December 19, 2014

Social CRM: An Idea Whose Time has Come?

Social Media CRM, or Social CRM, is getting a lot of air time these days. But where does it fit? Today’s post is by Laurie Shook. Laurie is a technology marketer creating solutions that help people communicate and collaborate more effectively. When not blogging, on Twitter, or on Facebook, she is marketing WikiThreads, her small business featuring Dallas t-shirts and logo embroidery. Thanks for chiming in on Customers Rock!, Laurie.

If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? That’s the perspective many customer service experts have had toward social media-based customer service, or social CRM. With so much noise in the social channel, is it worth it to ferret out a few random requests for customer service? And with a sawmill full of fallen logs ready to be processed, few could blame customer service executives for focusing on contact center through-put.

But to a marketer that pristine forest of social media represents opportunity to be harvested. Consequently, many companies leave the task of social CRM to the marketers. Marketing creates the proactive messaging and offers on Twitter and Facebook while attempting to handle service issues as they arise.

But consumers are taking service issues to social channels in ever growing numbers. According to Gartner, the Social CRM segment will double this year, surpassing $1 billion. Included in the growth are those who simply prefer social media to the traditional contact center. According to Mike Merrill, @MikeDMerrill and Director of Marketing at ReachLocal, “I find it more convenient to ask for help via social media, since I’m on line all the time anyway. When I raise the issue via social channels, I’m not stuck on hold. It puts the ball in the business’s court.”

Customer service is better suited to handle social service issues for three reasons:

Coverage. Consumers expect prompt responses regardless of when their complaint is aired. Marketing departments aren’t staffed evenings and weekends, although many contact centers are 7 X 24.

Product Knowledge. Customer service agents are trained on product and service specifics and are better versed in how to handle the issues that arise.

People Skills. Customer service reps trained to handle the wide diversity of people issues and personalities that crop up in day to day business.

So where’s the gap?

Brand Voice. Marketing departments report that there is work to be done to get customer service representatives ready to speak in the company’s “brand voice”. Agents need to understand that since conversations are public, service needs to be delivered with a different tone than would occur one-on-one.

Volume. We’re back to the original issue. Unless there is a corporate fiasco, most companies don’t currently have enough service issues aired via social channels to warrant integration into the rank and file agent’s work queue.

But, if growth is inevitable, how can the customer service organizations get ready for the very logical integration of the social media channel into the service function?

Take it slow.

  • First start by following marketing department responses. Learn “brand voice”.
  • Then, start handling service issues that arise from corporate social media properties with a small, focused group under the customer service function.
  • Next, establish service specific social media properties. This is a big step, since it brings a dedicated staffing requirement to Customer Service. It is important to carefully gauge workload before beginning. Remember this activity doesn’t create new workload—it simply focuses it away from general corporate social properties onto service-oriented properties.

Mainstreaming social CRM into the contact center is a big step. Evaluate the baby steps you may need to take tor prepare for a stronger customer service role in social channels, so you are ready before someone yells “timber.”

(Image credit: ardaguldogan)

Lithium’s Customer Heroes

I recently attended the 2012 Lithium Network Conference (LiNC for short) in San Francisco to hear about the latest and greatest from Lithium Technologies as well as from thought leaders such as Brian Solis, photo left, who shared about Digital Darwinism from his new book The End of Business as Usual. Lithium’s software powers the social customer experience, including online branded communities, for over 300 brands including AT&T, Best Buy, Sephora, Skype, and most recently added Nestle, Aruba Networks, and Guitar Center, among others. I have attended two of these events in the past – as a Lithium customer (Verizon). This year, Lithium asked me to come as an industry thought leader so I could look at their event and announcements from a different perspective. Here are some of my key takeaways.

Good News for Social Customer Service

Having been a Lithium customer for the past two years, when I was the Verizon Community program manager and social media strategist, I am probably a bit different from other “thought leaders” who attended the briefing and the event. I have used many if not most of the functions of the Lithium offering. I was happy to see a renewed focus on both sides of social business – customer service, as well as marketing.

In fact, I had wondered how much new functionality we would see in the area of customer service. In the past, support communities have been Lithium’s bread and butter. In the past year or so, Lithium had put a renewed interest into marketing and had some great successes; Sephora’s Beauty Talk is a great example of how to engage the social customer. With the renewed interest in the marketing side of the house, I was a bit concerned that Lithium would swing too far in that direction and neglect good ‘ole customer service.

