Reaching Consumers Through Social Media Conversations

Marketing and social media should be best friends. They have to be for most products and services to reach a mass market of any significance at a relatively low cost.

I’m a ‘supermarketaholic’ and enjoy visiting the biggest store close-by. Walking the lanes recently was both nostalgic and different. Nostalgic because I know this experience will change in the future as it has from my childhood. Different because I was seeing the products through a different set of eyes on that day. In the past I would be looking out for the new highly advertised product ‘seen on the television or newspaper’. Now, I’m checking out the deals and new products flittering across my mobile as I check my Facebook messages. Yes its different.

Facebook advertising works so well one does not even associate it with advertising. The images we see sometimes can draw us in with very few words. If it’s good, then the comments will get a brief review. Sometimes I will comment if I really like a product or feel interested in finding out more. If I have a bad experience, its shared by writing a negative buzz /response, that’s my act of community service to people I know.

What drives consumer spending now is much more than a hyped-up, interesting product and disposable income. It goes beyond the borders of influence and up the alley of social media marketing and promotion. Its that defining comment which resonates and reminds of a feeling!

Social media marketing & promotion

From my experience, social media marketing can be described as a mixture of penetrating a marketing image with a social media conversation strategy. The product promotion takes place in the ‘comments’ of a thread. This is then shared, over and over, by consumers who can effectively describe a ‘feeling’ of value in a few words. Indeed it is the trigger from these conversations which cannot be easily monetized as advertising, for commercial gain by a hosting platform. This has helped many brands in introducing new products. In the case of ‘the platform’ like Twitter and Facebook capturing the real commercial value is difficult based on the nature of the promotional asset — online subscribers.

There are very few ads on Facebook which will generate a feeling from me, to look further, in their present format. They give me that feeling from the past, of getting up during the commercial breaks to go for popcorn or a drink!

I’m sure the ads are pretty and relevant and I may miss a deal or two, but hey they do not impact on what I’m going to buy or where I will shop in many instances. So what is wrong with the present ‘validated promotions’ (commercial FB ads), and why don’t they appeal to many consumers like me?

Storytelling in social media marketing & promotion

One of my theories on why some ads on social media do not appeal, has to do with ‘verified experience/value added’!

The comment threads can act as a storyteller! Yes. It’s like opening a book and reading a dialogue, complete with human feelings and stimuli. I’ll share a couple examples from my consumer vision;

The Pub — There is a new outdoor mall with a pub I wanted to visit every-time I passed and saw its sign. I was caught by the name and graphics on the sign. As I scrolled one day on Facebook I glimpsed a comment on the pub, shared by a friend of a friend. There was a dissatisfied heading announcing ‘poor service at $200 per meal’. I scrolled back, and read the few lines posted on the consumer experience, and then noted a few comments listed, mainly negative feedback. As I read, I thought — “I won’t be spending $200 to be insulted anytime soon, or ever!” That was instinctive. A few days later on another thread, I read an experience one of my closest friends had at the same pub, and she keeps going there. I’m not convinced I want to give it a try, having noted the time she and the dissatisfied customer visited were very different. She also appears to know the owners, and could be getting preferential treatment. Full story ending indicates, I’m not convinced to go!

Soaps — I’ve been noting a few friends keep sharing this ad about a new line of bath soaps with herbal and natural extracts. I like Dove, but as I read the comments I’m catching a scent and feel of a different experience. Something soft, mild and without a lot of additives, and it smells divine based one comments from people I don’t know. As I hunt the lanes in search of this product, I can only recall the name and the experiences driving me not to give up! Its not on the shelves, and I go to the supervisor to ask if they carry the product line. She says “no”, but asks for a description — I pulled it up on my Facebook screen for her to see (I shared it on my timeline to have easy access)! I can check back with them on my next visit, and they will try to get some in the store! Wow, I will be going there soon.

Marketing and social media can deliver an experience, which is replicated through the buyer/consumer conversations. Good or bad, everything can get validated through the stories we hear via comments. At the end of the day, marketers need to move the customer to exchanging cash for product/service. That is the objective.

Facebook sharing is big and can lead to great success and feedback insights before a brand can be severely damaged. It should be a part of most product marketing strategies. Going beyond the superficial is the new generation marketing challenge for those able to create the authentic /real stories consumers want to read and act on. A marketing savvy person/company shares user experiences effectively. Let’s get those consumers to feel our brands, through conversations!

About the Author

Donna Luisa is a a corporate business veteran, with practical experience in a diverse range of industries — Safety/ HVAC / FMCG /Industrial Equipment /and much more . Sales, Marketing, Business Development & Coaching are combined to deliver over 30 years experience.

Dream A Little Bigger – Why Multi-Channel is Dead

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to help Professor Jerry Wind write his latest book, ‘Beyond Advertising.’ The research touches over a few concepts, including the need for businesses to create marketing campaigns and brand alignments resulting in benefits not just for themselves, but for their consumers and beyond. Backed with a worksheet-style framework and a slew of case studies, Professor Wind suggests that consistent messaging, distributed and orchestrated over a wide variety of channels, would lead to a consistent and altogether more effective customer journey.

Professor Wind was correct in his conclusion. In a generation where people have shorter attention span than goldfish, are forgetful and chained to their phones, and consistently lost and addicted to immediate gratification, it’s not enough to focus on how small interactions affect customer behavior. To move from these reactive, ineffective attempts at understanding people, marketers and customer service agents need to move away from analyzing points, tickets, and individual channels. The first step is cutting out this idea of marketing and customer service as multi-channel.

Multichannel Marketing and Customer Service is Dead

Bailing a Sinking Ship With a Solo Cup

To break into this concept of moving past multi-channel, it’s worth looking at a concrete example as to how and why multi-channel strategy doesn’t work in the first place. There are any number of case studies which address the topic. My personal favorite might be an onboarding study in the telecom business. A large telecom company tracked interactions that customers, such as an initial price consultation. In every given stage, customers were asked to rate their experience. Over all the polls, their experiences were positive. Viewed holistically, however, customers had a negative opinion of the process and the brand itself. Executives had to take a step back and think about not just the reaction of such calls, but the reasons behind them. By spending the time to examine the reasons why there were so many interactions, as well as bringing in customers to help them design a better process, they were able to engineer a far more effective onboarding process.

