive ROI in terms of sales, and should not be viewed as such. These sites, however, provide access to a wide network, and networks of network, with the ability to drive significant traffic. In addition, the great thing is that one does not need to spend a lot of money – all it requires is creativity, persistence, and really committing to the channel. Of course a lot of money spent the right way does help – the OPEN forum is a great example. But eventually companies start viewing the investment in terms of ROI, and it becomes a white elephant that is too expensive to manage and does not have positive ROI.

Take the example of Facebook. Here are a few steps to follow:

  • Build a professional-looking page and make it interactive – An in-house creative with HTML knowledge can do a fairly good job. Freelancers can do it for as little as $500.
  • Leverage existing properties – Add Facebook link in emails, direct mail, brochures, catalog, and all communication materials, website/Homepage, store windows, etc. Every customer touch-point by the company should have the URL.
  • Customize URL – Have a URL that makes it easy for the user to find you. For example, http://www.facebook.com/openforum and/or http://www.openforum.com/facebook. I prefer setting both up but promoting the latter just because it makes the user remember the website.
  • Explore Facebook advertising – This step should be done only after a professional-looking page is in place, else users will not “convert” or like the page.
  • Drive fans to the page – Include links in your and partner Wikipedia entries. Make links available to affiliates and partners and “exchange” fans with them. Use sweepstakes to add fans. Leverage networks for sweeps – for example, every user that enters a friend into the sweeps automatically gets 1-2 extra entries to win something. For consumers, it could be anything – gift cards, shopping spree, paid trip for two, iPad, free music downloads, etc. For small businesses, the incentive could be a paid trip to a conference or conference pass, Facebook advertising credits, subscriptions to magazines or research tools, online conferences, etc. Fan-only content and exclusive promotions and discounts are other ways to drive fans by making promotions viral. A referral program is also a great way to add fans. Members get an incentive to refer a friend, similar to the sweeps example above.
  • Provide engaging content to keep users engaged – Exclusive promotions and discounts, user-generated content (photos, videos, discussion groups, tips) are all ways to keep users engaged. These are subtle ways to increase sales. If a user sees another users’s outfit, he/she may like it and want to buy. A specific shoes website (don’t recall the name) has videos accompanying the products, and seeing the shoes on someone makes a world of difference and can potential increase conversion rates. A similar strategy can be used on Facebook through user-generated content, testimonials, and videos and photos on outfits.

Now for the most important part, how do you measure performance.

  • Have the number of fans increased? Keep track of an increase in fans on a weekly basis and compare it with competitors. Over time you may come to a consistent % weekly increase – use this as a benchmark. Has this % increased after your efforts? If so, then you can use it to justify performance. This is the best and easiest way to measure performance.
  • Do the efforts drive traffic to the site? Measurement is as simple as adding a tracking code in all Facebook URLs, working with a technology partner that has tracking ability, or simply looking at free web-based tools and evaluating before and after traffic from Facebook as well as Inbound links.
  • Has Google page ranking increased? This is a little more far-fetched since none of the efforts drive traffic to the website, but in the long run it may be worth exploring this metric.
  • Do your customers engage more on social networks? Again, this is a very subtle metric. Rapleaf is a company that takes your email and direct mail database and identifies their patterns in social networks. You can use Rapleaf’s service to understand existing user behavior online, and see if that pattern has changed after building and promoting your Facebook page. Again, this is subtle but worth exploring. It is a cost-effective way because Rapleaf works on a monthly-fee basis.
  • Does it drive revenue and sales? There are several ways of testing this. Use a separate promotion code on Facebook to track redemptions and sales. Every person that “Likes” a page is an existing or potential lead. If running a sweeps or referral program, see how many users who signed up and shared their email ids end up purchasing something. Once you have a user’s email id, it is easy to track revenue driven by them. Apply a customer lifetime value to every new sign-up. Over time, there should be a consistent % of qualified leads from all the leads. So revenue = qualified leads * customer lifetime value. It is easier to track if users purchase directly from Facebook – if the revenue is collected elsewhere (eg. stores, website sign-ups, search, affiliate), it is difficult to track the impact of Facebook. A lot of times users may see a promotion on Facebook but convert through another channel such as search or affiliate. If you have an existing web analytics package or ad server, do a path analysis for before and after Facebook efforts, and see if Facebook has increased its standing in the path.

