Digital Customer Service: The New Rules of Engagement

new rules of customer serviceCustomer services tactics are rapidly evolving. Technology led to a shift in the way people shop and do business, both online and in brick-and-mortar shops. Amazon leads online retailers in delivering superior customer experience, according to the 2014 Temkin Experience Survey.

The survey asked consumers for feedback about their recent interactions with companies in a full range of industries, including grocery stores, fast-food chains, retailers, and banks. Participants were asked to rank their experience on a seven-point scale in terms of three areas of customer experience: functional, accessible, and emotional. Amazon came in 15th overall, tying with fast-food chains such as Subway, to rank second among all retailers and first among online retailers.

Amazon’s ability to provide a virtual experience that delivers the same consumer satisfaction as prominent brick-and-mortar vendors exemplifies how to transfer traditional customer service principles to the digital market space. Amazon and other leading digital vendors excel at following a few fundamental principles that set them apart from their e-commerce competition.

Multichannel Is Mandatory

In Forrester’s review of the most important trends in customer service in 2014, the top trends revolved around consumers’ increasing demand for multichannel support. While service delivered by voice remains consumers’ standard preference, customers also want the option of being able to serve themselves online as well as receive digital support through chat and email.

Consumers also demand the ability to continue a customer service conversation across multiple channels, so that a ticket might be initiated by an online submission form, continued through email, and concluded over the phone. With smartphones becoming the new storefront, mobile customer service forms an integral part of this multichannel equation, with Forrester projecting that mobility will become the dominant paradigm for addressing consumer concerns.

Instant Online Support Is Expected

In an age of instant communication, consumers have come to expect the same speedy support they would experience at a physical store. LivePerson’s Connecting with Customers Report found that 71 percent of consumers expect to be able to access help within five minutes, and 48 percent will abandon the purchasing process if help is not forthcoming within this timeframe.

To address this need for instant online support, it’s vital to implement a help system that provides instant support across multiple channels, such as Zipwire’s client-focused inbound contact center, enabling shop owners to interact with online customers in real-time and follow-up with them offline as needed.

Operating online customer service 24/7 365 days a year is challenging, especially for small businesses with limited resources. New technologies, such as, enhance online customer service, but future options might rely on intelligent decision support systems and artificial intelligence combined to offer customer service through machines rather than humans. I expect new companies with such offering in the near future as advances in these technologies increase capabilities and reduce cost.

Automated Inventory Is Essential

E-commerce created new shopping behaviors that require merchants to make adjustments to how they handle inventory in order to keep up with customer service demands.

Merchant Warehouse describes a common situation whereby approximately two out of three consumers search for information about products online before buying them in local stores, hoping to avoid shipping delays and costs, while six out of 10 of these same buyers also engage in the opposite behavior of browsing in stores and then buying online—hoping to find better prices.

One implication of this is that merchants with an effective inventory system, ones who can ensure that products are readily available when customers are in a buying mood,  enjoy advantages over competitors.

The customer service paradigm for addressing this issue is Wal-Mart’s just-in-time inventory system, which uses automated sales forecasting and restocking to make sure popular products are available on schedule to meet buyer demand.

Fast Shipping Is Fundamental

In an on-demand digital shopping environment, efficient  inventory stocking must be supported by equally fast shipping to customers. Amazon’s recent addition of same-day shipping options to its already-popular two-day delivery service prompted Google and Barnes & Noble to follow suit, the Christian Science Monitor reports. Most recently, industry giants seek permission to operate drones for delivering purchases within minutes or hours, not days. Surely, the days of The Jetsons are near when Amazon promises delivery within 30 minutes.

Instead of trying to compete with giants such as these, small businesses are using Amazon’s respected shipping services for order fulfillment, according to Daily Breeze. This means that smaller enterprises should expect their competition to soon be offering overnight and even same-day delivery as a matter of routine customer service. If you can’t get it there fast, your competition will.

