5 top visual content tips to improve your social media presence

visual content on social mediaMarketers are continuing to invest an increasing proportion of their budget in social media.

The consensus seems to be that coupled with the continued investment in social media, visual content marketing will be of the key e-commerce trends for 2015.

The ease of which images and videos can be shared on social media makes it an obvious platform for visual content marketing. We take a look at the benefits of visual content and offer some helpful tips on how to use visual content to improve your social media presence.

Rise of visual content.

“The use of visual content in social media has been phenomenal with 70% jump in 2014” ViralTag.

This remarkable growth in the use of visual content is the result of a number of factors including:

  • Increased mobile usage:  3 out of 4 Facebook users now access Facebook through their smartphones. And since, images are far easier to digest on a phone than large chunks of heavy text visual content is becoming increasingly popular .
  • High speed wireless networks: Thanks to the wider availability of high-speed wireless networks we no longer have to wait for eons for an image to download.
  •  Growth in social media: The continued rise in social media. All the key social media platforms continued to grow during 2014. Of particular note is the impressive growth from visual content based platforms  like Pinterest and Instagram who grow active users by 111% and 64% respectively.
  • Human nature: By our very nature we are drawn to visual stimulus. The majority of us are visual learners which means we can digest visual content far more easily than text-based content. In fact according to HubSpot, visual content actually makes up 93% of all human communication.
  • Accessible visual marketing tools: There are more visual marketing tools at our disposal than ever before. Creating professional looking pictures, images and videos is no longer just for big companies and big budgets – we can DIY great, original visual content ourselves.

link building for sepBenefits increased visual content brings your business.

Increasing the amount  of visual content your have can bring a number of benefits to your business. For example;

  • Helps with link building: Visual content is highly shareable. Quality inbound links back to your website content via social media can help you with your SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and improve your search engine page rankings.
  • Increased customer engagement: Visual content such as photos, images, infographics and video improves engagement on social media. According to Hubspot social media posts with photos account for 87% of total interactions.
  • Makes an impact: In a crowded market of online communications a good visual can help your message stand out. Visual content enables you to convey ideas and messages immediately.
  • Builds brand awareness: Engaging visual content can increase your number of fans, likes and comments – growing the awareness of your brand amongst an audience

tips to implement visual content5 tips to improve your social media visual content.

To help get you started we’ve outlined a few ways to implement quality visual content that will improve your social media presence.

1. Use visuals to support all your posts

Sounds obvious but a surprising number of businesses still post social media updates without adding a photo or image. Remember:

” The brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than the time it takes for the brain to decode text” Hubspot

Support all your posts with an image. It is far more likely that you’ll engage a user if you have a captivating visual. For example, say you have just written a great new blog article. It is a fascinating topic and you want to share it on social media. Great, but no matter how compelling your headline and subject matter is, it is not going to get anywhere near as much engagement as it would with a relevant image to support it.

Don’t forget to use images on Twitter  posts too. According to HubSpot a Twitter post containing at least one image will increase shares:

  • Average Twitter shares with no image = 9.67
  • Average Twitter shares with an image = 20.36

Finally, don’t use lack of budget as an excuse to not include photos and images. There are a plethora of sites that offer the use of free or low-cost photos and images. Just remember some of the free images may require an attribution.

2. Think interesting, inspiring and original

As we’ve mentioned above, using images is essential. But to really captivate your audience try to be as visually interesting and inspiring as possible. Mix things up by trying to veer away from using too many stock pictures. We’ve all seen the standard pictures of smiling business men in suits so many times that to be honest they’re not really going to grab anyone’s attention. Try to think more originally when using supporting images to  get a message across – you want to make as much of a visual impact as possible.

Another example of how to beef up your visual content is to take something like an inspirational quote (which always prove popular on social media) and to try using something like word art to make it visually enaging. For example:

Inspirational quote

I’ve just read an excellent article:  5 must have free visual marketing tools. It provides a list of free visual marketing tools that help you do all sorts of great things to improve your images such as:

  • Putting text and captions over images
  • Creating collages
  • Word Art
  • Data visualisation

It should get your creative juices flowing.

3. Create some original video content

We only have to look at the phenomenal success of YouTube to get a feel for how popular video is. Indeed according to HubSpot every single minute:

  • 8333 videos are shared
  • 72 hours of new video is uploaded on YouTube

Including video links into your social media posts  is an excellent way of increasing engagement through original added-value visual content. Try creating original videos that showcase your product, introduce your business and team, offer demonstrations on how to use your product or service, give video tutorials, or illustrate how a product is crafted. There are all sorts of interesting ways you can incorporate video into your social media presence.

A customer who watches a video is 85% more likely to make a purchase

You no longer have to rely on an expensive production companies to produce a good video. There are a number of online video creation tools around like Animoto or WeVideo. You can also opt to do-it-yourself  with a camera and video editing software such as Windows Movie Maker or iMovie.

