Whether you’re a startup just beginning to build an online community or an established brand with embedded fans and followers, it’s important to remember that vocal customers and potential customers carry an amplified voice online.

We all operate in a fluid, fast-paced world where social engagement with customers is now the norm. While this can seem intimidating for companies at first, developing a strong online customer engagement process doesn’t need to be overly complicated. The payoff? The potential for creating loyalty and quickly transforming customers into powerful online advocates.

Let’s take a look at an example. Recently, a coworker passed along the following exchange he had with car-sharing service @zipcar:

Kudos to Zipcar for their smart engagement and quick move to capitalize on transforming a vocal customer into a loyal customer. An engagement such as this never would have occurred unless Zipcar had taken some preliminary steps to maximize this opportunity.

So, how does a company go about ensuring that they engage and embrace customer advocates through social media? Here are a few tips to get started:

1. Listen & Assess
Obvious – it always starts with careful monitoring. Put your ear to the Web and carefully track conversation/keyword activity across your own social channels as well as overall brand mentions across the Internet. Whether you do this using a free approach with alerts and keyword monitoring in Google Reader or through a paid service such as Radian6, active listening and monitoring is essential. Over time, you’ll quickly see engagement and volume trends surface to help you plan for resource staffing.

2. Put a Process In Place
You need to have a strategy and process in place before you start engaging with customers through social media. This means having both a technical platform in place (e.g. a simple tool such as Get Satisfaction, established a separate support Twitter handle, defined FAQs, etc.) and an established flow chart that clearly outlines how inquiries will be handled as well as who has the necessary knowledge to address those inquiries. “Grow and adapt” is not a sound customer service approach.

Will engaging customers through social channels require more time and resources? Yes. But, I assure you that the investment will far outweigh the cost. Social channels exist and customers expect to be able to engage directly with your company through those channels. Provide the home and structure for them to do so efficiently.

Take a moment to think about how important first impressions are to everything we encounter on a daily basis. The success of your brand or product relies on A) providing value that meets or exceeds customer expectations and B) excellent customer service. Nail both these early on and you’re well on your way to building strong customer loyalty.

3. Move Quick
In most cases, customers just want to know that they are being heard. Think about your own customer service experiences – would you prefer to be left on hold or unanswered for a long period of time or regularly provided updates about your issue being worked on?

Even if an answer to a customer’s issue is not readily available, it is imperative that a company communicate progress and actually work as fast as possible to resolve the issue. As with any social channel, your interaction with one customer is often being viewed by many, many others. Engaging customers quickly in a public forum can set the tone for how your company operates and also be hugely beneficial for setting precedent on how to resolve an issue, thus eliminating need for further similar customer interactions on a specific topic.

4. Reward Customers for No Reason
I can’t harp this one enough. In the case above, Zipcar changed a satisfied customer into a powerful advocate through a simple Twitter exchange and small monetary gift. Companies often only think about rewarding customers following negative experiences. By following Zipcar’s proactive approach of rewarding supportive customers, you are enhancing your credibility and strengthening brand trust for a very nominal cost.

In the end, your customers will be happy when they know they can rely on a consistent, humanized customer service experience.

What other tips would you share to help companies set up for success with online customers?

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Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. Timely post today from Social Media Examiner on the exact topic, good read:

    http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/10-ways-to-deal-with-upset-customers-using-social-media/

    Reply

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About Scott Meis

VP, Digital and Social Strategies for @wsseattle. I develop and execute online marketing campaigns for a variety of nonprofit, corporate and government clients. I thrive on creative content, communities and actionable results.

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Online Marketing, Social Media

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