I was pleased to see great improvements in their customer service functionality, mainly the new Lithium Response offering. It takes the already strong features in the Lithium customer service platform and expands further on them, allowing customer service agents to have all the information they need at their fingertips so they can do what they do best – respond quickly. From what I have seen, it seems to be able to provide the full fire-hose of social media information, prioritize issues that come in to the business, route them to the right agents, and surface content (from both the community as well as from self-service pages) that can help solve customer queries. It also includes case management, which had been lacking. It looks like a great step up from the customer service functionality previously available with an online support community, and it will make the interaction between social media customer service teams and community managers much easier. I look forward to seeing more of it in action soon.

Improving Social Media Marketing

On the marketing front, Lithium announced some new partnerships, such as Shoutlet. This particular partnership will allow Lithium customers to take advantage of Shoutlet features that will help make the social conversation easier, especially in the area of marketing campaigns and CRM. It will be great to watch some of Lithium’s marketing communities take this on and deliver strong social media ROI. Other areas where the focus on marketing is visible include additional opportunities for photo sharing, group spaces/private communities (great for research and innovation), as well as improved single sign-on (much needed functionality) and more robust ratings and reviews (served up via widgets). All around, the Lithium social marketing offering has taken a big step forward, and it will make an impact in organizations that take advantage of it. In the future, I look forward to seeing these two pillars (customer service and marketing) of social business come together, as our customers don’t see departments as they go through their journeys with us. These pillars need to meet up in order to create the rockin’ customer experience that will be vital for business success in the coming months and years.

Heroes

I greatly enjoyed the conference itself; it was nice NOT to speak at an event for once! There were a lot of new faces this year at LiNC, both customers as well as Lithium employees, and this helped to keep the conference feeling fresh. New faces always means a lot of energy, and that was definitely apparent. I absolutely love the way Lithium showcases their customers at their events, and this one was no exception. Using the theme of Heroes, the Lithium event team had customers share the stage with Lithium executives. They told some inspiring stories of how their companies, including such leading organizations as Skype and Cisco, are using Lithium to get solid returns on social media as well as innovate in their space. I highly recommend more customer sharing at future Lithium conferences as well as throughout the year; hearing from other community managers was always very helpful, as well as inspiring, when I was a Lithium customer.

Thank you for an exciting and entertaining LiNC event, Lithium, and thank you for having me there.

(Photo credit: Top, Becky Carroll; Bottom -Lithium Technologies video from LiNC 2012, Paul Gilliham)

Measuring the Impact of Social Media

This post is part of the Social ROI Blog Carnival at Think Customers: the 1to1 Media blog. Visit the blog carnival post at the link above to check out the full list of posts from numerous well-known social media thought leaders.

There are many ways to measure the success of social media at an organization. Some of these metrics are often focused only on tactical results (ex: number of followers or fans). Other metrics tie directly back to the bottom line (ex: value of sales coming directly from Twitter). On occasion, we see true ROI calculated from social media initiatives.

Most companies, however, view social media ROI in the same way they view the legendary pot of gold. They believe that it is there, and they keep looking for it even though it eludes them. Finding ROI in your social media initiatives doesn’t have to be imaginary. As we move into 2012, I fully believe this will be the year that executives begin asking the difficult questions to their social media teams, including what kind of returns they are getting on their social media investment. In order to answer this question, one must consider the true cost of managing a social media program.

What are the costs?

In order to consider calculating ROI, one must understand the costs involved with social media. Some of these are fairly clear, including cost of the platforms (such as community software or social media monitoring tools), cost of social media consultants or agencies (to help create strategy or execute campaigns), advertising spend (yes, you probably need to spend money advertising your social media efforts), and cost of personnel involved in social media (community manager, customer service social response team). Other costs are not quite as obvious. These include the opportunity cost of personnel that may be involved with social media in some aspect (ex: an executive spending time writing a monthly blog post is not spending time doing other things), the cost of training employees in social media (even those that are not executing social media should be trained on it), and the cost of social media influencer programs. I encourage you to understand these costs for both social media campaigns as well as your overall social media program so ROI can be calculated on both.

