5 Tips to Using Social Media for Better Customer Management

Social media is more than just meeting people. Social media can also be a great tool for managing your customer base when used appropriately. Considering that so many businesses claim customer service is the key to success, it is amazing how few are good at it.

Why? Consultants may give you a host of reasons but they all boil down to listening. Many corporations simply don’t listen to their customers. They prefer to “tell.” Tell customers what products they need; tell customers why the company’s sacrosanct policy can’t be changed; tell customers why the warranty doesn’t really apply; tell customers why a product can’t be changed.

1. Customers Ignored Online

In ancient times all this “telling” took place in person or over the phone. But today, customers have a new venue in which they can get ignored by corporations: the Internet. Even businesses that don’t sell products or services online have web sites. Some go off in search of answers for how online customer management differs from offline customer management.

In reality, the principles are the same, only the media is different. In the past, phone messages were frequently ignored. Today, emails go unreturned or automated responses promise support that may never come.

2. Social Media and Blogs

Into this morass enters the wonderful world of social media. The business world is impressed with the phenomenal growth of social media sites and sees them as great places to market products and manage customers. Suddenly corporate profile pages begin appearing on My Space, Facebook, and LinkedIn. They hire social media “experts” to help them invade Twitter. And initially many failed miserably.

The essence of social media is a conversation, and companies that like to tell but not to listen only get half of it. Some companies saw social media as a “quick fix” so profiles were set up and then rarely updated. Corporate blogs began to pop up everywhere, allowing customers to comment. But businesses are always interested in what’s next and the “set it and forget it” mindset doesn’t work in the blogosphere. Blog comments about a company’s products or service were unmonitored, and hence, ignored. It takes two sides to have a conversation and when visitors go through the time and trouble of posting a comment, they expect to be heard.

3. Finally Catching On

After these initial failures, many companies began to catch on and get it right. Perhaps the best story to illustrate this is that of Dell Computer. Today they are seen as a model of how a business can use social media techniques to provide a superb level of customer management. But it didn’t start out that way.

In 2005 an influential blogger posted his tale of woe dealing with Dell’s notoriously poor customer service. The post caused a bit of a firestorm which exploded when Dell finally got around to responding, saying they refused to respond to negative blog posts! When they finally did respond they got very defensive, pointing out the benefits of their products instead of listening to what the customers were trying to tell them.

Finally, Dell established their own social media site – Direct2Dell – and gradually they began to listen and respond. Today they have another site – Ideastorm – where a community of Dell users actually makes product suggestions. Dell listens and responds and lets the community know what’s happened to their ideas. If you search the Internet for success stories of corporate use of social media for customer management and marketing, you’ll find Dell on every list.

4. From Worst to First

So what can we learn from Dell’s stunning transformation from “worst to first?” Listening, engaging, and responding pretty much sums it up. Spend some time investigating their sites to see how they do it. Start with Direct2Dell. First, notice that they call the site the “Dell Community”. From this site you have access to solutions for product issues, blogs and forums, wikis, and user groups. If you get into any of those areas you’ll see an exchange between Dell employees and Dell customers, both engaged in a conversation. There are tech support articles, topics of general interest to computer users, and even a section on newly released Windows 7.

Finally, notice what is at the bottom right hand corner of the home page. There you’ll find the only window on the site meant to sell product. When most companies first got into social media, windows like that would be right at the top. It was all about selling product, but not anymore.

Next visit the Ideastorm site at ideastorm.com. You’ll have to look really hard to find a link to a spot where you can actually buy a Dell computer. The site is all about sharing ideas and advice. Dell has come so far that not only do they solicit product innovations from the community; they allow the community to vote on the best ideas.

5. Listen, Engage, Respond

There is another point to be learned from the Dell story. Managers in businesses where employees are “told” everything by management should not be surprised when those employees find it difficult to listen to customers. Managers in businesses where employees have little or no involvement in decision making and problem solving should not be surprised when employees fail to solve customers’ problems, should they?

Dell now allows all employees full access to all social media sites while on the job to monitor and respond to Dell issues they might uncover. They trust their employees enough to get them directly engaged in the conversation. Listen, engage, and respond.

Guest blogger Roko Nastic is contributing author and editor at WebmasterFormat.com, place where webmasters can quickly and easily gather all the necessary info to develop and maintain successful websites. You can also write guest articles and share your social media expert advice.

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About the Author: P Chandra is editor of QOT, one of India's earliest tech bloggers since 2004. A tech enthusiast with expertise in coding, WordPress, web tools, SEO and DIY hacks.