Your customer service is an embarrassment and I hope you do something about it. You've just lost one very big customer.
Those were to have been the final words of tech blogger Jon Rettinger -- aka TechnoBuffalo -- in a very public YouTube breakup with Dell (IW 500/24) over a botched return order back in 2009.
However, that was only the beginning of their relationship.
Maybe it was the size of Rettinger's audience or his followers' obsession with gadgetry and high-tech gear, or maybe it was just the power of the personalized "Dear Dell" appeal. Whatever it was, Dell noticed. And responded.
"Dell could have ignored TechnoBuffalo," recalls Paul M. Rand, president and CEO of word-of-mouth marketing firm Zócalo Group. "Instead, Dell reached out to him, allowed him to join its consumer advisory board and even followed up his complaint video with an update to let viewers know how Dell had improved its service."
Within months of the original post, Rettinger was talking to senior executives at Dell, bringing his complaints and the complaints of his fans straight to the top. He detailed the whole experience to his vast, rapt audience of tech consumers, who suddenly found themselves feeling very good about Dell.
As Rand describes in his book, "Highly Recommended," this was one of the earliest examples of a company recognizing the power of social media and using it to really listen and respond in a focused, strategic manner. Doing so closed the long-open loop between manufacturer and consumer in that blind disconnect of the post-purchase relationship.
And that changed everything.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
"Social media is causing a fundamental shift in business, a true transformation," explains Rand.
"Customers and consumers have started posting and sharing their experiences with every business they encounter," he says. "So now all the good, the bad and the ugly of how you do your business is being displayed in a way that was never possible before."
Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and review sites like Yelp, he explains, have taken word-of-mouth referrals to a whole new level. It is, as he says, "word-of-mouth on steroids."
Since Dell's first social media win four years ago, the volume and the presence of social media has increased exponentially. And with every new media and every new outlet has come the opportunity for consumers to either praise the brands that have earned their trust or to air grievances about those that have let them down.
With that development, the truly innovative companies have become those that have adapted to the new currents, who have learned to take in the message and own their brand in the new post-sales conversation.
"Companies need to realize that they are being given a gift here," Rand explains. "Social media has given them a 24/7/365 focus group, and if they can just start listening to it, then they might be able to make the changes they need to shape those conversations and that feedback to be the way they want it to be."
Five Steps to Developing a 'Recommendable' Social Media Strategy
To successfully manage your business in the social media world , however, requires a solid strategy. And to help, in "Highly Recommended," Rand offers the following five steps to developing a social media strategy that will lead to a "recommendable" business:
Step One: Develop a clear and purposeful story of how you want people to talk about and recommend your brands.
• It's a simple question that needs to be answered: How do you want to be talked about and recommended—as a person, a son or daughter, a parent, grandchild, friend, partner, spouse, employee, business leader—whatever the case?
• Same thing, of course, applies to any brands you are marketing. Buyers have a staggering amount of choices. Why would someone recommend your product or service over another?
Step Two: Live your brand.
• It’s as simple as that. If you want to be recommended as a thoughtful and caring friend— make sure you are always a thoughtful and caring friend.
• If you want your brand to be recommended for having the most advanced features and design— make sure your energy and focus go into owning that role and not ceding it to any competitors.
Step Three: Be human, be transparent and live up to mistakes quickly.
• Yes. We need to live our brands. But we are human beings. And our brands and organizations are run by human beings. So we and our brands will occasionally veer off course and make mistakes:
‣ In this era of social media, consumer journalism, and always-on news, years of thoughtfully lived lives or well-managed brands can be undone in astonishingly short order.
‣ Own it when you or your brand goofs up. Fix what you can, and ask for forgiveness when needed.
Step Four: Stay engaging and interesting.
• Ever been cornered by the party bores? They drone on about themselves, don’t ask you any questions, and seem oblivious to anyone’s needs or interests beyond their own.
• Marketing success used to be defined by how well we could interrupt consumers and compel them to give us their attention. Success today is based on how well we engage our audiences before, during, and after the sale.
• This doesn’t happen by accident. We often talk to brands about following the 90/10 Rule. Spend 90 percent of your time on your social channels listening, paying attention, and engaging with your consumers on their terms. Spend 10 percent of the time talking about yourself. Not a bad approach for life either.
Step Five: Regularly evaluate and evolve, but stay true to your core.
• People and brands must always evolve. Lives and markets change:
‣ Take time to be introspective and ensure that you are living the life—and being recommended—in the ways that you want to be. It’s good—actually it’s essential—to evolve, change, and grow. Same thing for the brands we represent.
‣ But don’t let these changes happen by accident or get forced into them. Then it’s often too late. Take ownership of your life and your brands.