4. Try introducing Infographics

Infographics are a great way to visually convey information in a colourful, interesting and digestible manner. They are particularly useful if you have some interesting numbers or research to impart. Infographics make great blog articles that you can link to via your social media posts.

 

Cutting costs for business infographic

 

According to research, consumers are more 30 times more likely to read an info graphic than a text-based piece of content.

5. Finally, make visual content a significant part of your overall content strategy.

Your social media presence should support your content strategy and drive traffic by enticing an audience back to your website though links and the sharing of content.  As we discussed earlier in the article since you are far more likely to attract the attention of an audience on social media with the use of images, photos and video, it follows that you should be making visual content an important element of both your social media strategy and your  overall content strategy.

If you put time aside and actually plan in some of the visual content ideas we mentioned in the article, you are far more likely to see them implemented and reap the rewards visual content can bring to your business.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on this post. So please do leave a comment.

Photos from mobile image courtesy of tiverylucky at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ship Chain image courtesy of Bill Longshaw at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Implement Definition Button Courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Why you need social media customer service (Infographic)

Social media networkInfographic: Social CRM combines the power of social media with customer relationship management (CRM)

It is no surprise that social media customer service is now a very real, valid and useful communication tool. Businesses small and large alike that choose to ignore customer complaints and inquiries on Twitter, Facebook etc. are increasingly finding themselves in hot water.

Everyday social media users are increasing their usage daily making the importance of this medium that much more essential. If companies want to harvest new business they are practically required to set up a social media CRM (customer relationship management) Department.

Dennis Stoutenburgh, co-founder of Stratus Contact Solutions, a company providing one-to-one customer engagement and multi-channel solutions comments,

“If you’re not engaging customers during the entire product life cycle through social media, you’re missing out. Because someone else will.”

When it comes to any business model, no matter how generational, antiquated thinking may be a bad move when it comes to future success. This is not the time to be a technological ostrich hiding in the sand until the fad passes, this is the time to get on the bus.

The Sleeping Giant

Consumers are becoming more savvy by the second. They are what the Japanese used to call, a “sleeping giant.” When social media customer service is exchanged, in many cases, millions of eyes are could be watching.

Immediate Gratification Generation

In the old CRM model, direct communication meant maybe a phone call; being transferred to a supervisor; or calling the customer back. Now, with an immediate gratification generation poised at the ready, businesses better have an instant answer to any query. In addition, it is a generation that has been raised with everyone getting a trophy. Therefore, it is important to commend and console validating for all to witness.

Pick Your Poison

It’s important to choose the social media platform that works according to each business genre. Whether an in-house social media CRM department is set up or an outside team is used, knowing how each correspondence will be viewed is paramount. For example, if a complaint is posted on Instagram it may not create as much of a negative backlash than if it were viewed on Facebook. Each business needs to decide the level of platforms they want to concentrate on or if they want to cover a broader spectrum, which of course means more expense.

Priority and Monitoring

Response time is now a real statistic that just may determine getting a leg-up on competition. Making a query a priority on social media platforms such as Twitter lets the consumer know that you are part of their world. It is also important to continue a relationship with each social media communication by requesting to follow and especially to respond to their threads.

Once this relationship is set up, monitoring software can show specific consuming patterns for not only the business involved but other businesses as well. By following consumer’s social media path, patterns may emerge that offer advantageous purchasing information.

Maneuver, Influence and Encourage

Social media customer service has an opportunity to use these platforms to immediately connect with their customer base. Setting up fun follow programs, contests and/or free giveaways can bring an influx of new business practically overnight.

With the simplicity of not having to do more than press a virtual button, consumers can be maneuvered into getting involved; influenced by a variety of marketing techniques; and encouraged to recommend friends and family.

Service Topics and Consumer Response

As an example of how social media CRM is responded to by consumers, particular service topics show some interesting numbers (Buffer Social 2/14).

A comparison of service topic response includes three demographics:

A – Do not use social media for customer service.

B – General population

C – Use social media customer service.

 The response is as follows:

Amount of consumers willing to spend more for great service.

A. 11%

B. 13+%

C. 21+%

Amount who aborted a transaction due to poor customer service.

A. 49%

B. 55%

C. 83%

Number of people who will be told of excellent customer service.

A. 9

B. 15

C. 42

Number of people who will be told of bad customer service.

A. 17

B. 24

C. 53

When social media customer service is used and maintained correctly the potential for positive results is practically guaranteed. Embracing this new consumer tool will not only offer an opportunity to increase a bottom line, it just may bring back a “human touch” that many would have never connected to a virtual exchange.

 Continue on to the graphic below to see a more granular breakdown of platforms and user information.