Measuring the gains

There is more than one way to measure the gains from social media. The first area that usually comes to mind is revenues; this is often a bit difficult to determine from social media, much as it can be difficult to determine from other marketing programs. However, the fact that social media is a web-based activity gives companies (especially those in the Business to Consumer space) the opportunity to measure actual product purchases coming from social media. Dell is one of the most commonly cited examples of this from their Twitter Dell Outlet account. Sanuk is another example. Per social media manager Rachel Gross (shared in an interview I did with her for my book, p. 44-46), even though Sanuk doesn’t often post direct links to their website from their corporate Facebook page, they are able to track conversion rates. They do this by looking at how many visits to their website (via Facebook) result in a sale, thus measuring their return on using social media as an engagement tool.

The other side of the coin from revenue is cost savings. One of the largest areas where companies can find significant returns on their social media investment is in customer service and the use of online branded communities. Most brands that host a peer-to-peer support community find that they are able to directly measure the number of calls deflected as a result of the answers provided by community members to each other; this occurs for both B2C as well as B2B businesses. Companies such as Best Buy and Verizon (where I was most recently actively engaged in this as the community program manager) see these gains and are able to use them to calculate an ROI on their communities. While we are on the subject of online communities, there are other benefits that can factor into the ROI equation. For example, Verizon’s residential community also has an Idea Exchange, where customers have the opportunity to help Verizon improve their products and services, as well as innovate around new products. The returns for such a community can include additional sales from new products as well as improved uptake of existing products with current customers due to improvements made via the idea site.

Finding the Pot of Gold

While you may not find the elusive “pot of gold” in your social media programs right away, more than likely you will see both direct and indirect benefits by engaging with customers and prospects via social media. Hopefully this post has helped you get past thinking only about the numbers of followers and fan your sites have. Read some of the other posts in the Social ROI Blog Carnival to learn how you can better answer your executives when they ask you what your company is getting out of social media, and let me know what your key takeaway is from the carnival.

(Photo credit: DNY59)

Letting Customers Contribute to the B2B Experience

SpiceRexHow can companies get their customers more engaged and involved? Social media has been making it easier for user-generated content to appear as part of a brand’s marketing, usually with consumers. If a consumer is truly a loyal fan of that brand, they will be very excited to see their submission being used by their favorite company. There are many, many examples of companies using these tactics for marketing buzz and excitement as part of a social media campaign. When the campaign ends, the buzz usually dies down, and the new “fans” go look for other contests to enter. Not a great way to create long-term relationships. For this reason, I often say that social media is not a campaign; it is a relationship.

Customers Contribute

Some companies have been engaging with their true fans for years. For example, at Jones Soda their bottle labels are actually photos submitted by their customers via the Jones Soda website. Customer photos appear on the Jones Soda gallery, and a lucky few get theirs put on a bottle. Even though there is no fame and fortune to be received from this activity, Jones Soda fans love to contribute to the Jones community in this fashion.

Spice it Up in B2B

Spiceworks is a great example of letting customers contribute in the B2B space.  Spiceworks is a free set of tools that helps over 1 million IT professionals manage their network, helpdesk, and “everything IT in small and medium businesses.” They have a very active online community which answers questions for each other and shares what they think on a variety of topics. Spiceworks put together a photo contest asking IT professionals to share some creative pics that contained the Spiceworks logo, brand name, or simply a red chili pepper. From that contest, a community mascot was born, SpiceRex. Submitted by one of the members, SpiceRex grabbed the attention of the Spiceworks team and the hearts of the community, and he travels the world to visit various members (he is made of paper, so he travels light). He has become so popular that Spiceworks will be featuring the red orange T-Rex in a series of ads, created by community members, to tell the IT world about their free software. Spiceworks recently won a Groundswell award for the way they have energized their customers and created tremendous word of mouth through them.

When you have information about your customers and their passions that your competitors don’t have, you have an advantage.  When you use what you know about your customers and let them play a role in the experience, such as featuring a community mascot in your ads, now you are building on the customer relationship and increasing the likelihood of loyalty.

(Credit: SpiceRex created by akp982 @UnofficialSpice)

The Social Customer

conversationI have been reading quite a few blogs and comments lately about how social media and customer service need to come together. There has also been a lot of talk about the Social Customer and its importance. I wholeheartedly agree, and as you might imagine, I have a few quick thoughts on the subject which I will share below (inspired by some comments on left on Esteban Kolsky‘s post at the blog TheSocialCustomer).