The brand needed to understand customers and their emotions rather than resolving sets of tickets. To compare this to the view of multi-channel considered originally, although consistency of quality was carried out over the different channels, the experience itself was not necessarily well-received.

A contrasting point is the success of healthcare IT company Flatiron Health. A large portion of their success is based in breaking down silos between patient touch points. By relating data between things such as EMRs and clinical research, as well as back and forth with patients, Flatiron is able to find successful trends in clinical and patient care. Additionally, by putting their product managers in hospitals to shadow nurses and doctors, Flatiron was able to listen more effectively to not just their clinic customers, but also to the patients their system is used for. By putting a focus on informing patients – not just doctors – both parties have an improved experience. Patients understood their therapy better and had easier ways to alert their doctor of changes while doctors had better information to inform future decisions. Flatiron’s astronomical growth rate and funding rounds speak for themselves in terms in contrast to the success and usability of traditional EMR systems. By focusing on net experience, rather than traditional touchpoint management, Flatiron was able to deliver better product and growth.

To formalize this into concrete business concepts, Chris Meyer proposes a possible explanation in Harvard Business Review about the customer experience

Multi-channel marketing and customer service is built on CRM management – tracking events, instances, and facts without focusing on the experiences and problems underneath. While there is a wide breadth of this information, it is still distinct from the concepts of motivation, experience and feeling. To really switch, businesses require a fundamentally different view towards how they try and get brands to align with people – or more simply, just seeing people as people.

While multi-channel itself an ineffective management strategy, it is worth mentioning how this thinking is ineffective for corporate sustainability as well. With customers using a wider number of channels – and methods of using those channels changing as well – thinking about channels as rigid entities sets a business up to be permanently behind the rate of change. In one Entrepreneur article, the writer posited that the rate of capturing the value of new platforms wasn’t as much of a problem anymore as the rate at which companies can adopt to them. Focusing on multi-channel will leave managers on an adoption rate treadmill, exacerbating the lack of visibility they have on their customers.

An Experience is Worth More Than 1000 Words

Nearly as soon as Professor Wind’s book came out, parts of its research were already bending to the breakneck speed at which digital marketing is changing. As IBM observed in their most recent CMO survey , the traditional silos – both in terms of industry and channel – are breaking down. CMOs are no longer the masters of ‘the campaign’ or creative geniuses, they are engineers of customer experience. Concisely, in the same survey, Mohamed AlTajer writes “There won’t be CMOs in the future; there will be Chief Experience Officers who are responsible for the overall customer journey.”

Relating to Professor Wind’s book, his work sets the stage for what will be a needed change in outlook and approach. People fundamentally expect the same experience over any channel we interact with. In other words, people don’t just want consistency when dealing with companies, they want an ongoing conversation. Too long has marketing and customer service focused on what is corporately efficient without realizing that by accommodating and listening customers, both succeed.

This is a relatively abstract concept that is illustrated well by clothing company Patagonia. Patagonia is built upon a number of principles including use of recycled materials, a permanent one percent of revenue commitment to grassroots activism, and a culture based off the mountain climbing past of it’s founder, Yvon Chouinard. They branded around the catchphrase “Don’t Buy This Jacket,” urging customers to consider the environmental implications of the clothes they were buying and to encourage them to buy use. In an act in line with their guiding principles, considerate to their customers, and seemingly flying in the face of a proper sales campaign, Patagonia’s sales actually exploded. () By sticking to their philosophy and informing their customers, Patagonia has maintained it’s shopper experience as an outdoors brand and continued to be a model brand of customer and corporate goals aligning.

Bottom of the Ninth

In an age where social media and customer management is an increasingly crowded landscape, what do businesses needs to change to actually understand their customers?

In part, the change in cultural. Think about the idea of the traditional sales team. The concept, although certainly profitable, is not always the most healthy extension of company culture. This introduces a risk of divide between the culture of the sales team and the rest of the team. In an ideal corporate structure, everyone in a company believes in their brand alignment and, through their work, help contributes to its success. To cite Michael Keller, CEO of Pearson’s Candy, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

To illustrate this, consider REI, the outdoor clothing and supply behemoth. REI seeks out employees passion about their products – in other words, ‘outdoorsy people’ – and the same people that would buy the products themselves. REI employees also lead sessions teaching things such as kayaking, get discounts on their products, and even days off to go outside and play. This unapologetic commitment to culture has led to a massive boon in sales, especially in comparison to some of their less-focused competitors. Rather than focus on channel-specific campaigns and tracking, by curating a culture, REI was able to drive sales effectively.

To tie this concept more directly to the sales and marketing front, Atlassian stands out. As one of the few Australian unicorn companies, their lack of sales team has generated a lot of buzz. While potentially alarming at first, it is relatively easy to see this success is attributed to founders devoted to the need for their own product, building a culture where people want to work, and making all aspects of the company, to some extent, marketing. By creating a product that they loved themselves and employees that wanted to work there, the marketing came from largely word of mouth. Combined with distributing their software for free, Atlassian blossomed into a massive company. Co-founder Scott Farquhar notes, “I passionately believe about giving experience. Mainly to employees but also to customers… People remember experiences that you give them.In other words, your own employees should be your brand’s biggest advocate, and their actions will help a product sell itself. In the same vein, Palantir, backed with a 0 dollar marketing budget, relies nearly entirely on the passion of its employees to drive and perfect it’s product. As one of the most valuable privately held companies in the valley, it’s safe to say the tactic is working.

A Product Is Worth a Thousand Words

Aside the more intangible changes of culture, the answer isn’t to stop tracking points – in fact, tracking is as relevant as ever – but to approach how we integrate conversations into marketing, sales, and, most importantly, product differently. As companies break down their multi-channel induced silos, they need to integrate customer interactions with how they build their product.

