Courting Customers: The Happy Consumer Equation

A positive face-to-face relationship with a customer is a key part of the happy consumer equation, but for many companies the best opportunity for ongoing courtship is online.

Ever since the dawn of online customer complaints, one legendary story represents the consumer advocacy tipping point. That 2009 incident involved a musician from Nova Scotia, Canada, and his plight: to get United Airlines to repair his broken acoustic guitar, damaged during his travels. In Dave Carroll’s words, "he wasn’t the first person abused by the airline’s customer service." He was, however, the first to create a YouTube video describing his eight-month ordeal.

There are varying stories about how much damage this viral video did to United’s brand, but shortly after the song’s launch, the BBC reported that the airline’s share price dropped 10 percent, reducing the company’s value by $180M. Whatever the number, this story defines a dramatic customer service fail.

Years later, the clear winner is the customer: Carroll. He is an award-winning musician, author of United Breaks Guitars: The Power of One Voice in the Age of Social Media, the co-founder of Gripevine (a service dedicated to managing customer complaints), and a sought-after keynote speaker.

While Carroll’s success soars, United and most businesses - both small and large - still struggle with today’s 24/7 customer demands and how to cultivate experiences that keep people coming back (ultimately leading to better bottom-line company results and happier customers).

This is no easy task; however, a well-executed digital customer-relationship strategy is a giant step in the right direction.

A positive face-to-face relationship with a customer is a key part of the happy consumer equation, but for many companies the best opportunity for ongoing courtship is online. If you ignore your audience there, they’re unlikely to keep doing business with you. In fact, based on a Conversocial study released last year, 88 percent of consumers are less likely to buy from companies who ignore complaints
in social media
. In other words, ignorance is not bliss.

The expectation in 2013 is that most companies will learn from customer complaints/horror stories routinely highlighted on Twitter, on Facebook, on blogs, and, quite often, in mainstream media. Still, these businesses forget to follow some pretty basic rules.

Set Customer Expectations

Few companies can afford 24-7 coverage, so the next best thing is to
set expectations for customers looking for answers online. This can
be as simple as sharing details of the hours you check your social
media sites. While large companies may not get off so easy, for small
businesses, it’s fair to explain to your audience that your small team
(maybe just you!) is not available to deal with customer complaints at
3 a.m but will promise a same-day answer.

Take the Conversation Offline

If the discussion turns ugly in the digital space, your best bet is to
interject quickly, and move the conversation from a public space to a
private space. This means reaching out and suggesting an email
conversation - better yet - a phone call, if the situation warrants
it. Due to the ease of dishing out complaints in 140 characters or
less, most consumers will cool down if they feel someone is listening
to them.

Thank Your Best Customers

If customers regularly check in to your business on Foursquare or
tweet positive reviews, it’s just good business to thank them and even
provide them with a freebie once in a while or discount on a product.
Word will travel.

Although the risk is high for unhappy customers, the Internet makes it
possible to develop new, long-term relationships with customers that
have never been possible before. Sometimes it can be as easy as
treating customers with respect within a reasonable amount of time,
but other times it takes a little extra effort to court and satisfy
the people who can make (or break) your business. If Carroll taught
us anything, it’s that buyers have more power today than ever before,
so businesses need to ensure a happy consumer equation.

[Rose in Hand: Lexxizm via Shutterstock]

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