Service is the New Marketing

Been hearing that for ages; I even spoke at  a conference of that name 2 years ago! But what I believe is really trying to be said by this statement is that each interaction with the customer (each customer touch) has an impact on the customer’s impression of your company. That impression often imparts more about the brand than any marketing campaign. The contact center/customer service team/retail clerk is usually the place in the company with the most direct customer interaction (this is especially true for B2C companies). Hence, each customer service “touch” is an opportunity to “market” to the customer – or to leave them with a positive impression of your brand. In that sense, customer service is marketing – but I wouldn’t consider this to be new!

Community

My current role is in this area, and it is indeed a complex one. There are many types of communities: branded, customer-run, service-focused, etc. Interestingly, customers who are part of an online community are even MORE sensitive to “corporate marketing” than other customers, and they have a strong voice that will ring out over it. The main thing to remember here is that many of these communities have been around long before social media (for example, the customers participating in the San Diego Chargers forums are much more loyal than other customers participating in their other social media outlets), and the communities belong to them. Brands need to be aware of this type of “social customer” and realize that they cannot take-over these groups. They need to collaborate with  their communities to be successful.

Customer Experience

The customer experience is very important to understand across the organization. There has been talk about whether various departments will merge together in the future as social media begins to blur the lines of corporate siloes. However, I don’t believe the customer experience can or should be managed just through one department; our customers don’t see us that way! There is indeed a place for separate functions within the organization. There is also a place for metrics that will help companies understand how well they are doing with the customer experience and how well they are performing against customer expectations. Companies that are customer-focused tend to have customer-focused metrics that bring disparate business functions together, working towards one common goal: customer retention, loyalty, and evangelism. When these metrics are corporate, everyone wins.

The Social Customer

Yes, customers are much more socially connected in this day and age, so many of the aforementioned “marketing” activities are now taking place between customers (ratings/reviews/blog posts/tweets/etc.) rather than being broadcasted by the company.  However, that does not mean that each customer doesn’t want to be treated as an individual by the company. One-to-One Marketing has less to do with sending separate direct mail pieces to each person as it does with treating different customers differently. Having worked for/with Peppers & Rogers Group for many years, the 1to1 marketing process is mostly about managing the entire customer experience – which may be different for different customers (and likely is!). In order to do this properly, one needs to understand the needs of the customer. Now that many customers are interacting online, it is easier to listen and hear what they need. Companies just need to make sure they act on what they are learning – before their competitor does.

Your Turn

What do you think? How does an organization’s view of their customer need to change in today’s “social” world?

(Image credit: sqursozlu)

San Diego Chargers Connect with Their Fans via Social Media

chargers fansAs many of you know, I teach a popular class at UC San Diego Extension on Marketing via New Media. I help my students understand how to look at social media as an opportunity to build relationships with customers rather than just as a campaign or tactic to “increase buzz”. This summer, I had Joel Price from the San Diego Chargers as a guest speaker. He shared with my class how the football team has been using social media to get closer to its fans and create a “virtual tailgate party”. Joel took us on a historical journey of fan interaction during his presentation.
 
Forums First
 
The Chargers started out with fan forums (message boards) a few years back. The boards are still in play and tend to be the team’s most active and loyal fans (as well as mostly males). These are the people that know the players, all the details behind the players, even the back-up to the back-up quarterback. They are very responsive; ask a question of forum members, and you will get instant feedback (great for a regional market).
 

Die hard fans – 300,000 of them.

Facebook Comes In
The Chargers next started a Facebook Fan Page. These 75,000+ fans tend to be people who like to be affiliated with the team but are not as deeply into Charger knowledge as the fans interacting on the forums. Interestingly, these also seem to be people that were not being previously reached online. Demographically, they are about 60% male and 40% female.
These fans are more likely to come to games, and they are quick to react to new information. For example, just before coming to speak to my class, Joel posted on the Chargers Wall about the throwback uniforms the team would be wearing at a few games this season. Within the hour, there were already hundreds of people who indicated they “liked” this information, with over 100 comments as well.


Tweet, Tweet
The most recent addition to the Chargers social media efforts is their Twitter feed, @chargers. With over 15,000 followers (and counting), the Chargers were the first NFL team to be on Twitter. In addition to the main account, there are several players that Tweet including @shawnemerriman and @kassimosgood. The latest Tweets were around items such as EA’s latest Madden Football 2010 video game (who is in it, what are their ratings, etc), open practices, and the upcoming Chargers FanFest.