I think summary of all of this can come from a talk I went to with Eone Watch’s founder, Hyungsoo Kim. In his attempt to make a watch for the blind, he quickly realized that his perceptions of building and selling the product were completely wrong. He had made a series of assumptions about the blind, including that they could read braille and wouldn’t care as much about the appearance of the watch. In testing, soon realized how painfully wrong he was, with around 10% of his test users knowing braille and appearance being one of the most asked questions. Bringing the product back to the drawing board, the watch was re-designed to be appealing and usable to blind and sighted alike, an intuition that only came from having blind people work closely with the product team.

While companies talk to a variety of customers, usually not as specific of a market segment as the one targeted by Hyungsoo, it is easy to make a number of simplifications and projections based off what we as businesses feel like we should be focusing on and what people will want. Multi-channel, as Professor Wind examined and built on, is necessarily reactive. It precludes companies from seeing the underlying motivations behind customers and precludes them from building their best products. If we follow stories, rather than words and points, it’ll be much easier to predict the next chapter. So let’s stop thinking of marketing and customer service as pages, but rather books about people.

Managing Multiple Customer Channels

The way people reach your business’ customer support has changed significantly in the past couple of years, primarily because of the advent of the internet, social media and more importantly, smartphones. Companies are now expected to answer the customer’s grievances over a vast array of channels – these can include emails, messages over social media such as Facebook and Twitter, SMS, contact page on the website and last but not the least, the very traditional but still relevant… phone.

The customer expects your representatives to be available for any queries around-the-clock, 24/7 and wants prompt replies. Failure to address your customer can result in losing out on important business resulting in loss of revenue. All the different channels of communication should be consistent with each other, for instance handling the customer’s emails should not keep your agents so preoccupied that they miss out on a customer’s phone calls.

Different Channels – Different Challenges

social-media-lead-generation Each channel has its own set of requirements, challenges, resources and your customer representative team will have different skills. You can’t expect one agent to perfectly handle all your channels with perfect tenacity. You will have to gauge their strengths and weaknesses and assign them certain roles accordingly. You will need someone with good communication skills in order to handle a large number of phone calls, while fast typing speed would be required of someone who is handling emails and social media.

With phone calls and chats, both the customer and the support agents are available at the same time and this can allow you to find common ground very quickly. Channels such as SMS and emails mean that neither the customer nor the support agent are burdened with the pressure of time, and can respond to each at their own leisure (not really true for support agents). While both channels have their strengths and weaknesses, the main purpose of a well oiled customer support team is to ensure that your customer has access to useful information in a short amount of time.

How you can go about designing your customer support team depends entirely on the size of your business and how much volume each channel receives. Depending on the type of business – whether it conducts most of its business online or offline – most customers might try reaching your support team on social media than on phone. This is most often the case with media publication sites with a strong online presence. For insurance or professional service companies, however, phone calls and traditional letters seem to be the order of the day.

It isn’t practical to blindly follow someone else’s multichannel strategy

It really isn’t one size fits all, and the preferable means of communication really depend on the customer. For most small scale businesses in Australia, it really isn’t a good idea to invest in every single type of channel you can get your hands on. It takes time and resources to gather useful, talented individuals and train them to properly handle their roles. It isn’t practical to be available 24/7 across phone, email, SMS and social media. Pick one service that might work best for you. If you’re an online seller, chances are that your customers might not really try to reach you on phone. However, that might not be the case if you’re a physical business with a physical store. For restaurateurs, it is more beneficial to have support agents dealing with phone calls 24/7 or during working hours, rather than having a team address customers online. Your preferred method of communication also depends on which channel the customer themselves choose.

Variety is beneficial for both employees and customers

A key point to understand is that your support team also needs a break from the hassle of going through a monotonous job on a daily basis. You need to change their roles every now and then to keep them engaged so that the quality of your support teams doesn’t falter. For instance, one week an agent would be addressing the customer over chat, the next they might engage them over phone. The idea is to ensure they don’t get bored. Boredom can kill productivity and your customers might actually interpret this as lack of concern or empathy for their problem.

The operator over the phone needs to have an encouraging, bubbling voice that exudes enthusiasm which can instill confidence in your customer. So even if their problem might take some time for your team to get back to, they will always be patient because the person on the end of the line was so… enthusiastic.

Studies have shown that deploying omnichannel solutions can boost the employee’s morale by more than 80% while giving your customer more options to reach you.

Make notes about the customer

By keeping a history of the customer’s purchase history, complaint records and other such data, your support agent will be able to address their problems more efficiently the next time they receive a complaint. This also means you can track the customer’s trends by quantifying key business metrics such as the customer loyalty and retention.

Making Returns on the Conversational Economy

Making Returns on the Conversational Economy

I remember reading an article almost ten years ago talking about how teens were sending over 40 texts a day on average. The tone of the article was incredulous, but the statistic pales in comparison to how we exist online now. Speaking personally, it’s not implausible I send off 40 messages before 10 AM in my morning inbox check in. Sarah Guo, a partner of Greylock, expressed it succinctly when she took to Medium: “More than a decade ago, academics such as Thurlow described a “communication imperative”—human beings are driven to maximize their communication volume and satisfaction. More recently, researchers have described it as compulsion.”

While constant connectedness is old news, technology has finally achieved a point it can leverage this behavior. As with all big shifts, there will be survivors and those who don’t adapt fast enough. Companies will need to change to a conversational mode of thought to maintain the experiences users expect and deliver the individuality anticipated.

People Always Talk

Nearly 25 years ago, Harvard Business Review wrote “today if you’re not on the phone or talking with colleagues and customers, chances are you’ll hear, “Start talking and get to work!” In the new economy, conversations are the most important form of work.” Conversations are how we track knowledge flows. Conversation flows are how people create value, share information, and illustrate how companies operate.