Social media customer service

 

Dave Landry JrGuest Author: Dave Landry

Dave Landry jr. is a financial and marketing adviser for small enterprises. He hopes you enjoy the infographic and accompanying article, and encourages you to hone in and emphasize your social media for customer service strategies as much as possible. You can find more from Dave on Facebook.

 

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this post. Please do leave a comment.

Social network image courtesy of stockimages at freedigitalphotos.com

Getting to grips with social media – 5 top tips for small businesses and start-ups

social media small businessThe rise of social media.

There is no doubt that since the arrival of Facebook in 2o04, social media has had a meteoric rise. It has altered the way we communicate and become an increasingly integral part of our everyday lives. So what does this mean for you as a small online business owner?

With so many social media platforms around it is easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure about how to get started tapping into all that social media has to offer. We take a look at the benefits of social media, its challenges and where, as a small online business, to best focus your time and effort.

Fascinating facts and figures

 

The benefits (and challenges) of social media for small online e-commerce

The statistics outlined above reinforces our belief that social media should have a place in your online businesses marketing strategy.  It’s no longer something that is the solely the domain 18-25 year olds that can be dismissed as a passing fad. Your business needs to take it seriously. If your customers are using social networks (and chances are they are) then you need to be communicating with them on the same platform. Indeed, 70% of marketers have used Facebook to successfully gain new customers. An effective social media presence can bring your business added value through:

  • Building relationships 
  • Directly engaging with customers on their preferred communication platform
  • Establishing relevant online communities
  • Driving new traffic and as a consequence increasing sales
  • Strengthening your brand presence
  • Providing a low-cost marketing channel
  • Offering valuable customer insight

Clock, 24 hours, 7 days a weekOf course having a social media presence does also bring challenges for small businesses – namely time and resources.  Time often feels like it is against you when you run your own business; you are constantly wearing multiple hats and juggling lots of balls. And since few small business owners have the luxury of  dedicated marketers or social media experts, it means it is down to you where you choose to commit your time and resources. Social media is a bit of a trade-off (a bit like SEO) your costs are low but you will need to invest time in it.

Social media can bring a number of benefits to your business but you need to be able to balance the time and effort you will need against your other commitments. And because measuring the value of you social media efforts isn’t always as easy as other marketing channels like PPC or email, small business owners can be hesitant about committing their time to it. However, social media is often a component part of a customer’s overall journey to purchase . This makes it difficult to accurately measure its influence in terms of last click attribution. In an interesting article by Hubspot, they note that the value of social media often comes at the beginning of the sales funnel through relationship building.

“When was the last time you bought something immediately after clicking through a Twitter or Facebook link? That’s not how it typically works, right? Most customers discover companies through social media, then take some time to get to know their products or services — subscribing to emails or returning again through another channel.” Hubspot 

5 Tips for getting the most out of your social media presence.

We’ve established that having a social media presence is a necessity for small businesses and if done well the benefits will outweigh the challenges. So where should you focus your time and effort?

spread too thinly1. Don’t spread yourself too thinly: Firstly it is really important not to spread yourself too thinly. Rather than signing your business up to every social media network out there, start with a couple of key platforms first. That way you will be better able to manage your presence effectively within the time constraints you face. Of course the best social media platforms for your business with will depend on your target market so spend a bit of time finding out which social media platforms your audience are using as these will be the best places to focus your time and resources.

In terms of size Facebook is still leading the way with nearly 1.4 billion monthly active users and for your interest,  the top 3 social networking sites used by marketers are Facebook, Google+ and Twitter . As a general guideline it is better to post a little regularly. Decide how much time you can realistically commit to social media and stick to it.  Planning it in to your schedule may help – even if at first it’s just 15-20 minutes each day.

Content Image2. Concentrate on content: Just as with your website, fresh, relevant, quality content is key. If  you want to your customers to engage with your business then your content needs to be up to scratch. The more interesting and relevant your content is to your audience the higher the likelihood you’ll get shares, recommendations and conversations starting up. Social media is not the place for hard sales messages,  it is for building communities, relationships and rapport between you and your customers. So don’t be overly ‘salesy’ or ‘self promoting’ – it will turn your audience off. Instead, widen your content with information your customers are going to find interesting, entertaining and informative – such as competitions, insider news, industry trends, polls, helpful tips, interesting posts or invitations to special events.

Your should be aiming to get audiences to start looking at you as a bit of an expert in your area. Think about starting a blog. This will not only help you get seen as an expert, it is also a great way of adding fresh, valuable content that invites comments and conversations. Remember, its quality over quantity every time. So slow down and think about what your audience would like to see and aim for less, higher quality content rather than churning out lots of ill thought out content that customers may find irrelevant.

social media conversation3. Engage in conversations:  Engaging in conversations is a great way to give your business a personality.  And,  as we all know people prefer to do business with other people. Social media is all about building relationships with customers. To do this successfully first spend a bit of time observing what your audience is saying to each other – what are they talking about?  As a tip, a good way to get a conversation started is by sharing interesting information such as a blog post.

