Forget Twitter: Old-Fashioned Techniques For Making Customers Feel Connected

Does your dry cleaner implore you to like them on Facebook every time you drop off a suit? Does your mechanic beg you to friend them on Facebook? There's a better way to reach out and authentically connect with your customers.

“Like us on Facebook!” my dry cleaner implored me from the sign on their door. The cash register receipt from my haircut shop beseeches me to follow them on Twitter. On my own organization’s website we offer you no less than five ways to “join the conversation” with us. A couple weeks ago I was sitting in a meeting with co-workers when three of us received incoming text message chimes. Driven by the parental need to immediately check to make sure it wasn’t school calling with some worst-case scenario, we all surreptitiously peered at our phones. It was an advertisement for a new orthodontic treatment from the dentist we all (unknowingly) shared.

Are we to the point where organizations have to stalk us to be successful? It’s like a thousand virtual hands, tugging and snatching at my hem, frantic in their need to connect and keep me connected. It all feels so desperate—and desperate is not attractive. What did organizations do to stay connected to customers before the Internet, and what are the leadership implications for those of us trying to build relationships with our customers?

There is a McDonald’s I pass frequently that is getting a major facelift. Over the course of a couple weeks, they tore down the old building and put up a modern, sleek one in its place. The stone and wood façade is a big improvement, and knowing McDonald’s, the inside probably reflects everything they know about efficient food service. My only complaint is they took down their old sign and replaced it with a newer, lower-profile model. The old sign was the kind that kept the running tally of burgers sold (holding at a staggering 99 billion when I saw it last). I don’t know what it was that I liked so much about that simple marketing campaign. Maybe it was the strange sense of sharing the experience of watching that company grow even bigger. When the old sign was gone, I felt a weird pang of disconnection. How would I know when McDonald’s will pass the next burger milestone?

I started paying attention to other signs at McDonald’s and could not find any more of the old style. Out of curiosity, I checked the McDonald’s corporate website to see if it revealed any clues about this trend. Nothing. On their customer service webpage, I typed my question in the allotted space. Before I could submit my question, I was required to complete fields for my full name, address (maybe someone was going to come to my house with the answer) phone number, and email address—twice. I clicked submit and got an instant response—that I had not selected from the drop-down “title” box. I quickly awarded myself an honorary doctorate out of annoyance and submitted my question.

Two days later I got an email response that said, “…the information you are specifically requesting is considered proprietary business information. I'm sorry I cannot answer your specific questions.” Hmm. It was obvious that the response was created by a keyword-search automated system. A bit more digging around on their website revealed a telephone number, which I called. I was quickly connected to a helpful person who politely asked me to hold while she researched my question. Less than 60 seconds later she was back, and informed me that those signs are still in use at many stores. It is, she explained, the choice of the franchise owner to use the style sign they prefer.

I don’t need to follow my dry cleaner, but I love it when the owner recognizes my car and comes out to say hello. I am incredibly impressed when I see the local branch of my mega-chain haircut salon showing up as a sponsor on the back of what seems to be every Little League shirt in town. There is nothing like hearing my dentist call my house on the night of some treatment earlier in the day just to see how I’m doing. And, I appreciate that a huge company like McDonald’s offers me a human being to talk to instead of a forced self-service option through some keypad prompted recording. These are the experiences that make me feel connected.

And it makes me wonder what other old-fashioned techniques will be the next “breakthrough” in helping clients feel connected to their product or service. For leaders, this is another example of the need to be able to look back to look forward. Be open to the new opportunities that technology and social media offer, but recognize that some of the things that worked in the past worked for a reason. What are the old-fashioned methods that work well for your organization?

—Craig Chappelow, who specializes in 360-degree feedback and the development of effective senior executive teams, is a portfolio manager at the Center for Creative Leadership (ccl.org), a top-ranked, global provider of leadership education and research.

[Image: Flickr user Neil MacWilliams]

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10 Comments

  • Raissa

    I think the whole point is that we need to BE where our customers are. It's pretty ridiculous to pose "we'll catch me on Twitter, why would you NOT try that?" and then retard the use of other means.