A cited example is McKinsey. McKinsey prides itself heavily on the intelligence of its members, and by an extension the true value of McKinsey over other firms is its extensive knowledge base. That knowledge is curated and developed through internal conversation and shared through internal conversation. In short, McKinsey is conversation.  

We are entering a new age for product development – one dictated by the conversational economy. Broadly, the conversational economy is the catchall phrase for companies, products, and ideas built on, alongside, or relying heavily on a conversational interface. More simply, they are services that leverage conversation.

This definition is board, and intentionally so. While some apps like iMessage, Snapchat and email obviously fit into this definition, conversation works as a backbone in services like Facebook, customer service complaints, and online advertising as well. Finding a common backbone helps derive a working model for these services.

Between the myriad of mobile apps used every day, access to the internet, and the seemingly innate human need to feel connected, conversation based platforms are dominating our lives. We have effectively destroyed the asynchronous quality of day to day life. We persist online, and, consequently, our conversations with one another never really begin or end. This data stream is a jackpot for product creation.

Smarter Everyday

Artificial intelligence, in the eyes of the public, has snuck past an important threshold. Presentations by titans like Facebook and Google have assured that we are moving away from the robotic idea of natural language processing in a rigid sense to natural language understanding. In other words, instead of responding to a keyword or a phrase, computers are beginning to be able to understand sentence, paragraphs, and intent.

There are a variety of causes for this – improvement of machine learning and deep learning, Moore’s Law, and rate of mobile and app data collection, to name a few. Algorithms and software are taking on their own intelligence. Just the idea that failed outcomes can make systems better is an astounding twist compared to five years prior.

Additionally, we’re in the middle of the boom of ambient computing, the idea that our environments and surroundings are responsive. We don’t have to open our phone or flip open a laptop to be connected. On the way to work I may pass a few smart cameras, a plethora of listening iPhones and Galaxy phones, an Alexa, Chromecasts, and more. Despite this, I would characterize myself as one of the less connected people in my demographic. At every step of my day my voice can be heard, position tracked, and activity monitored. Being connected no longer has much to do with if our phone is on our person or if we’re behind a keyboard.

Although passive collection has subtly pushed past our natural aversion to share information with technologies we don’t understand and people we don’t know, this one-sided trade has come with the expectation of usability. When software doesn’t work or apps crash, we no longer blame ourselves, we blame companies. We are inundated with choices, but that means that we have little tolerance of poor experiences. Users are more empowered than ever in that they don’t have to subject themselves to experiences they don’t want or content they’d rather avoid. We so demand these freedoms that events like net neutrality rapidly cause public outcry and social faux pas by companies like EA tank sales.

Computing, connectedness, and data almost completely undermine how product managers need to think about designing products. The need to leverage conversation to deliver value has emerged as one of the most critical company problems. IDEO acquiring a data analytics company, giants like Apple acqui-hiring boutique companies with human-centric software, and Salesforce pushing Einstein all serve as mine canaries that even the most established companies are racing and struggling to adapt.

Buying In and Cashing Out

As George Box famously cited – all models are wrong, but some are useful. Where is the utility of viewing products as ongoing conversations?

A helpful place to start is in how companies have historically fended off competition. These ‘moats’ include things like brand loyalty, unique data sources, and intellectual property. However, as technologies like AI are more readily available via open source projects, cloud hosting and computing are only a few clicks away, and systems of engagement continually emerge, the traditional ideas of tech defensibility are evaporating. In a Greylock article on Medium, they wrote “In all of these markets, the battle is moving from the old moats, the sources of the data, to the new moats, what you do with the data.”

In another words, companies are now finding defensibility through the experiences they create. To create these experiences for customers in the conversational era, companies will have to harness existing behavior, respond personally, and work faster.

Harnessing existing behavior is an exercise in invisibility. The real frontier for conversational companies to generate solutions for problems before the consumer is even aware. For example, Facebook realized that people asked for recommendations on their newsfeeds. Instead of creating a new service, they had posts automatically update with reviews and locations. They created a new card that changed automatically depending on what a user wrote. As expressed by a product designer at Facebook: “We didn’t try to invent a completely new behavior; rather, we found an existing one and made it way better.”

To cite an example within my own career, food industry companies often lose hours if not days within food recall investigations. Tracking a faulty shipment through several distributors can be tricky. We worked to create a product that reads the complaint before the owner may even be aware it exists and start and investigation. By the time an owner is even aware there is a problem, a report is ready. By approaching complaints, invoices, and shipments and messages between companies, value can be created seamlessly in a second layer.

As I’ve written about before, personalization is an increasingly critical element of producing customer lifetime value. Harvard Business Review started to notice this trend in their research on customer service: “Even as artificial intelligence becomes embedded in everyday interactions; human conversation remains the primary way people make complex purchases or emotional decisions.” The fatal error in a lot of software products is focusing on company efficiency over consumer experience. While these changes may boost bottom line in the short term, they encourage competitor entry and consumer drop off.

Conversational apps have an obvious outlet for personalization, and the power behind them allow easy switching between automation and human elements. More simply: “these intelligent agents will facilitate one-on-one conversations between consumers and sales or customer service representatives rather than simply replacing human interaction.” Imagine a case where someone sits on a delayed flight and sends out an angry tweet. A conversational built system could find the message, tag it, and route it to an agent. While the agent delivers a personal response with an update, the system has already sent an alleviating reward of extra miles to the customer. The captain may be alerted of sentiment on the plane and deliver an announcement. While an autoresponder may have been cheaper, the customer will now remember the exceptional level of immediate service and is more likely to return. As information and computing become free, the real commodity becomes the personality of the person on the other end of the line.

In the shorter term, there’s a simpler way to think about AI adoption – people don’t trust what they don’t understand. In the classic product management advice, it’s best to start with a problem and move to solution. Leveraging conversation is a means to building a better product, but that doesn’t change what the bottom lines should be. In other words, “Bots do not need to be human to be human centered.”