Again, social media will never be a prominent sales channel, but its relevance and importance cannot be denied. Lets go beyond revenue and leads for a few minutes. What are other benefits of this network?

  • Customer service – Want to reduce costs at that expensive call center? Use Facebook. Get customers to post their questions and concerns on Facebook. It is easier for them as well to write on Facebook than wait for 10-20 minutes on a call. Concerned about having the world read customer issues? Set up an email id with facebook@companyname.com, and address all issues through email. The benefit is that if call center reps have to address the issues, they can respond during downtime.
  • Making customer feedback constructive – An unhappy customer will want to tell the whole world about their bad experience. Two instances come to mind. One, a customer was so unhappy with customer service at the call center that she wrote it as a status message. Two, one customer was so unhappy with her experience that she made it a point to write a negative comment on almost all posts by the brand. How to you deal with this? Take all comments offline and encourage customers to be constructive. Write a templated response informing that you have heard them. Email them and ask them to email their issues to you – they will have to write something constructive – “I hate you” which is prominent on the Wall will not show up in the email response. The customer in case two above stopped expending energy in writing negative responses and wrote a constructive email explaining her frustrations. We apologized and mentioned that we will channel the feedback internally to the group concerned. RESPOND to the customer and genuinely try to address the issue. If possible, give them an incentive to make good for the bad experience. Jet Blue posts a templated response and drives users to their customer service page.

One thing to keep in mind is NEVER delete comments unless they are inappropriate or spam. Customers need to air their grievances, and Facebook should encourage an open communication. Sephora deleted a few negative comments. This made a customer angry and she responded with strong words on their Wall. More customers posted comments on how this was unprofessional of Sephora, and it became a heated conversation. Deleting negative comments is the worst thing a brand can do – there are other ways of dealing with this feedback, so why do anything that reflects negatively on the brand and company? Gosh, this is a looooooong post. There is always so much to write about social media, and in this case Facebook! More to come… adieu.

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In these trying times, it is more important for companies to hold on to their loyal customers, and what better way to do that than good customer service. Why don’t companies get this simple fact straight? Why will I part with my hard-earned money to someone who is unfriendly?

Yesterday I went to the MAC counter at Macy’s. I LOVE Mac beauty products, and have been using them for years. The only things I don’t buy from MAC are pencil eye liner and Mascara – I prefer Lancome. I went there to buy eyeliner brush, and thought of buying an eye liner as well.

Me: A liquid eye liner brush is key to applying liner. How will I know that MAC brush is good if you remove brushes from testers?

Salesguy (giving me 3-4 tester versions): Take these tester versions and don’t double dip.

The tester brushes are crappy and ruin my eye. I ask another salesguy to give me eye makeup remover. The remover does not remove the liner – has MAC gone cheap on its materials due to recession? Damn.

Me: I would like to buy this liner brush. Is it good for liquid? How will I know that the liner brush is good if I cannot test it? Is the liquid always this thick?

Salesgirl looks at me like I am crazy and she did not know how to answer the question.

Salesgirl: Sorry I was attending another customer so bye.

No “can you ask someone else” or calling out to someone else to attend. She walked away WITH THE BRUSH I WANTED TO BUY. That was all I needed to change my mind about spending my money and I left.

Beauty companies negotiate square footage allotted to the brand and number of salespeople per square foot, so the salespeople really don’t care. I am sure beauty companies have contracts lasting a number of years with department stores. The stores are willing to negotiate based on sales driven per square foot per salesperson. Clearly, MAC “pulls” the customer and Macy’s has to allocate a decent amount of space and body for their counter. There were way too many people at the counter – 8-10 people with one at the cash register and one more attending to a customer – the remaining were just chattering away and cleaning up. Do they really need so many people? I expected more from MAC, and they need to revisit their contracts.

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