Social Media Goals
According to Joel, it is rare for an NFL team to communicate well with its fans. The San Diego Chargers want to break through that barrier and do their marketing by communicating closely with fans – and not in a “hard sell” mode, but in a fan appreciation mode. When asked how social media is currently being measured in the organization, Joel described it this way:

“How do we measure social media? How can you measure a hug? We are giving back to our fans.”

Thank you, Joel, for giving back to us and speaking to our class. It was extremely interesting. Go Chargers!

(Professor’s note: The alert student will notice this blog post was taken from the class blog Teaching Social Media. There one will find some of the student blogs as well as posts from previous class sessions.) 

Photo credit: San Diego Chargers Facebook Fan Page

Customer Participation and Social Media Rocker Chris Brogan

participationThis past fall, I was invited to speak on a panel about content marketing at the MarketingProfs Digital Marketing Mixer. While there, I spent a lot of time talking to my fellow speakers, as well as the attendees hailing from companies large and small, about what social media means to customer loyalty. If we think about the “4 Ps of marketing” (product, price, place, and promotion), they are all still applicable to the new media world we are working in today.  What some are calling the 5th P, participation, seems to fit very nicely with a social media model.

However, I believe that participation applies to much more than just social media!  If we get our customers to participate with us on an ongoing basis, we learn so much more about them than we could in any other arena.  This will lead to (on the customer’s part) trust, better engagement, preference, word of mouth, and ultimately brand loyalty. 

I also had the opportunity to talk about this subject to Chris Brogan at the MarketingProfs event. We discussed why those who want to build a relationship with their customers should consider using social media. And not using it just to talk; using it to finally, truly listen to customers. Chris recently wrote about the difference between having an audience and having a community on his blog. I think an audience is something that you talk at; a community is something that you talk with and participate in.  Chris was nice enough to put his thoughts on video for me as I asked him to talk about social media and customer loyalty. (Note: the conference was in Arizona, hence the cacti – and the slight wind noise)

 

Here at Customers Rock!, I endeavor to have a place where we talk together about taking care of customers. I realize I have not been carrying on my side of the conversation a lot lately as I have been heads-down working on my new book. I will hold up my side of the bargain and be here to talk with you more frequently – now it is your turn to join in! Thank you all so much for being part of this, and many thanks to you, Chris, for your valuable time. 

(Image credit: Paha_L)

Where does social media fit in?

social-media-bandwagonThis blog’s main focus is on customers and how businesses can grow organically by building their success on their customer base.  I have written posts on customer experience, customer service, and customer-focused marketing (no, not all marketing is customer-focused!). Since I have been teaching my class at UC San Diego, “Marketing via New Media”, I have been spending a lot more time speaking about where social media fits in to all of this.

Social media is the big buzz right now. Everyone wants to get their business on Twitter or Facebook without really thinking about why. Usually, it is because their manager or client read an article in the Wall Street Journal about who is using Twitter/Facebook/fill-in-the-blank and how cool it is. And indeed, there are a lot of great reasons to use social media to market a business. I believe one of the most powerful reasons to market with social media is to build and strengthen customer relationships.

Part of the Customer Experience

How customers perceive your company online is part of their experience with your organization. Whether your customers are consumers or businesses, many of them are spending time on social media regularly in order to keep up with friends, make connections, or learn new information. According to a recent study by Cone Research in September 2008, Americans using social media also want to engage with their favorite organizations and brands in that space (emphasis is mine):

  • 93% believe a company should have a social media presence
  • 85% believe a company should interact via social media
  • 56% feel they have a stronger connection with and are better served by companies where they can interact via social media

The study goes on to state this:

“…Americans are eager to deepen their brand relationships through social media.”

Customers definitely view their experience with a brand/organization via social media as an integral part of their relationship with that brand.

Connecting with Your Advocates

While many organizations are currently using social media as a way to increase awareness and do online PR, the sweet spot is in connecting with your customers and empowering them to interact with you. Per the book Groundswell (which I use as my class textbook), companies can use social media to listen to customers, talk with (not AT) customers, energize customers (especially evangelists), support customers, and embrace customers (co-create with them). These uses can all be applied to improving customer relationships.

Anyone who has heard me speak about using social media for marketing knows that I first encourage organizations to listen to what is being said about them online. Unless you first listen to the discussion, you will look a little silly jumping in to the conversation with your own agenda. It’s similar to going to a party and interjecting yourself into groups which are already talking amongst themselves. Your words will be out of context, and you may be seen as rude! However, if you listen first, you will be able to add value to the discussion by being relevant, and you will probably be a lot more interesting.