Outside of the shift in new product priorities, another major implication is how we use the technologies we use currently. In a blog post, Dan Rover (sp?) declared that bot won’t replace apps, but inboxes were the new home screen. Our email, text messages, and more were queues demanding our intention and driving our usage.

Companies leveraging platforms like WeChat have been able to effectively create micro services and apps for things like ordering that have integrated seamlessly with how we act now. Bot companies that are able to daisy-chain onto conversations to do scheduling and commuter planning have shone in venture capital funding. It’s not inconceivable the next unicorn will have nothing to do with creating a new platform but layering effortlessly onto the ways we talk with those platforms now.

Speak Now

We talk online all the time, but computing has finally let us create value from that. Companies need to invest in ways to leverage these conversations to deliver seamless and personal content. This means focusing on personnel and focusing on alleviating frictions than automation. Companies that don’t value the communication imperative and connectedness of customers will soon find themselves lagging in experience, and, later, sales.

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A prime example of this is Amazon Web Services’ fast climb to dominance. Legacy systems like Oracle required costly deployments and developers, and setting up cloud instances on AWS is only a few clicks away. IaaS records have shown Amazon’s sheer dominance. Oracle, trying to defend by housing data and curating an elite brand, couldn’t compete with Amazon’s engagement accessibility.

Perhaps the most obvious implication of smart conversational apps is efficiency. However, despite all the news and hype around an artificial intelligence singularity, businesses – and their customers – still revolve around the interactions person to person. This means that products needs to be resolved around facilitating conversation, collecting information, and iterating form that information. The AI boom has made it easier than ever to facilitate personal conversations no matter where customers are online.

Managing multiple customer channels

The way people reach your business’ customer support has changed significantly in the past couple of years, primarily because of the advent of the internet, social media and more importantly, smartphones. Companies are now expected to answer the customer’s grievances over a vast array of channels – these can include emails, messages over social media such as Facebook and Twitter, SMS, contact page on the website and last but not the least, the very traditional but still relevant… phone.

The customer expects your representatives to be available for any queries around-the-clock, 24/7 and wants prompt replies. Failure to address your customer can result in losing out on important business resulting in loss of revenue. All the different channels of communication should be consistent with each other, for instance handling the customer’s emails should not keep your agents so preoccupied that they miss out on a customer’s phone calls.

Different channels – different challenges

B2B-Campaigns-channel

Each channel has its own set of requirements, challenges, resources and your customer representative team will have different skills. You can’t expect one agent to perfectly handle all your channels with perfect tenacity. You will have to gauge their strengths and weaknesses and assign them certain roles accordingly. You will need someone with good communication skills in order to handle a large number of phone calls, while fast typing speed would be required of someone who is handling emails and social media.

With phone calls and chats, both the customer and the support agents are available at the same time and this can allow you to find common ground very quickly. Channels such as SMS and emails mean that neither the customer nor the support agent are burdened with the pressure of time, and can respond to each at their own leisure (not really true for support agents). While both channels have their strengths and weaknesses, the main purpose of a well oiled customer support team is to ensure that your customer has access to useful information in a short amount of time.

How you can go about designing your customer support team depends entirely on the size of your business and how much volume each channel receives. Depending on the type of business – whether it conducts most of its business online or offline – most customers might try reaching your support team on social media than on phone. This is most often the case with media publication sites with a strong online presence. For insurance or professional service companies, however, phone calls and traditional letters seem to be the order of the day.

It isn’t practical to blindly follow someone else’s multichannel strategy

It really isn’t one size fits all, and the preferable means of communication really depend on the customer. For most small scale businesses in Australia, it really isn’t a good idea to invest in every single type of channel you can get your hands on. It takes time and resources to gather useful, talented individuals and train them to properly handle their roles. It isn’t practical to be available 24/7 across phone, email, SMS and social media. Pick one service that might work best for you. If you’re an online seller, chances are that your customers might not really try to reach you on phone. However, that might not be the case if you’re a physical business with a physical store. For restaurateurs, it is more beneficial to have support agents dealing with phone calls 24/7 or during working hours, rather than having a team address customers online. Your preferred method of communication also depends on which channel the customer themselves choose.

Variety is beneficial for both employees and customers

A key point to understand is that your support team also needs a break from the hassle of going through a monotonous job on a daily basis. You need to change their roles every now and then to keep them engaged so that the quality of your support teams doesn’t falter. For instance, one week an agent would be addressing the customer over chat, the next they might engage them over phone. The idea is to ensure they don’t get bored. Boredom can kill productivity and your customers might actually interpret this as lack of concern or empathy for their problem.

The operator over the phone needs to have an encouraging, bubbling voice that exudes enthusiasm which can instill confidence in your customer. So even if their problem might take some time for your team to get back to, they will always be patient because the person on the end of the line was so… enthusiastic.

Studies have shown that deploying omnichannel solutions can boost the employee’s morale by more than 80% while giving your customer more options to reach you.

Make notes about the customer

By keeping a history of the customer’s purchase history, complaint records and other such data, your support agent will be able to address their problems more efficiently the next time they receive a complaint. This also means you can track the customer’s trends by quantifying key business metrics such as the customer loyalty and retention.

How To Do Customer Service The Right Way

Customer service is an extremely important part of a business. Your product is what catches your customers attention, and your service is what keeps them loyal. A strong company will already have great customer relationships. But a smart company will always be asking “What is good customer service?” If you are not constantly on the lookout for opportunities to improve your customer service, then your relationships will stagnate. Here are a few customer service tips for identifying ways to better serve customers.

Customer Service Done Right

1. Get Personal

Your customers want to feel like they have access to real people, not bots and FAQs. Offer more than just automated email responses, and do not let your telephone prompts or website send them down a rabbit hole. Take full advantage of social media (such as Facebook, Twitter and Yelp) and write responses when your customers post on your page. Post photos and bios on your website. This shows your customers that you are real people working on their behalf.

2. Be available

contact us customer service

Part of the personal touch is making sure your customers can reach you. For example if your business is primarily online, meet in person occasionally with local customers and offer video calls (such as Skype) for those farther away. Work early and late when needed, especially if your customers are in different time zones. Even providing customers with your physical address helps build their trust and reminds them that your company exists off the internet as well.