In terms of etiquette, if someone takes the time to make a comment then make sure you respond politely, thanking people for taking the time to make a comment or recommendation. Of course this will open you up to dealing with negative comments as well so it is really important you respond to these quickly and professionally at all times.

If you are in the position to have other team members around then think about getting them involved in your social media presence as well. It will help with your own time constraints and add a different voice to the mix. Just remember if you are opening it up to colleagues make sure you have some clear business guidelines in place for everyone to adhere to.

social media sharing4. Encourage Sharing:  The more interesting and relevant your content,  the more likely it is to be shared. “The sharing of content through social media and email consistently outperforms both consumer ratings and consumer reviews. And, surprisingly, online sharing carries essentially the same weight as in-person recommendations.” Yahoo Small Business Advisor

Of course if you haven’t made it easy for people to share all your great content then your hard work may be wasted. Make sure you have your social media icons in prominent places to make it as simple as possible for customers to share your content. For example on your website display icons clearly in your sidebar or header, add them to your email newsletters (many of the email companies like Mail Chimp and Mad Mimi will do this automatically for you), include sharing buttons on all your blog posts and don’t forget to use call to actions asking people to follow you and like you on Facebook.

Remember people trust the recommendations of friends and family often above all other influences – so encouraging sharing is essential.  “The most influential element driving purchase decisions today is word of mouth.” WOMMA

 

social platforms should support one goal5. Take an integrated approach: Don’t look at social media in isolation, rather take a joined approach. By this I don’t just mean take an integrated approach to your presence on all your social media sites, rather that you make sure all your platforms are working in unison and supporting each other. Take a coordinated approach across your website, blog, social media platforms, email newsletters and so on to ensure they are all working together to your achieve your end goals. If you look at each platform in isolation then your messages will end up being disparate and confusing to your customers.

So the key to getting on board with social media is to start out picking a couple of key platforms to establish your business on, allocating a realistic (and manageable) amount of time on a daily basis and putting your energy and time into producing interesting, relevant and shareable content. Track your progress to see what is working well and not so well and then grow from there!

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this post, so please do leave a comment. 

Social media is taking over the world image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Buttered bread image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Social network image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Click share button image courtesy of mater isolated images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Succesful teamwork image courtesy of jesadaphorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

8 Smart Ways to Handle a Transaction Gone Sour

Every instance when a customer has to pick up the phone and contact customer service, is an instance of friction and dissatisfaction that lingers in customers’ minds long after the interaction is over and done with.

The first reaction to a situation like this would be to try not to mess up to begin with! However, problems have a way of cropping up in spite of your best efforts.

Causes of a Bad Customer Experience

An average e-commerce company can face various types of issues that lead to a bad customer experience. From timed out transactions to payment gateway trouble to problems with the product, delivery issues, even after sales service issues.

Among the most frustrating aspects of customer service, the need to contact a company over and over again to fix the same problem is a huge source of irritation. Other factors that sour a customer’s service experience include being passed around from one agent to another during a single call and impolite behavior by a customer service representative.

Another study pins the blame for bad customer on long wait times, confusing automated customer care systems and inattentive and inexperienced customer care representatives.

The Cost of a Bad Customer Experience

Few things are as difficult to overcome as a case of bad customer experience. The old adage of ‘Once bitten, twice shy’ hold true as day for a user who gets the short end of the stick from a company. Risk aversion being an inherent aspect of human behavior, customers who face a bad experience once tend to shy away from having any dealings at all with the offending company. Switching loyalties to a competing brand or bad mouthing the offending brand to family and friends or on social media are common responses to negative customer experiences.

Studies show that 89% of customers who suffer a bad service experience will leave your brand for a competitor’s. According to the Global Customer Service Barometer’s findings, customers are almost twice as likely to talk about bad experiences with a brand as good ones. The problem however does not end with negative word of mouth. This negative word of mouth, combined with customers dropping off your charts after a bad experience lead to a real loss to your company annually in monetary terms.

According to KISSmetrics, the average value of every lost business relationship in the U.S. amounts to $289 per year. On being added up, lost business due to bad customer service costs the global economy a staggering $338.5 billion per year!

However, a botched service episode is not the end of your company’s relationship with the customer. There have been enough and more cases of successful service recovery, with the customer ending up pleased instead of being completely frustrated.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Bouncing Back from a Bad Customer Experience

1. Listen to them patiently

Listening. That’s the first rule of customer service. While many may consider customer service as a job that requires good conversational skills, the most vital asset any customer service rep can have is a great listening ear.