Once some listening has taken place, the stage is set for planned interaction. You can do this by having your own “party”, and inviting your customers to come and join you OR you can find out where your customers are already “partying” and go meet them there. In other words, you can invite your customers to come to your site or social media property and interact with you, or you can go and engage with them wherever they are already interacting around your brand. Either way can work, depending on your business and your customer relationships.

Companies that have well-established relationships with their customers will discover that social media is a great tool which complements their existing interactions. Companies that have only been using one-way communication with customers will have a little work to do to get them to engage, not just once in a social media campaign, but on an ongoing basis. They should find their customers are eager and ready as long as the conversation is relevant to their needs!

Social Media and Customer Loyalty

Over the past 6 months, I have had the opportunity to talk face-to-face with a number of well-respected people in business about social media marketing. I asked them each the same question:

“How do you think social media can help with customer loyalty?”

I captured their responses with my Flip video camera, and I will be featuring different videos over the next few weeks here on Customers Rock! Please let me know what you think about social media and customer loyalty, as well as about the videos in the comments below, on my Facebook page, or via my Twitter page.

Here is one of the videos, which I have previously posted on Customers Rock!, to get you started.

Frank Eliason, Comcast (@comcastcares on Twitter)

(Opening image credit: Matt Hamm on flickr)

Does Social Media Help or Hurt?

smile-keyJason Baer authored a thought-provoking blog post over at MarketingProfs Daily Fix blog. It puts forward the question of whether customers who are using social media are getting preferential treatment. Jason is a really smart guy, and he asks it this way:

“Are we inadvertently creating a Customer Chasm, where those who are socially media active are receiving preferential treatment compared to those who are not? And not just in customer service, but in customer acquisition too?”

 

He describes great customer service being given over Twitter as an example; if the customer experience in other channels isn’t as good as the Twitter channel, then there could be preferential treatment taking place (which could ultimately drive changes in behavior).  He suggests we should be thinking through how we use social media and whether we are intentionally giving this “better treatment” to customers. I highly suggest you go and read Jason’s entire post, as well as the discussion in the comments.

The Real Question

This conversation is right up my alley. Of course, I had to respond. Here is what I have put forward:

What we really should be asking is how we want to treat our customers overall. What is the customer strategy? Most companies don’t have one, so they use whatever is easiest and cheapest (read: most convenient for them) to interact with customers. Treating different customers differently is a great strategy, and one which we used with our clients when I worked for Peppers and Rogers Group (1 to 1 Marketing approach).

I applaud the customer interaction opportunities that social media brings to an organization. However, as I have said both in my blog and to my social media students, it is only one channel of interaction. Encouraging and rewarding customers to use a channel that is more cost efficient is a fine strategy – if that is indeed the strategy. If we are interacting with customers via social media just because it is the new, cool, hip thing to do, what will happen when something else comes along? Will we continue to keep up the social media interactions?

The real question to ask is where our customers want to interact with us. Listen, then use those channels to reward them for their business and for referrals. Thank them for being a part of your organization. Intentionally create a rockin’ customer experience. When we do this, whether those interactions were by phone, mail, or online, the word of mouth will spread!

Help or Harm?

Now to you, my readers. What do you think? Is social media indeed creating a “customer chasm” as Jason suggests? Should customers interacting via social media channels get a different experience?  Please tell us your thoughts, as well as your experiences, by leaving a comment below.

(Image credit: photoauris)

Putting Customers First

Whether we are focused on social or traditional media, one of the most important things I tell my students (and which I shared last week at the San Diego Social Media Breakfast) is to listen to customers before doing anything. Sometimes, we all need to take a step back and hear what our customers are telling us, and each other, before proceeding.

I will help you, my readers, do that over this next week. I am blogging at the NACCM Customers 1st Conference, being held at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, CA. You can follow me daily via live Twitter updates, this blog, or on the Customers 1st blog. I will be attending both the conference as well as the “outside the walls” sessions which take place in the Disney theme parks, and I will share with you the best nuggets from the conference and its speakers. One of the sessions focuses on creating the “next generation customer experience” for consumers who are spending a lot of time on social networks and with social media. Stay tuned!

I will also be spending time with some of the guest speakers in one-on-one interviews, so let me know if you have any questions for any of them. You can find the list of speakers here.  They include dignitaries from the customer service industry, authors, as well as customer-focused executives from many large corporations across a variety of industries.
Come follow me around the Magic Kingdom this week and learn about putting customers first!