3. Cater to Your Customers

Make sure you are fully meeting your customers needs. Consider assigning reps to specific customers so they can build a relationship. Offer VIP treatment for your best customers to let them know they are appreciated. What special services might your customers like? Set up focus groups, interview customers, or run a survey to get ideas.

4. Create Communities

Your customers will feel even more valued if you treat them as important members of a community. You can bring various customers together in numerous ways, including webinars, interactive websites, social media, trade shows and conventions. And don’t forget that while your customers come to these forums to learn from you, you can learn as much, if not more, from them.

5. Specials Services / VIP

Are there special discounts or services you can offer that your competitors don’t? Can you offer something special for existing customers only? Could your services be considered luxury? Offering special treatment to your customers will help them to feel taken care of, and it’s also something they might be willing to pay more for. There are so many “bait and switch” offers and promotions for new customers only– reward the customers that have been with you the longest.

6. Offer Knowledge

Building strong relationships with our customers is great, but we also get to offer and trade knowledge with them. In our trade, a customer can compare several competing copies of a book online, but they won’t get a conversation about the title’s complicated printing history. When we’re speaking with customers, we spend the majority of time talking about the merchandise itself, trends in the market, and the customer’s own collecting habits. Afterward, we negotiate a deal. A customer can even know more than you do on a particular topic! Take advantage of this opportunity to learn more.

7. Let Customers Get to Know You

customer thumbs up

If you’re running your business from an unknown (or internet-only) location, it makes you more anonymous. This is common nowadays, but adding a face or an address to your business could help assure customers that you won’t disappear overnight. You don’t have to rent office space if you don’t really need it; just be upfront about where you operate from and consider ways of contacting customers aside from email. A little personal information can go a long way, and could minimize concerns of accessibility, trust, or safety.

Customer service is an extremely important aspect of your business that is often overlooked. Following these simple steps can boost your customer’s loyalty to your company and also increase sales! I suggest you start by creating some customer service goals for your support team. Be sure to align these goals to your business goals so you’re on track! This Customer Service Goal Template will help you get started!

Customer Service Software: The New Foundation of Marketing Strategies

More than 75% of customer-company interactions now occur online. Customers are continuously reaching out to companies over social media. Marketing teams that originally focused just on marketing over social media are now responsible for the customer service interactions. Customers constantly interact with these companies and expect quick meaningful responses.

Here are some great examples of customers contacting companies via social media. Shane from Canada contacted Samsung and explained to company representatives how he is a loyal customer. He told them all the products he owned and then kindly asked if they would send him a new phone for free. In return he offered this picture…

customer-service-samsung-canada

Samsung took this opportunity to show off its excellent customer service and market it to thousands of people. They sent him a new phone, and even customized it by putting his drawing on the back! Social media is a great way to get in contact with your customers, but remember, it’s okay to have some fun once in awhile. Samsung and other companies around the world often showcase their excellent customer service over social media because their marketing channels are so well established.

Woveon, an intelligent customer service startup, is paving the way in this online industry. Woveon is an easy-to-use online application providing businesses a centralized location to manage their customer channels, such as social media and phone calls. Using machine learning, social listening, a wide breadth of data, and a clean user interface, Woveon helps prioritize inquiries, identify valuable customers, and suggest personalized content. It levels the playing field for small businesses to compete with larger social media teams and helps enterprises visualize customer journeys. It simplifies online customer relations and makes businesses more efficient in managing the touch points they have with customers.

Learn How Woveon Can Improve Your Marketing Strategy

I recently read on Forrester, “I believe consumer behavior will continue to push eBusinesses to re-evaluate their approach to social media and move to more strategic interactions between marketing, branding, and customer service. Consumer adoption of both direct social support and peer-to-peer support has exploded in the last few years. Further, the majority of consumers expect a reply to their Facebook and Twitter posts.”

Companies should be working their best to get their customers to interact with their brand online. This can include Facebook, Twitter, email, YouTube and Google Ads. Millions of consumers are already online, and it is easy to reach larger audiences. But once you have reached these larger audiences, how do you manage the questions?

Single Platform Integration

Most companies have multiple channels of communication with their customers. Woveon has created a platform that combines all of your customer channels onto a single page. The simplicity allows your marketing and customer service teams to never miss a conversation.

Conversation History

Conversation history is another important feature when dealing with customer service and marketing. It helps to look at past interactions so that if a similar problem arises, you can quickly solve the problem with the steps in front of you. This feature also allows you to know the customer you are dealing with better.

Conversation Prioritization

Woveon’s advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities can prioritize customers. The program looks into the customer’s social media or purchase history and identify more valuable customers. This can include people with large followings on social media. Your customer service team can quickly respond and market how well your brand takes care of its customers.

Customer Service, The Foundation of Online Marketing

Every company’s priority is its customers. So why not focus on your valuable customers and solve the problems that arise? Woveon has the ability to simplify and better market your customer service. With so many different social media platforms, it can be hard for companies; however, integrating all channels onto a single page makes it extremely easy to keep track of all customers conversations. Conversation history allows representatives to look back on past interactions to learn more about your customer before interacting with them. It takes a software platform like Woveon to provide superior customer service. Learn more on how Woveon can help you by reading, 4 Ways Woveon Can Be Used To Spice Up Your Online Marketing or Woveon: Easy Peasy Solution To Providing World Class Customer Service.

CTA marketing strategy template

Convert Demand Generation into Customers – 5 Tips for Busy Marketers

If you’re looking for tips to convert your demand generation campaigns into paying customers, you came to the right place. All businesses must use different marketing and demand generation strategies to help build leads online, but generating leads should not be the only goal. If you’re unable to convert your leads into customers, then you are losing out and will not be able to complete sales. The business therefore, relies on marketers to come up with effective demand generation strategies that provide them with high quality leads. The leads a business acquires are only valuable if they turn into sales for the brand. That is why it is imperative that the business pays importance to the marketing aspect, and gets the sales process properly done. This will help them accomplish greater sales after generating valuable leads.