Need Help?

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Social Media Success: Give a Sh*t About Customers

Sorry, can you say “Shit” in avideo platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player respectable blog post? But, some businesses simply don’t GET how social media works and instead bury their heads in the sand ignoring customer complaints on social networks. (Besides, I’m quoting Gary in this video).

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — you CAN’T ignore social media. OK, maybe you don’t want to dedicate the time or resources to creating a social media campaign or maybe you’re afraid of social media — maybe you’re afraid someone will say something bad about you and don’t want to give them a platform for doing that.

Well, NEWS FLASH — they’re ALREADY complaining about you. You’re just NOT listening.

And, you’re PISSING OFF your customers by ignoring their complaints.

Social media: WOM on steroids

Before social media, businesses could just ignore customer complaints because, in the grand scheme of things, a few dissatisfied customers couldn’t impact your ROI — at least not so you’d notice. But, social networks changed all that. A single disgruntled customer complaining on Twitter, can have a serious impact on your bottom line when their complaint is amplified through 1000’s of Tweets and millions of followers. Ignore that, and you’re soon dead (as a company, not literally).

Businesses incorporated this policy of ignoring customers into their culture. They knew, if you bottled up a few media types by inviting them to your expensive boxes for sporting events and sent a few bottles of expensive scotch at Christmas, you were safe. Some of you might remember Pres. John Kennedy. His affair with Marilyn Monroe was a secret until long after his murder because the media and secret service kept it quiet and his presidency was safe from personal scandal. Now, compare that with Anthony’s Wiener (Anthony Weiner, former senator from NY). The man exercises poor judgement in sending images of his junk to a paramour and, because of social media, it’s the rare person who hasn’t seen them (BTW, he seem inordinately proud of something quite ordinary, but I digress). In this case, the media COULDN’T ignore the scandal without looking silly, since so many folks saw the images through a social connection. The same is true of Tiger Woods, who paid the ultimate penalty for an extra marital affair when folks began sharing images of his car wrapped around a tree and wanted to know why.

Social media success: handling complaints

Now, maybe these cases were inevitable in a world that’s increasingly connected, but YOUR firm doesn’t have to fall victim to this fate IF you handle complaints properly. Here are some tactics for handling complaints in social networks:

Don’t hide: don’t delete

The WORST thing you can do is delete complaints you see on your social platforms. In the early days of the internet, companies thought they could bottle up dissatisfaction by buying up domains like: “Microsoft sucks” and “I hate Apple”. Well, it didn’t work. And, social media is so omnipresent that you can’t just hide your dirty laundry away. Instead, face complaints head on, preferably quickly and openly.

Be proactive

If you notice a problem with your product or service, explain the problem, apologize, and offer a solution BEFORE folks start complaining about your brand. Hey, we all make mistakes. Own them, fix them, and move on. People respect that.

Generate community

It’s really hard to hate a nice guy. So, get to know folks and build a community. People will overlook a lot if you are likable and present in your community, offer support, and donate to their charities.

We also know that lots of product “failures” are really human failures — the product worked just right, but the consumer didn’t use it right. Your community is a great help here. They can offer solutions and consumers don’t feel so dumb when it’s the community telling them they did it wrong.

Evangelists might also pop up in your community. These folks defend your brand when others attack you, which also carries more weight than when you try to defend yourself.


Effective complaint handling

The hallmark of effective complaint handling is to:

  1. respond quickly
  2. make the customer whole (as if the failure never occurred)
  3. empathize
  4. validate the customer’s feeling
  5. be open and honest — a little mea culpa goes a long way

Your turn

What do you think about the video?

Share your experiences with social media complaints. How have you handled them? What worked? What didn’t?

I’m always happy to hear from my guests.

And, if there’s anything I can do to help you, please contact me. Let me also offer some free resources you might find valuable. First, I have a FREE 66 page ebook on getting started on blogging and why you should. I also have the first 2 chapters of my new social media analytics book available FREE to folks willing to provide feedback.