A Quick Update

Just a short post to let you know about a few great things that are going on around here at Customers Rock!  More posts on customer experience, social media, and a few videos coming soon.

First things first: I have been a busy lately with my new job. I just accepted and started in my role as Director of Social Media at Brickfish.  Brickfish is a social media advertising network, and they focus on helping brands reach their customers via the social web and viral marketing.  This is a great position for me as it marries my two key areas of interest: social media and customer loyalty (you couldn’t have guessed that, could you?). I will definitely report back more on this company and role as I get my feet firmly planted there!  I will still be writing my Customers Rock! blog and will also continue my gig at UCSD Extension teaching the Marketing via New Media class.  Consulting projects are being put on the back burner at the moment, but do let me know if I can help you via my great network!

In other news…

  • I just returned from the MarketingProfs Digital Marketing Mixer, and I had a great time speaking, learning a lot, and connecting with bloggers I had met online but not yet in person.  Write-ups, video, and photos to come soon!

 

  • Bathroom Blogfest ’08 is happening now!  I participated in this last year with my blog posts on the customer experience and the restroom, highlighting bathrooms at Disney theme parks. I will post my bathroom customer experiences later this week, towards the end of the blogfest, but I wanted to highlight the other bloggers who are taking part in this annual event.  Here they are:

Susan Abbott at Customer Experience Crossroads
Katia Adams at Transcultural Marketing
Shannon Bilby at Floor Talk!
Laurence Borel at Blog Till You Drop
Jo Brown and the blogging team at Kohler Talk
Lisbeth Calandrino at Lisbeth Calandrino
Sara Cantor at The Curious Shopper
Becky Carroll at Customers Rock!
Katie Clark at Practical Katie
Iris Shreve Garrott at Circulating
Ann Handley at Annarchy
Marianna Hayes at Results Revolution
Elizabeth Hise and C.B. Whittemore at The Carpetology Blog
Maria Palma at Customers Are Always
Sandra Renshaw at Purple Wren
Kate Rutter at Adaptive Path
Claudia Schiepers at Life and its little pleasures
Carolyn Townes at Becoming a Woman of Purpose
Stephanie Weaver at Experienceology
C.B. Whittemore at Flooring The Consumer

  • Last year, I participated in a great project to write a book with over 100 other bloggers, the Age of Conversation.  This year, we are doing it again with the Age of Conversation 2: Why Don’t They Get It? It launches shortly (tomorrow); stay tuned for details!

(Photo credit: Tinka)

Using Social Media for Customer Loyalty, Part 2

Part 1 of this series discussed two of the top reasons for using social media to build stronger customer relationships.  Part 2a today discusses another reason to use social media for customer loyalty: customer service. Part 3 will discuss steps to take in order to get started.

Recently at my panel Creating Customer Loyalty with Social Media at BlogWorld, much of our conversation revolved around the topic of customer service.  Two of our panelists, Tony Hsieh from Zappos.com and Frank Eliason from Comcast, talked in depth about using Twitter to reach out to existing customers in various ways. Twitter allows for real-time, ongoing two-way conversations, and both of these companies are creating those with their customers. (To learn more about Twitter, check out this quick overview, Twitter in Plain English, from the CommonCraft Show.)

Zappos.com

The culture at Zappos.com is very people-focused and empowers employees.  Zappos.com has many of their employees Twittering; 448 to be exact!  You can track their tweets via this microsite, where you can also track mentions of Zappos.com and some of the brands they carry.  Using Twitter is encouraged as a great way to stay transparent and authentic with customers.  Tony is their CEO, and he leads the way by tweeting about his travels, tours he gives of the Zappos.com headquarters, requests for feedback from customers, and contests he runs.  Customers even make suggestions via Twitter, the most recent of which was to list a short url on each product page that can be easily cut and pasted into blogs, email, Twitter, etc. so they can be shared with others (it is called zapp.me).  Tony has over 13,000 people following his Tweets to get this kind of information.

Customers Rock! take on Zappos.com and Twitter: Zappos customers are extremely loyal to the company for several reasons: great customer service, an easy return policy (free shipping on returns!), and employees that care.  Social Media at Zappos.com, including Twitter and their blogs, has been a great way to put a face on the company, make them feel approachable, get instant customer feedback, and create a two-way dialog that builds customer relationships.  Zappos is truly a Customers Rock! company.