Have the patience to hear out a customer without bias or prejudice. Often customers are agitated and angry at a problem that your product may have caused them. It is the customer service representative’s job to calm them down and settle into a cordial space before proceeding. Ask questions at the appropriate times to get all the information needed to help in solving the customer’s problem.

2. Identify the problem

In order to help the caller effectively, the customer service representative must get to the root of the problem using some pointed meta-questions that answer the

  • What is the exact nature of the problem?
  • When did the problem initially occur?
  • What actions (if any) were taken to stem the problem?

Other details like purchase data, ownership, warranties and service records may be pulled out of databases to supplement the customer’s information with background data.

A customer service tool like Zendesk or Zoho is a great asset in pulling out customer histories, maintaining records of current conversations as well as helping agents get product information and troubleshooting tips instantly.

3. Own up responsibility and apologize sincerely

As mentioned earlier, most customers who contact a customer service desk, do so when all else fails. They are usually frustrated and irate at your company for the immediate problem that they’re facing.

Owning up responsibility for the problem and apologizing for the trouble that it caused them goes a long way to pacify an incensed customer. Be earnest in the apology, a cosmetic one does nothing but make the customer doubt your company’s credentials even more.

There could be cases when the problem is not really your company’s fault and has occurred due to external circumstances beyond your control. However, in such cases too, apologize. The reasoning is simple. You are not apologizing for causing the problem. You are expressing regret that your customer is inconvenienced and this empathy is something that the customer needs to know to feel better.

4. Find a solution, quick

The keys to customer satisfaction in such cases are speed and accuracy. In fact, according to a customer service study by Parature, the number one priority for a customer during a customer service interaction is speed. They expect a resolution to their problem within a single interaction, avoiding the need for repeated contact with the company.

Instead of making your customer service representatives figure out a solution for each customer’s problem from scratch, it is a good idea to have a customer service handbook readily available containing the most common service requests and product problems and the step by step resolutions to each of them.

Automate this process by uploading the handbook into your customer care tool or CRM and allow agents to use simple search functions to pull out the appropriate solutions in a jiffy.

5. Deliver, with the customer in the driver’s seat

Once the solution to the customer’s problem is figured out it is imperative to let the customer choose the next course of action. Offer them all the options they can pick from and let them indicate their preferred solution.

This does two things effectively. First, it puts the customer in the driver’s seat and makes them feel empowered. Second, it absolves the customer service agent from future blame as the solution that you finally go ahead with, is based on the customer’s explicit preference.

At this stage, depending on the severity of the problem, it is a good practice to offer a partial or complete refund of the user’s transaction amount as a goodwill gesture towards them. Some companies offer a special gift card or a high value coupon to customers as a peace offering. This gesture has the added benefit of having the customer return to you for a new purchase.

6. Follow up

Most companies end their customer interaction at step 5. But a company that intends to excel in customer service ought to go one step further and check how well the solution has taken root. This can be done with a customer satisfaction survey emailed to the customer a day or two after their last interaction with the company or even better, with a personalized call to confirm that all is well at the customer’s end.

The surprise element in this gesture will delight most customers, increasing their preference towards your brand in the process. A follow-up also helps to identify any loopholes in your customer service process. If the customer continues to face the same problem as before, this fact will be highlighted through a follow-up activity.

7. Document to prevent repeats

While most problems that customers face are commonly faced, expected problems to which you typically have ready solutions; sometimes there are brand new issues that crop up which increase the scope of your service processes. Every time such unique problems crop up, set up a system to document the entire troubleshooting process end to end, including:

  • Document the problem
  • Dig deep and find out why it happened
  • Find a solution / document solution offered
  • Include the problem and the corresponding solution in the standard operating procedure manual and train staff on how to deal with it
  • Set up a system to prevent a recurrence of such a problem

8. Update customer records to improve service for future transactions

In this era of big data and extensive customer records, every piece of data helps in improving customer experience and offering them personalized service. Make sure that every interaction that your company has with existing customers is recorded and updated into their individual customer records. These records form a rich customer history which you can fall back upon in the event of a future interaction with the same customer.

Records of past service interactions also helps to improve conversion rates of future transactions. By offering a live discount coupon or spontaneously displaying a specialized offer to a customer who had a bad experience in the past, you can increase their chances of completing the current transaction.

Case Study: Winning Back Customers’ Trust with a Smile

Customers are not an easy lot to please. But a company committed to delighting its customers does reap the rewards in kind. Southwest Airlines – America’s favorite airline, is renowned among other things for its great customer service.

But even the best guns in the business misfire sometimes. But Southwest being Southwest, managed to turn the situation on its head and created yet another happy customer. Here’s how the whole episode unfolded.

A Southwest customer B.J. Schone, had his brand new suitcase badly ripped on a trip from San Diego to St. Louis. In spite of repeated requests for a solution to his problem, he got nowhere. Frustrated, Schone sent this colorful letter to Southwest, detailing his woes:

Case Study: Winning Back Customers’ Trust

Southwest Airlines, played by the book and went a step ahead. They not only apologized and reimbursed the customer for the actual price of his suitcase, they even took a leaf out of his book to create a similar colorful reply and poked a little fun at themselves in the process.