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#BePresent: Engagement Metric from Sprout Social

home-infographic-v3-2In social media, we’ve always said the first rule is that you have to be present.

Your customers are online and, if you fail them, their more likely to complain on Facebook or Twitter than to pick up the phone or register their complain on your website.

That’s why we say you must be present — even if you aren’t using social media to market yourself, you need to be there to respond to your customers.

And, Sprout Social has a new tool that tracks the engagement you generate on Twitter — #BePresent.

Twitter engagement

Twitter has promised for eons that we’d have metrics to guide optimization. But, we’re still waiting.

Instead, Sprout Social developed an interesting tool — and it’s FREE.

With the tool you get:

  1. A rank of how your engagement compares with others on Twitter.
  2. The average time it takes you to respond to messages posted by others on Twitter.
  3. And, best of all, it gives you relative statistics — showing how your engagement compares with others similar to you.

And, I like having benchmark statistics — they’re a great way to gauge how well you’re doing.

Missing engagement?

I tried out the #BePresent tool and didn’t get much — of course, I’m not a business and I mostly get new Followers, and RT (which I use Hootsuite Analytics to track).

I think the #BePresent tool works better (and gives better insights) if you’re a business whose customers might complain on Twitter. Then, when the tool measures response time and rate — it’s a meaningful analytic.

Because the longer it takes you to respond to a complaint the more damage to your reputation.

If you’re like me, and most of your messages are just autoreplies from new folks you’re following, the low engagement score likely doesn’t mean much.

Engagement assessment better

So, if Sprout Social wants my advice on how to make their tool better, I can sum it up in 1 word — transparency.

I’d really like to know where the numbers come from?

What actions improve your engagement?

Who are those you’re comparing me to? Smaller? Bigger?

Give it a try and let me know what you think?

Interested in other kinds of social media metrics, check out my new social media analytics book — I’m giving my first chapter away. If you’ll give me feedback, I’ll send you the whole book when it’s done.




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Integrate Your Social Media with Offline Advertising

social media marketing successIntegrating Online and Offline Marketing

Cross listing

Set up your social media with memorable vanity links so when you share them offline, customers can find you easily.  This way, when you put your Facebook symbol in your ad, customers can find you easily on Facebook (or Twitter or Foursquare, etc).  Getting a vanity URL on Facebook is easy.  You request a vanity URL and, unless someone is already using that name, it’s yours.  It’s a good idea to claim your vanity URL even if you’re not ready to launch your Facebook page yet — so someone else doesn’t claim it first.

Now you can put your Facebook logo (plus Twitter, Google+, etc) on everything from advertising to stationary to business cards.  With so many smart phones, it’s also a good idea to use QR codes — those funny boxes composed of black and white elements.  These connect your print ads to everything from your website, to your social media, coupons, to specific information.  Now, you can even get QR codes in the shape of your logo — like a Coke bottle — to further connect your branding with your digital presence.

Make it easy

You can also put Facebook symbols around the store and encourage folks to fan you.  However, you’ll probably need to give customers a reason.  One local business we visited gave customers a coupon to use on their next visit if they promised to LIKE the company on Facebook.  Now, you can argue that not everyone who gets a coupon will go to Facebook and LIKE you.  But, the law of reciprocity suggests many of them will.  It’s a tit-for-tat situation where I give you something and you feel obligated to give me something in return.

Besides, even if they don’t join your social media platform, they’ll likely visit your store again and may become a regular customer.

Use QR codes

QR codes are very versatile and   There are lots of places to get QR codes, like here.

You can put QR codes around your store and encourage folks to scan them with their smartphones to get coupons or other special offers.  It appeals to the geek in us and draws folks into your store.  You can also put these in advertising to make it easier for folks to Like your Fanpage.