    Not to say that isn't precisely what's being done. I DO have an easier time getting customer service response on social media than traditional means, maybe because those in charge of monitoring are already manager level, or cynically, maybe because with a Tweet I've put them at risk of many more potential customers being exposed to the complaint. Yet the actual momentum happens when that manager puts me in touch with, or gets in touch with himself, the human who could help me all along. All I can say is that several times in the past year, Twitter netted results when other methods had not.

    And that's sad. And yet, am enormous opportunity, all at once.

    Kudos to Amazon, Southwest Air, Amex , Uverse and FedEx who helped to facilitate great customer service this year by any medium.

  • Jonathan V

    I like the discussion about using both social media and traditional media. The talk of the 90's internet craze made me think of the value of using "bricks and clicks" rather than "clicks" or "bricks." Thanks for pointing out the need to be intentional about why you're doing what you're doing from a marketing perspective, rather than just jumping on the bandwagon because everyone else is there.

    And yes, I did tweet this to my follower.

  • mrmag83

    i think, as in all things in life, its balance Craig. Christy made a very valid point. i also think think a combination of the old and new forms of technology and communication help to bridge the gap.  personalize the tweet, and maybe still send the "thank you for your service" card signed by the owner of the business that helped you. a little of both makes me smile.

  • Adrian

    Just having a shop assistant break off from a conversation with a colleague to serve me would be good  - or serve me without holding a mobile phone conversation at the same time (it happened this week). No point in investing in social media if the staff themselves can't be social

  • Jessica Turner

    If a business is using social media well, it can serve as a powerful customer service tool. Social media is not intended to disconnect customers from the companies they love, but rather should make it easier to communicate with them. The next time you feel the urge to ask a business a question, I urge you to reach out via their Facebook or Twitter accounts instead of searching through their corporate website for a feedback form or phone number. If their presence is being managed properly, an actual person will be on the other end eager to quickly provide you the information you seek.

  • Amber King

    Traditional marketing generate more value that the marketing that we have today. Do not get me wrong, I like social media and all. Its just that before, it is more personal that today.

  • mercedes57

    I think you have a big point here Craig and thank you for writing about it. While social media has its place and could be very helpful and efficient, the whole phenomenon reminds me of the late 90's during the internet boom; it was new, a great novelty, with great potential and everyone wanted to be in it without really understanding it and not knowing how to use it. I would argue that 15+ years later, it is still not understood but it's beginning to be part of the mainstream. Same thing will happen with social media, it is the rage now, everyone wants to use it, leverage it for business and personal benefit but it's not clearly understood. It will take time before the dust settles and we will all realize that, in certain occasions, social media isn't the way to go nor do we have to abandon traditional methods altogether to achieve results.

  • David Martin

    Very good article. I would agree with Christy, that asking people to follow you is not a good strategy. I saw a tweet from a friend (@Tini_Bop) today about her experience at a doctor's office: "Got a tour, fresh baked cookies coming out as I walked in, popcorn & drinks - O & new coffee mug. Dr. Powers is the best darn doc around!" - This is the type of behavior that marketers should try and encourage. It goes back to making every interaction with your customers an absolute delight. Christine was treated out of the ordinary and I am sure the doctor wasn't even aware of her Klout score being a 61! :-) Treat your customers right and everything else falls into line. A Simple Thank You for sharing this thought!

  • Christy

    Dear Craig, The pushy "follow us" tactics that you refer to are perhaps examples of businesses doing social media marketing the wrong way.  However, please keep in mind that social media used correctly is very "social" and personal.  I would wager that if you had tweeted that question to McDonalds' Twitter account instead of using the more dated forms of communication such as standard websites and telephone calls, you would have gotten a satisfactory answer much faster.  And PS - I learned about this blog post on Twitter.  If someone hadn't tweeted it, I wouldn't have read it.

  • Craig C.

    Christy,
    What a great point! 

    Your messgae reminded me that after having maddening difficulty getting my local newspaper delivered, and having no luck through the traditional channels, I wrote on the publisher's blog on a Sunday night.  Problem solved on Monday.

    Thanks for reminding me.