Case Study: Winning Back Customers’ Trust
What a great way to make a customer feel special and show off your fun-loving side!

In Closing

Customer service can be a challenge or an opportunity based on your point of view. Research shows that customers prize the quality of a brand’s customer service even above price. Over 55% of users would pay extra if they were guaranteed good customer service.

Lose customers to bad customer service or earn a premium over your competitors by offering customer care that truly cares for the customer – the choice is pretty simple.

Why Ignoring Customer Service is a Terrible Idea (With 5 Case Studies)

Why Ignoring Customer Service is a Terrible Idea

That interminable wait time while on the phone with customer service. The ‘pleasure’ of repeating your problem to four different people over the phone before at least one of them comes close to a solution. The experience of being snubbed by a salesperson in a retail store. Getting a completely wrong dish from the one you ordered in a fancy restaurant. Sound familiar?

Who among us has not had a maddening experience with customer service associates of our chosen service providers in the last 30 days? My bet is, ‘very few’. How about in the last one year? That number probably veers closer to ‘zero’ than anything else.

Technology has progressed in leaps and bounds with hundreds of new apps and software that help businesses handle every tiny aspect of customer care. From Sales & CRM behemoths like Salesforce to customer care focused ones like ZenDesk, there’s a range of specialized tools that claim to make customer care a breeze.

Studies have even shown that good customer service has been consistently rated as the most important factor that makes a customer choose one brand over another.

And yet we are inundated with instances of bad, sometimes appalling customer service experiences.

What Science has to Say About it

Some of this may be down to the fact that human brains are hard wired into remembering bad experiences far more than positive ones. A study by Professor Roy Baumeister from Florida State University attributes this stronger impact of negative events on our brains to an evolutionary response.

In the early years of human evolution, remembering negative experiences helped humans avoid or minimize threats to their lives, hence ensuring survival of the fittest. Remembering good experiences on the other hand was not quite so crucial to the survival and evolution of the human race.

This is not just scientific mumbo-jumbo. Market research supports this scientific finding and goes on to prove that 55% of customers who suffer bad customer service switch to a different brand, 48% of them convince friends and family to stop using the offending brand. The positive effect of a good service experience is slightly less pronounced.

DimensionalResearch.com, Zendesk

Consequences of Bad Customer Service

Treating customers badly, as you might expect, is not healthy for your business or its longevity. Some of the immediate effects of poor customer service include:

    • Customers stop buying from you
    • Disgruntled customers spread negative word of mouth among their friends and family
    • Social media backlash
    • Sets a precedent to employees that treating customers shoddily is ‘O.K.’
    • Cost of making it up to a dissatisfied customer is far higher than getting service right in the first place
    • Acquiring a new customer in place of the one you lost is often 4 to 7 times more expensive than keeping existing customers happy

I could go on, but you get the general drift, don’t you? Now let me bring out the real eye-poppers.

According to a study by New Voice Media in December 2013, US businesses have been losing over $41 billion every year, owing to bad customer service. And this figure does not include the cost of replacing the lost customers with new ones.

Brands that were Burnt by Bad Customer Service

Most brands invest in customer service to avoid just such scenarios, yet customers are treated to some spectacularly bad service from time to time. Here are a handful of the most infamous customer service debacles in recent years.

1. United Breaks Guitars

United Airlines

When musician Dave Carroll flew United Airlines with his guitar checked in with the rest of his baggage, little did he expect to find a broken guitar at the end of his flight. Carroll took up the matter with the airline staff at Chicago’s O’Hare airport but got no response. On filing an official claim with the airline, United rejected his claim saying he had crossed the 24 hour deadline for making claims about damaged baggage.

On reaching a dead end to his situation, Carroll resorted to what he did best. He wrote a song ‘United Breaks Guitars’ and posted it on YouTube. It became a viral sensation with about 14 million views till date.

While the song and its popularity embarrassed United Airlines publicly and the Managing Director of Customer Solutions himself called Carroll to apologize personally, the damage had already been done. United lost about $180 million in stock value within four days of the video being posted on YouTube.

2. Netflix Charges Double

Netflix

In 2011, Netflix decided to expand from its DVD rental only service, to offering its content streaming online and spin off its original DVD rental service under a new brand name – Qwikster. There was one small glitch. They decided to charge customers separately for the Qwikster DVD rental service and the online rental service – even existing customers. That meant a price hike of 60% for customers opting for both services.

This move unleashed a maelstrom of negative social media backlash against Netflix calling it uncaring, greedy, insensitive to customers, and more. Netflix was lampooned on national television on Saturday Night Live and ended up losing about 800,000 subscribers and lost 77% of its stock value in a matter of four months.