Foursquare, Google Places and others use what’s called location-based marketing.  You encourage folks to check in to your Foursquare site from your store — they have to be within a short distance of your store for this to work.  When they check in you might offer a coupon or discount or you can encourage frequent visits by offering specials to the “mayor” of your store — the person who checks in the most.

These mobile technologies have huge opportunities for businesses because the person is already in your store and they give you the opportunity to modify their behavior.  Larger businesses might also use Shopkick, which is a more expensive technology that allows you to communicate with customers in the store based on which part of the store they’re in. For instance, a customer visiting the children’s department might receive a discount coupon for toys (encouraging them to visit that department).  Visitors might also get coupons/ discounts for behaviors that translate into sales, such as visiting a particular department, the in-store restaurant, or the fitting room.

Yelp and other review sites

Don’t forget to encourage customers to comment on Yelp and other review sites.  And, don’t neglect filling out your Yelp profile including your menu and service hours.

For many small businesses, this is the most cost-effective way to create an online presence.  But, don’t forget to integrate your social media with offline advertising.  Include those great Yelp comments in your print advertising or brochures your create for your business.

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5 Tips for Creating Social Media Content that Rocks!

social media marketingWe often hear that social media content is KING!

And, there’s a reason for that — social media content encourages sharing, builds lasting customer relationships, helps prime the sales funnel with qualified prospects, and builds your online reputation (brand).

But, creating great social media content is hard — especially if you have to do it every day.  And, looking at that blank screen knowing you’ve got to post SOMETHING, can be daunting.

Now that I’ve got your attention, let’s talk about where all that great social media content comes from.

1. Social media content should provide value to readers.

So, learn more about your readers so you can provide information they’ll find valuable.

Facebook questions is a good place to start.  Ask fans what they want to hear.  Or post questions at the bottom of your posts asking people what they want.

Of course, there’s a good way to ask that question and a bad way to ask the question.

If you simply ask fans what they want to read, you’re not likely to get many answers.  Instead, ask questions such as:

What’s the single biggest problem you face in ___________________ (fill in the name of the market where your products compete)

Don’t forget to offer options (people like multiple choice much better than essay).  Also, remember to invite fans to share the question with their friends.  You can even make a contest out of it.

2. Go to your analytics

What social media content gets shared most frequently?

What social media content gets the most pageviews?

What social media content entices readers to stay on the page longest?

Find out what works and create more social media content that readers like.

3. Find trending topics in your area.

I get Google Alerts every day.  Each Google Alert gives me links to top content in my area — marketing, social media, Facebook, Twitter, Google+,  and LinkedIn.  You can bring all these into a Google Reader so everything is right there in one place.

I scan posts from probably 20 blogs related to my area every day.

I use Alexa and Insights for Search to find trending topics suitable for creating social media content.

4. Network

I go to meetings, meetup groups, and just meet friends for lunch to talk about social media and marketing.  Often looking at the world through their eyes helps generate potential topics for social media content.

I also find topics arise when meeting with clients and pitching Hausman and Associates.  If clients and prospects have questions, likely others out there have similar questions and would appreciate some answers.

I try to keep track of questions after my presentations.  Again, these questions are great sources to turn into social media content.

5. Get out there

Don’t just hibernate in your office — get out there, both virtually and physically.  Experience other things, but keep your eyes open for opportunities for creating social media content.  You’d be surprised how much you can learn just be watching what people do.  Or think about your own behavior.

Since I write mainly about marketing and social media, I try to understand why I chose a particular restaurant or movie.  What made me want a particular sweater?  Why did that man pick up that product, then put it back down again?  Is there some pattern in how people navigate busy rush hour traffic that helps me understand how they make consumption choices?

I created great social media content observing how performers create community with their audiences.

And, don’t forget not all great social media content is words.  Pictures, video, music, infographics, and other media make an interesting addition to your social media content.

Your Turn

What is the best way for YOU to create great social media content?

Where do your ideas come from?

And, of course, what topics would you like to see covered here (LOL).


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