5 Demand Generation Tips

1. Use Data to Understand Customers

It is important that you take advantage of data to understand the entire process of converting online leads and getting customers for your brand. This is why so many businesses spend on customer management, customer channel and data collection tools, because it allows them to easily funnel all the customers from multiple campaigns and convert leads into sales. By having accurate data available you can easily focus your attention on reaching out to people with the highest chances of becoming long-term customers of the business.

This is where most marketing and sales campaigns fail, because they don’t give the data great importance to separating customer channels and fail to assess how it will help them out. Don’t fall into the same trap, and make channel management and data a crucial part of all sales meetings, so that everyone understands and can interpret what is converting, where the customers are coming from and how long it is taking to onboard them.

2. Act fast to convert leads

Once you have attracted the customers to your campaign, you need to move fast, because the longer you wait, the greater the chances that you will lose out – managing the customer response times. Faster response times will generate more demand to your campaign. There is no point in delaying a good lead, because if you don’t reach out to them in time, someone else from your industry will. That is why it is important that any decision you take must be fast, so that you can easily convert leads.

Reaching out to leads quickly also convinces customers that they are working with a business that is reliable and serious about working with them. This builds customer relationships and greatly increases the chances of the leads converting into sales.

3. Make sure to follow-up

Identify and open up multiple channels for leads to come back and reach out. Also find out where they are talking to manage the conversations effectively. When you’re reaching out to a new lead, and don’t get a good response, you shouldn’t give up on them. This is critical if you want to learn advanced demand generation strategies. Here’s a 3 step formula for writing brilliant email marketing subject lines that gets you through the door. 

Make sure that you reach out to them again, by sending them an email or calling them some other time so that you get the chance to talk with them. This will help increase your chances of communicating with as many high-quality leads as possible and help you convert the maximum number of customers for your business. Demand generation relies on being able to reach out to customers on what ever platform the customer is familiar with. 

4. Convert leads by qualifying them

Another great demand generation strategy is by qualifying your leads separately, and setting them apart in different categories. This will allow you to have a detailed breakdown of leads from different communication channels that you can work with and the ones that you need to let go. Mark them as high quality leads and leads that you can move past, because this is how you will advance.

This helps you save time and ensure that you only work on sales-quality leads and have the right conversations with the right customers. It drastically improves your demand generation chances, and ensures that you can build strong customer relationships. Qualifying leads is a strong tactic, and one that will allow you to properly funnel leads to convert them into sales. There is also a reduced risk of losing out on valuable clients, because you already have the information needed to convert them into sales.

5. Have a proper sales team

There will be no point in adopting any demand generation strategy if you don’t have a structured sales team. You need to ensure that your sales team not only manages relationships with existing clients, but is also able to convert new leads. This will help make things easier for you, because you will now be able to balance out the requirements and target customers effectively.

You should divide your sales teams so that one is focused on dealing with existing clients, while the other team handles the conversion of new leads. Having this kind of structure in your sales team will ensure that you don’t lose out on customers, and bring in new business as well. This can be achieved through a multi-channel conversation framework. 

Conclusion

If you plan your work properly, and structure your sales team, while using data carefully, then you will be able to greatly improve your chances of converting online leads from multiple channels. Remember that you need to stay in touch on various social, sms, phone, emails and chat platforms with your customers, and follow up with the right conversations, resulting in a successful sales funnel. 

The Art And Science of Customer Engagement

It’s a no-brainer that we no longer interact with customers the same way we did face-to-face in brick and mortar. With customers increasingly using social media, apps and websites to shop and browse, they are being empowered with more information and more choice. With so much choice available to the customer, it really boils down to the quality of their customer experience with the company that ultimately wins a customer and gains their loyalty. For any company that wants to increase their conversion rates and retain their customers (which company doesn’t, really), you need to excel at customer engagement.

What is Customer Engagement?

Customer engagement is, in its simplest form, the interaction between a company and their customers. But it should not be mixed up with Customer Service. Customer Service is an interaction with a customer as a result of the customer reaching out to the company.  Customer engagement on the other hand, is an interaction between the company and customer where both parties are actively reaching out to each other. On social media, this takes form of companies posting engaging content such as quotes and discounts to delight their followers, as well as responding and reacting to customers who reach out to them.

I’ll break this down with an example:

A customer has a problem with a company’s product. He takes a picture and posts this on the company’s Facebook.

Scenario 1: The company sees this issue and replies with a solution to the customer. End of interaction. This is customer service.

Scenario 2: The company replies to this customer publicly with a solution; and privately messages him asking for his email address in order to send him a small token of appreciation for letting them know. This time, the customer posts up his satisfaction with how the company has handled the issue. In response, the company reply favourably to his post and reshares it to encourage other customers to also contact them about issues, because they are actively listening to their customers. This, is customer engagement.

How To Do Customer Engagement And Do It Right

So, customer engagement is a little more work than your traditional customer service. It might be a real pain, but with such widespread use of the internet, that is the level of customer experience you need to provide to attract, retain and engage customers to develop them into promoters. Whilst there are countless ways to engage with your customers, there are three crucial points you need to address in every customer engagement strategy.

1. Be Omnipresent

customer engagement-customer service - omnipresent

Being omnipresent means that you’re everywhere at the same time. Meaning, you should be on social media, email, phone, chatbot and whatever other communication channel your company uses, all at the same time, around the clock. Customers expect a company to have presence on at least 3 to 4 social channels, as well as fast response times across all these channels. 32% of people who contact a company for customer support on social media expects a reply within 30 minutes. 42% expect a response within 60 minutes. Crazy right! If you’re anything like me, you’re a bit of a sloth replying to your friends on social media. Just imagine if you had hundreds messaging you every day expecting instant replies.

zootopia slow sloth-customer engagement - timeliness - customer service

Some ways companies are overcoming this hurdle is by outsourcing customer service, using social media management platforms, or just start slow by using social listening tools. Customers want to have their voice heard on a channel they use, and very importantly, want to know that you value their time.