What happened to Qwikster? Well, it died an unheralded death within three weeks of its launch.

3. Dell Hell

Dell

Dell made its name and fortune on the innovative premise of selling computers direct to customers with specs as per the customers’ requirements. However, as Dell has grown in size, it seems to have lost its finger on the pulse of its customers.

Jeff Jarvis, a journalist and blogger with significant online clout, bought a Dell laptop in 2005 which turned out to be in his words; a lemon. He experienced multiple problems with the machine and tried to fix them by calling Dell’s customer service department. He paid for a technician to come to his home and fix the computer, but the guy who showed up did not bring the parts along with him that he needed to fix the machine. In spite of a fruitless service visit, Jarvis was charged for the ‘service’ even though the shortcoming was clearly on the company’s part.

When repeated attempts to solve his problem through Dell’s customer service team came to naught, an enraged Jarvis took to his blog and posted the first in a series of hate posts against Dell calling it his ‘Dell Hell’. The posts quickly went viral around the world and Dell’s reputation took a beating among computer buyers worldwide.

Besides massive negative PR, blogger and social media backlash, Dell also had to suffer the ignominy of Google’s search results showing negative content for search terms containing ‘Dell’ in them. Dell tried to minimize the damage by refunding the price of the laptop to Jarvis, but by then; the damage was already done.

You might think that a customer service disaster on such a mega scale would make Dell reconsider its ways. But this ‘Dell Hell Redux’ story of yet another customer going through a similar struggle in 2014, makes you wonder whether anything changed in the 9 years since the original ‘Dell Hell’.

4. Delta Airlines Breastfeeding Debacle

Delta Airlines

Breastfeeding advocacy has reached a fever pitch in recent years, with medical science backing up what was long believed to be a healthy practice for both mother and child. However, instead of considering it as an essential child care act, breast feeding is still viewed from a sexual lens; prompting many businesses to ask breastfeeding mothers to leave their premises or stop breastfeeding immediately.

Emily Gillette from Santa Fe, New Mexico; faced a rather unpleasant situation in 2012 while on a flight from Vermont while breastfeeding her baby daughter. Gillette was apparently kicked off a Delta connections flight (operated by Freedom Airlines and Mesa Air) at Burlington, Vermont for breastfeeding her baby in flight.

Gillette filed a lawsuit against Delta and its allied airlines for discrimination, mental trauma and inconvenience caused. The airlines came together and offered Gillette an out of court settlement amount, which she accepted. Freedom and Mesa Air separately paid the Vermont Human Rights Commission $20,000 in a separate settlement.

The incident sparked outrage across the United States, affecting the reputation of all 3 airlines involved and uniting pro-breastfeeding groups against the big bad corporate enemy. 19 airports across the country hosted ‘nurse-ins’ by mothers showing their solidarity for the cause. Both Mesa Air and Freedom Airlines apologized to Gillette and declared their open support to breast feeding mothers on board in all their flights.

5. Toyota Vehicle Recall

Toyota

Vehicle recalls have become a part and parcel of the automobile industry. With prompt corrective action and swift apologies from carmakers, customers have started seeing them much less negatively than they did during an earlier age.

However, problems arise when a company is perceived to be callous and uncaring in the face of automotive glitches that can be potentially life threatening.

Starting in 2009, a spate of accidents resulting in 34 deaths were reported involving Toyota vehicles. All evidence pointed to an unintended acceleration problem causing the fatal crashes. All this while, Toyota denied any issues with their cars and did precious little to help the scenario.

In the meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times begins a series of reports exposing the flaws in Toyota vehicles and their linkages to the accidents. Following a public uproar, Federal authorities step in and Toyota is taken to court in a class action lawsuit.

Besides paying millions of dollars to the Federal authorities for the slip ups in their product, Toyota ended up settling the class action lawsuit for a sum of $1.2 billion.

The recalls led to a $21 billion drop in Toyota’s market value. The cover ups, early inaction and silence from Toyota on the issue, cost the company the trust of existing car owners as well as the chances of acquiring new customers in the immediate future.

Conclusion

As we’ve seen, it takes all kinds to make up the wonderful, mad world of customer service. Being a completely customer facing function, customer service slip ups are out there for the world to see and react to. It is up to brands and their custodians to figure out how to make customer service work for them instead of boomeranging badly.

The New Voice Media study quoted earlier also showed that when brands do a good job with their customer service, 70% of satisfied customers tend to be loyal to the brand and 69% of them would recommend it to other people.

Even if people are pre-disposed to remembering the mistakes that you make more than the good things that you do, the payoffs are much higher in the long run by being in the good books of your customers. Try it once and see what happens. I have a sneaky feeling you won’t regret choosing to maximize customer delight instead of minimizing customer complaints. Here’s to happier customers all around!

