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Social as the Customer Experience Watchtower

Early warning signals have helped us avoid damaging natural disasters or workplace catastrophes, so why not use the ones available to us for avoiding customer experience disasters?

The way customers seek help is changing, thanks in some part to how inefficient many of the traditional methods have become.  The growing percentage of customers who prefer customer service via social media over those who prefer the phone (37% and rising, according to this report from The Connection) is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ways to respond to your customers with help from social media.

Many brands simply track their specific brand-driven mentions, then reply to the most urgent customer service issues. This reactive practice is a vital part of customer service, but it misses loads of opportunities to really get what your customers care about the most.

Big brands have social connection media rooms, impressive with their fancy monitors and tracking methods, but if brands are solely interested in their marketing pursuits – brand names, hashtag campaigns, etc. – they are missing where the real conversations are happening. If you are plugged into these conversations, they can serve as the canaries in the coalmine for the all-too-familiar social media PR nightmares that keep executives up at night.

Listen to Customer Conversations That Aren’t About You

Smart brands understand social media presents many ways to serve their customers, and it’s not all about coupon codes. It’s about how their customers interact with their products within the context of their real lives.  

Listening beyond brand mentions means taking a pulse of what’s out there, and responding.

Every day, customers complain about your product to friends or communities without ever mentioning your brand. Heck, I do. I bet you do, too.

In the middle of a particularly frustrating series of calls to fix a problem with a medical provider, I received a text from a friend in the middle of his own customer service merry-go-round. He suggested we start a hashtag with #theyjustdontcare. Well, guess what? It was too late. Tweeters were using that hashtag for everything from mobile service providers to banks. It’s not always in use, but it’s worth looking at similar hashtags for those times customers are already screaming.

Early Warning Detection Toolkit

1. Track conversations about the usage, not the brand.

Following your brand mentions and responding accordingly are absolutely critical, but it’s not necessarily the best way to understand what your customers want next or what problem is growing. Follow key words and phrases in social media that apply to the point of need for your customers, that time when they might be researching a product like yours, as well as common challenges or complaints. While the first few are probably obvious to you, be careful to phrase these as customers would, not your marketing speak!

2. Follow your competition.

The customers you lost to your competitors can provide great insights into what might be missing in what you offer. Sometimes, they even provide testimonials about it! Pay attention to what your competitors’ customers are saying via social media. It can be a wakeup call for features or products they are seeking.

I recently uncovered a competitor who was carefully wooing away a client’s customers. They were responding personally – and through various channels – to any complaint about a specific feature they could find via social media. Complaining customers from brand A received personal and immediate follow-up from Brand B, who offered exactly the feature they were seeking. It worked!

3. Know thy customer.

It’s time to solemnly swear never to call an online lead without first doing your research.

Start paying attention to WHO is buying your products, what attracts them, and then start pulling that thread. For example, if a prospect comes through a lead form online, go check out their social profiles (as much as you’re able) and see if they have mentioned a need or problem in the recent past. Then, see what communities they’re in, and mine the gold which lies there. Communities are often a place people use to gather information from trusted sources. If you can find the right ones, you can really see those early warning signs in the discussions!

4. Take action!

All this feedback is available without fancy software or CRM systems. A few Twitter searches, a few Facebook reviews and a LinkedIn community can be enough to help you see a problem before it starts. Once the problem or need is identified, it’s time to act, and quickly! If customers and others are discussing it, it’s time for you to discuss it, too. What better use for social media than to say, loudly and often, WE HEARD YOU and we’re working on it?

Missing these early warning signals could mean responding to much bigger disasters.

What would you add to the toolkit?

Jeannie Walters is the Chief Customer Experience InvestigatorTM and founder of 360Connext, a global customer experience consulting firm. As the mom of two young sons, you can find her at tee-ball games or stepping on Legos. Tweet her at @jeanniecw.

Photo credit:  d_vdm via Creative Commons license