2. Provide seamless omnichannel experiences

customer engagement - omnichannel - customer service - cmo - customer support

Omnichannel experiences mean blending the touchpoints a company has with its customers to provide a wholesome, integrated experience. Not only will this improve customer satisfaction, but the reduction of customer effort has been proven to be a huge contributor to customer loyalty.

Disney and Tomorrowland are amongst the top in providing an omnichannel experience to their customers. Customers start from mobile optimised websites, to online itinerary planning, to a mobile app that can be used to find locations at the venue. They have made it easier for customers to transition from platform to platform and from online to offline, making these entertainment giants some of the most successful in the world.

3. Be Personal

Nothing better than having human touch, really. In a Genesys Global Survey, 40% of 9000 consumers say better human service mattered to them the most in customer support, much more than other options such as integration of more channels and enriched content.

customer engagement - human touch - customer service - cmo - customer support - personalization

Being personal goes beyond using their name when interacting with them or showing a picture of your face on the chatbot screen; it also encompasses being responsive to their emotions and knowing their history with the company. The end goal is for the customer to develop feelings of personal connection to a company or brand. Once they are in this comfortable stage, it’s much more likely they will end up becoming evangelists of the company.

A fantastic example of online personalization is Hubspot’s smart content. Smart content intelligently personalizes content to the user’s need. Using information such as their job title, average page views or stage in the buying process, smart content changes the content the user sees on the website. A regular visitor would for example, see different call-to-actions or forms compared to a new user. The result? Personalized content did 42% better.

Hubspot smart content - customer engagement - customer service - personalization

Whilst there is no one right way to do customer engagement, being omnipresent, omnichannel and personalized (even to some degree) has reaped many benefits for all companies that have implemented it. What are you doing in your business to engage with your customers? Share with us in the comments below!

Navigating Your Way Past The “Trough Of Disillusionment” For Artificial Intelligence In Customer Experience

Guest blog by Steve Nuttall

The hype around Artificial Intelligence technologies is at its peak. According to the 2017 Gartner Hype Cycle, emerging technologies such as deep learning, machine learning and virtual assistants are at the “peak of inflated expectation”. Cognitive expert advisors have passed this peak and are now descending towards the “trough of disillusionment”. This occurs when interest wanes as experiments and implementations fail to deliver.

emerging technology hype cycle gartner 2017

The benefits of AI for customer experience management are potentially game changing. AI has the capability to analyse vast amounts of data in real time from various sources, including human behaviours and emotions. Expectations are high because this capability can then be used to create seamless and personalised customer experiences that are optimised to the device and channel of choice.

Pragmatists and battle hardened cynics will recall that when automation was first introduced into customer service channels, the results were often spectacularly underwhelming. So, is the application of AI to customer experiences destined to fall into the trough of disillusionment before climbing the slope of enlightenment? Or is there a path to follow to avoid the pitfalls of unmet expectations?

Intelligently using Artificial Intelligence for Customer Experience

In order to find out whether the application of AI to your business’ customer experience will take a downturn, it is necessary to first ask yourself: What is driving your organisation’s AI strategy? Is it because:

  • AI is all the rage in your industry and your organisation is fearful of being left behind?
  • If you take the lead in implementing AI, it will make you look smarter/cooler than your colleagues?
  • It sounds like a cool and fun toy to experiment with?
  • Your organisation needs to catch up with your competitors who have been early adopters of AI?
  • AI is a great opportunity to reduce the cost to serve our customers?

If the answer to any of the above is Yes, then the trough of disillusionment beckons.

Alternatively, if you are deploying or considering AI because…

AI can enable your people and optimise your processes to operate more intelligently and efficiently, in order to provide individualised and predictive experiences for your customers at scale

…..then a brighter future awaits.

For these technologies to have any chance of success you should have a clear sense of purpose of how to you intend to deploy AI to drive CX in your business. Here are three ways you can use AI in a purposeful way to create meaningful customer experiences.

1. Use AI to enhance your knowledge of the customer

Customer Connection Web Diagram

An example would be using data analytics to anticipate the needs of individual customers at each moment of truth and key stage of their journey. Some specific examples oh how businesses are using AI to enhance customer knowledge:

2. Use AI to create stronger emotional connections with your customers

Using AI to recognise a customer’s emotional state helps agents better respond to the customer during an interaction, thereby creating stronger emotional connections.

3. Use AI to empower your service agents

artificial-intelligence-robot

Not only can AI empower agents with emotional intelligence to reply appropriately to customers, it can be used as a tool to connect service agents with the right information in the organisation’s knowledge base in real time. Examples of why this can be powerful to a business: 

A recent study Fifth Quadrant CX undertook for Oracle showed that CX leaders acknowledge the potential of AI and are more advanced in trialling and implementing these emerging technologies to enable better customer experiences. AI is being used to combine data from multiple sources to create individual profiles for each customer, enabling agents to take immediate action on what customers want. Consequently, CX Leaders are outperforming their counterparts by creating emotional connections with their customers through more predictive and personalised customer experiences.

As a result, nearly two thirds of CX leaders say their organisation’s revenue growth outperforms their industry counterparts, compared with only a quarter of CX laggards. The proof is therefore clearly in the pudding: when applied in a purposeful and meaningful way, AI technology can enable organisations to increase agility and overcome competitive threats and leverage this advantage to drive acquisition.

 

Steve Nuttal fifth quadrant customer experience head of researchWritten by Dr Steve Nuttall – Head Of CX Research, Fifth QuadrantSteve has worked in various leadership roles as a market research insights professional for over twenty years in Europe, Asia and Australia. He leads Fifth Quadrant’s program of CX strategy research and is an international speaker and presenter on best practice customer experience. Steve assists organisations to deliver their customer-centric strategies and business performance goals including designing and implementing programs to help optimise the customer experience.