(Image Source: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

Marketing for small business: Getting started with Pinterest

The Pinterest PhenomenonPinterest logo

For the last year or two, this social media phenomenon has been the buzz word on every marketer’s lips. It is already massive in the US and looks like set to take the UK and Europe by storm as well. So as a small business what does Pinterest mean for you? Should you be including it in your social media portfolio?

Impressive Pinterest Statistics

There is no doubt that Pinterest has seen meteoric growth since it launched in 2009. Here are a few statistics to give you a feel for the sort of growth it has experienced in the US  – a trend we are likely to see replicated in the UK:

Push pinSo what is Pinterest all about?

“Pinterest helps people collect and organize the things they love” Pinterest

The easiest way to think about Pinterest is as a sort of social media pin board or scrapbook.  People share their interests by ‘pinning’ them to ‘boards’. It is a social media platform with a strong emphasis on the visual and people connect to each other through feeds and by following boards that has content they find interesting.

Pinterest explains the ‘Pin Cycle’ as follows:

Pin

For example, lets say an unusual piece of jewellery on a website catches the eye of someone on Pinterest. The pinner pins the image onto their ‘unique accessories’ board

Repin

A follower of the pinner likes the pin and repins the jewellery onto their ‘stylish jewellery’ board.

 Discovery

Someone browsing their feed or searching for ‘stylish jewellery’ or ‘unique accessories’ will find the pin for the unusual piece of jewellery

Click through

As more people discover and repin, the more people click-through to the source of the pin – the original website

Benefits for small businesses

As we mentioned at the start of this post, statistics indicate that Pinterest is growing and is likely to be here to stay as a social media platform, so there is value to getting on-board. If you are concerned about time and resources, then perhaps a good starting point is to think about how easily you business lends itself to Pinterest.

If  you are in retail – particularly B2C you’ll probably find Pinterest is an easy step to make without too much effort. B2B can work well but it may require a little more creative thinking at the start. For example, if you are already generating content in the form of say a blog or video then these can work really well. In fact here at ShopIntegrator our first board was our Small Business Blog as it was an easy first step into Pinterest for us.

If you are able to commit some time to Pinterest then it offers an additional opportunity to engage with and learn about your customers. It also provides a good way to help build your brand and develop your brand’s personality.

A few useful tips for getting started

1. Get a feel for Pinterest

Before you dive in setting up your own presence, spend a bit of time getting a feel for how Pinterest works. What are other businesses doing? This way you’ll get an idea for what works and what makes a  pin popular (how many times a pin has been re-pinned is a good measure of popularity). Check out  your competitors and those businesses in a similar market that are popular and have a good following. Pinterest also has some interesting  case studies that are worth looking at for some inspiration.

2. Think about your target market

You should be thinking about your target market when you start creating your presence.  What are your customers likely to be interested in? If you sell kitchenware for example, you’d expect your audience to be interested in cooking and food so your pins could include recipes, seasonal produce and new food trends. Make yourself a bit of an expert in the areas associated with your industry or market. Look at your customers own pinboards – what are they pinning and who are they following. This will give you an insight into what it is your target market is likely to value and find interesting.

3. Create and organise boards

Once you have got a feel for who it is you are pinning and creating boards for, you can get started on generating ideas. There are all sorts of popular boards that you can create in addition to product boards. Here are some popular boards that could help get you started: client showcase boards (showcase your customers latest products), fan boards (customers can pin images to a board that show your brand off in real life environments) employee recommendation boards (get your employees to set up their own boards perhaps with employee recommendations or top tips)  how to boards (give your customers ideas and tips for using and getting the most out of your products), blog boards, seasonal boards and contest boards. Pinterest is a great way to get creative.

4. Follow other boards and repin

Like any social media Pinterest is all about interacting and engaging with the community – your customers. So, to make the most out of your presence be active – follow other people’s boards, repin, like and comment on pins that relate to your business area.

5. Promote your Pinterest presence

Promote your Pinterest presence on your website and emails by adding the Pinterest button. Don’t forget you can also use your other social media to help promote your boards.

Useful resources from Pinterest

The great thing about getting started with Pinterest is that it is all pretty straightforward to set up and use – we’ve put some useful support links from Pinterest below that will help you make the most of your Pinterest presence:

Pinterest Set up: http://uk.business.pinterest.com/setup/

Guides: Pinterest guide for Business http://business.pinterest.com/best-practices/

Useful Tools: Pinterest analytics, Pin It Button, rich text pins http://uk.business.pinterest.com/rich-pins/

Pinterest Business Blog:  http://businessblog.pinterest.com/

Happy pinning!

Image: Single pin image courtesy of  Master isolated images, freedigitalphotos.net
 

We would love to hear your own experiences and thoughts on this post, so please do leave a comment