Customers have gotten very demanding, thanks to social media.
A recent study by Edison Research and Convince & Convert found that 39 percent of people expect companies to respond to their comments on social media within the hour. As you might expect, these people are often disappointed, as businesses usually take five hours, on average, to respond.
About these new customer expectations, Oli Gardner at Unbounce explains why people are disappointed:
"More and more are turning to live update services like Twitter to see what exactly is going on. This happens when they have a general question or complaint (people like to air their grievances) and more crucially if your online product goes down and they need a status update."
More and more, customers aren't content to submit a complaint or call a help hotline to get answers or interface with your company. They're broadcasting their grief out onto the Internet, and you better be listening.
And just to make things harder for companies, customers on social media aren't satisfied with mere speed. They want your response to be personalized and thoughtful. It may be enough to make any company throw up their hands in exasperation, but this is, nonetheless, the new world of customer expectations.
Fortunately, there is a new generation of customer engagement rising up to meet this challenge.
I recently interviewed social marketing speaker and consultant Ted Rubin and the story of JetBlue's recent social media success story came up, in which the airline's social team spotted a passenger's joking tweet about needing a homecoming parade and then mobilized the local customer service team to grant her wish.
The gesture was a viral success, but it also became a model for how companies can, even in a torrent of tweets and mentions, nimbly respond in an engaging, personal way to customers' needs.
But this led our conversation to the question that, perhaps, gets lost in all the admiration for a job well done: how did JetBlue pull that off? The fact that became immediately apparent is, most companies aren't geared to pull off a feat like JetBlue's.
If this nimble, personalized responsiveness to customer sentiments on social media is the future of customer engagement-and it is-then the vast majority of companies have some serious catching up to do.
So what does it take to join the next generation of customer engagement, not just responding quickly but in personal, memorable, tweet-worthy ways? It seems to start with these five foundational pieces:
The first major piece in engaging your customers in a meaningful way happens in the mindset of your organization. According to Rubin-in a time when many companies are seeing social media as a lost cause, something they can't track or measure-companies have to come to grips with the very real value that this kind of engagement creates.
"It does make a major difference to your brand," said Rubin. "What I hear a lot is, 'Well, we have millions of customers', and 'How often can we do something like this?' and 'Even if we did it once a week for 52 weeks, we're going to affect only 52 people or 52 families?' What they don't understand is how that information spreads. All of these people share. Even if they're not on social media, they have friends, they have families, they have colleagues, they belong to the PTA. They are going to tell people. Everybody loves to share great experiences."
Without this acceptance, most companies tend to go after social engagement only half-heartedly, which usually ends up being obvious to the customers on social. But with this acceptance, companies will be willing to invest the resources, effort, and time needed to do it right.
This seems like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how many brands still delegate social media duties to their blog manager or receptionist, making it something that person checks in on when they're not taking care of their "real" duties. If your company falls into this category, take action now: get at least one person completely dedicated to social.
The larger your brand, the more people you should have dedicated to monitoring and responding to activity around your brand on social media.
At the bare minimum, the people on this team should be well-versed in the major social media networks and which ones to use in different scenarios.
"Have someone who knows how to get out the message on the right channels, either social or email, and make sure they're provided with accurate information to share," advises Joshua Loomis at LiveChat.
You should know, however, that the companies that do social engagement best aren't settling for social teams of one or even a dozen people.
Rubin recommended that companies go beyond using a small team to monitor social media. "You have to start empowering your employees, all your employees-at the very least, in your marketing department-to be listening," he said, "to be paying attention to what's happening in social around their brand."
This generates a two-fold benefit. First, it lets your company cast a wider net in social listening. Second, it makes for a workforce that is much more customer-aware and customer-focused.
One company that has succeeded by using this very strategy is Whole Foods, which created over 150 Twitter accounts, some for individual stores, some to cover individual topics. The benefit is that customers can get much more personalized, localized responses from Whole Foods employees in their own areas. This approach has also given Whole Foods one of the largest presences of any corporation on Twitter.
Bottom line: at the very least, have some employees dedicated just to social; at best, get the whole team involved.
What would have happened if the JetBlue social team and customer service team had never met each other, didn't know the other existed? The social team might have reached out, but the customer service team might have ignored their request.
In order for the JetBlue customer service to react as they did to the social team's request, they must have had a pre-existing rapport. They must have also had a shared understanding that, if a request like this arrived, they would, if at all possible, respond to it in a timely manner.
Especially in large companies, this kind of coordination doesn't just happen. If anything, corporate departments tend to throw up walls around themselves. Therefore, if your company is going to succeed at meaningful customer engagement on social, relationships and expectations have to be built up between departments well ahead of time.
One peculiarity of these types of engagements is the very narrow windows in which they appear and then disappear. Employees have to be able to spot and jump on opportunities at a moment's notice.
"This is not your Oreo moment," said Rubin, referring to the snack brand's famous response to a Super Bowl blackout in New Orleans. "This isn't spending $2 million listening at the Super Bowl for that specific time. These are daily events that happen every day and opportunities that are in front of you all the time. Brands need to learn how to wrap their arms around it."
One way forward-thinking companies are speeding up reaction times is via escalation policies, documents that "help your employees figure out who to contact in the company when handling complaints. The document should include a full list of employees and departments in your company along with their contact details."
While this kind of organizational fast-tracking is certainly a step in the right direction, there might be an even better way to ensure faster, more personalized responses. . . .
According to Rubin, the ultimate responsiveness comes from the ability of employees act independently to resolve issues, pamper customers, etc. And companies need to get out their way.
"There can't be five levels of approval," he said. "There can't be budgetary constraints to such a degree that you can't just have a few people meet someone at a plane, or send them a note, or leave a note in their hotel room welcoming them there."
There's no changing the increasing demands of customers, but you can turn this trend to your benefit. Many companies are clearly finding on social media opportunities to shine and delight customers, but the ability is still rare enough that those who master it will find themselves in class of their own. By embracing the realities of the new social media landscape and then investing seriously in fast, meaningful customer engagement efforts, companies can gain the greatest competitive advantage of all: their customers' hearts and minds.