Come back for Part 2b of this series to hear Comcast’s story!

Expert’s Corner at Customers Rock! with Martha Rogers

(Note: I will continue my series on Social Media and Customer Loyalty later this week.)

Today, I am introducing a new feature here at Customers Rock! called Expert’s Corner. Once a month, I will be sharing recorded interviews with experts in the field of customer strategy and loyalty.

I am very pleased to kick-off this feature with an interview of renowned expert Martha Rogers, Ph.D., founding partner of Peppers and Rogers Group. Martha was named by Business 2.0 Magazineas one of the nineteen most important business gurus of the past century. The World Technology Network named her as “an innovator most likely to create visionary ripple effects.” In addition to her work at Peppers and Rogers Group, Martha is an Adjunct Professor at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University and co-director of the Duke Center for Customer Relationship Management. She is widely published in academic and trade journals, including Harvard Business Review, Journal of Advertising Research, Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, and Journal of Applied Psychology.

She is also a friend of mine and was more than happy to spend time talking to me about her answers to the following questions:

1. There is a lot of talk today about being “laser focused” on customers. How would you define “customer focus”?

2. We are obviously in a challenging economy right now. Do you believe that a renewed emphasis on existing customers will make a difference to a company’s growth in this environment? Why or why not?

3. Where should the use of social media fit into today’s marketing plans?

Click here for the podcast interview: Experts Corner with Martha Rogers.  Note: this will take you to a white page where the audio interview will stream.  Click the back button to come back to this post.  You can also right-click the link above to download it to your computer and play it offline.  (PS – If anyone knows a more elegant solution to play the podcast, please let me know!  I am a podcasting newbie.)

Are you an expert who would like to be part of Expert’s Corner here at Customers Rock!, or do you have one in mind you would like me to interview? Drop me a note in the comments or send me an email, and let’s make it happen

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Using Social Media for Customer Loyalty, Part 1

This post is Part 1 in a series on using social media to build strong customer relationships.  Parts 1 and 2 discuss some of the top reasons to use social media for customer retention.  Part 3 discusses how to get started.

If you have customers that are actively using social media, there is a potential to use that communication channel to deepen customer relationships.  Social media tools are especially effective at building two-way conversations with customers, either consumers or businesses.  There is certainly a lot of talk about marketing with social media!

I teach a class at UC San Diego called Marketing via New Media, and we just kicked off a new quarter this week.  We discussed the top reasons that businesses should consider using social media; I have summarized two of them for you here. 

  • Social media marketing strengthens customer relationships.  Customers don’t want a relationship with a company or organization.  They have relationships with the people that work for that company or organization.  Social media tools such as blogs and Twitterallow customers to get to know the people inside the company.  They get to see real people with real personalities.  Tara de Nicolas from the Washington Humane Society shared with me that the most popular part of their website is the link to their Flickr photo stream!  Their clients and donors love to see the faces behind the operations, and they seek them out when given a chance to attend a face-to-face event with them (such as a fundraising dinner).  Friendships are formed online and brought into the offline arena!  Customers that have positive interactions with the people in the company feel a stronger sense of trust with that organization, a key factor in building customer loyalty.

 

  • Social media marketing is great at keeping customers informed and involved.  While traditional media is also good at keeping customers informed, social media excels at getting customers involved.  Nearly one year ago, we had devastating wildfires here in San Diego.  One of my students this quarter works for the San Diego Zoo, and she shared that zoo members and other San Diegans greatly appreciated the zoo blog updates on how the fire had impacted the park.  It allowed them a “look inside” to see how animals had been affected, and people’s passion for the animals drove additional public involvement to support the zoo’s efforts in caring for the wildlife.  Customers that are more involved and engaged tend to have longer and stronger relationships with organizations.

There are many other reasons as well, which will be covered in this series.  My panel this weekend at BlogWorld Expo addressed the above reasons and some issues, including customer retention programs, customer service, and changes in customer expectations.  There was great information on how to do it, as well as some areas to consider, from my expert panelists Tony Hsieh from Zappos.com, Frank Eliason from Comcast, Brian Solisfrom FutureWorks, and Toby Bloomberg from Diva Marketing.  Part 2 of this series (to be posted later this week) will review the implications we discussed with respect to customer service expectations resulting from tools such as Twitter.  Be sure to come back to hear their answers, as well as answers to the questions you, my readers, asked before the conference!