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How to Use Social Media to Do a Better Job of Customer Service

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: November 15, 2012 Updated: November 15, 2012

Ever emailed or called a company’s customer service department and got no response or a poor response to your comments? Did you instead post a rant on Twitter or Facebook until you got a response? You’re not alone – more and more customers are expecting brands to step up and respond to these posts.

According to a recent report by Gartner, by 2014, organizations that refuse to communicate with customers by social media will face the same level of wrath as those that ignore today's basic demand that they respond to emails and phone calls. “The dissatisfaction stemming from failure to respond via social channels can lead to up to a 15 percent increase in churn rate for existing customers,” said Carol Rozwell, VP and analyst at Gartner.

The message is clear: You need to use social media not just as a marketing tool but as a systematic part of your customer service model.  Here’s how:

Align Social Media with All Levels of the Organization

For small businesses, customer service is so much more than one person or one team; it reaches across the entire business. From sales to marketing, billing to product development – these are all touch points for your customer, and it’s essential that each of these uses social media to ensure your business is customer-centric and taking care of online reputation management.

Try to involve whoever manages your social media presence in important weekly meetings so they are informed about all elements of the business while they serve as the voice of your social media followers.

Change Your Social Media Paradigm

Social media represents the human face, voice and ears of your business, but the fact is there are more brands that ignore comments on Facebook and Twitter than there are brands that respond. This is why using it as a customer service tool often requires a change in paradigm – and commitment. Here are some things to consider:

  • Recognize that your social media efforts are front and center to your efforts to retain and nurture prospects and customers.
  • Be strategic about social media and how you engage with fans. Don’t treat it as an aside to be taken advantage of when you need to promote your latest sale or event.
  • Monitor social media regularly throughout the day. Very few businesses actually do this.
  • Endeavor to respond to issues the same day, even if you simply thank your customer and inform them that you are looking into the issue. If you don’t, things can quickly snowball in full view of an audience of hundreds or thousands, including potential customers.

Set Rules that Define Your Response to Customer Service Issues

If you haven’t done so already, set some rules: who manages your social media voice and how should they should respond to negative comments?  Lay out a clear path for escalation and resolution.  This will ensure you or your social media leader is prepared to respond promptly when issues arise. This is especially true if you outsource this function or hire a junior level person to manage your social media.

Work out ahead of time a method for categorizing comments and develop a hierarchy for responding. For example, how will you handle a general comment or suggestion from a follower, versus how will you handle a genuine complaint? Does it require an immediate response? Escalation? And don’t forget to monitor some of the more serious posts further.

When to Respond

Being proactive about social media doesn’t mean you have to respond to everything. Just don’t overlook anything! Consider the following:

  • Not all comments are relevant or even solvable – For example, some folks who post public rants on your Facebook page may not actually want anything from you. They just need to get it off their chest. Such comments are often best ignored; you don’t want to add fuel to the fire.
  • Address legitimate complaints – If a customer has a specific and legitimate complaint (say, for example, the quality of a service or product didn’t live up to expectations), you need to address the issue publicly, promptly and in the same media it was made. Try to move the conversation offline, only after you’ve posted your initial response.
  • Look for positives in a negative comment – For example, if someone makes a complaint but also suggests ways you can do things better next time, acknowledge this, let them know you will share the suggestion internally – and follow through on this pledge.

For more tips on how to respond to criticism, including how to apologize, check out my earlier blog: 7 Tips for Dealing With Criticism of Your Business on Social Media.

Learn From Your Interactions

I’ve already mentioned the importance of bringing your social media lead to the business-wide conference table, but it’s also important to keep a record of customer service interactions. Again, this is part of the new paradigm. Think of it as the equivalent of monitoring a call and using it for training purposes. Share these conversations across the organization, and act on the critique and feedback.

 

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Sponsoring or Hosting an Event this Holiday Season? 6 Ways to Maximize Your Return

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: November 8, 2012

Autumn and the holidays are the high season for events, from holiday parties and private shopping events to turkey trots and fall festivals. It’s time to consider hosting or sponsoring an event this holiday season as a way to stand out from the crowd during this busy time. But how do you get the best return on your investment? Here are six tips:

1. Sponsor events that matter to your customers

If you sponsor an event this season, pick something that matters to your customers. Who attends the event? What are their interests? If they don’t care about what you’re selling, then you’re wasting your time. For example, my hometown hosted an end-of-summer kids’ fun run. The chief sponsor was a hugely successful local orthodontist business known for its great customer service, commitment to family values and a fun and informal, even jazzy, atmosphere. A kids’ fun run fit perfectly with its brand and aligned the business directly with its target market.

2. Choose events that create an experience that reflects positively on your business

If you are planning on sponsoring an event, whether it’s your local Little League tournament or your town’s annual community health drive, you need to have clear goals and you’ll want to partner with events that reflect positively on your brand. If people are having a good time, then it’s likely that experience will rub off on your business through association. Consider events with a good track record that will attract the kind of customers you’re targeting.

3. Pick events that are well run

This may go without saying, but it can be easily overlooked. If the event is badly run it will reflect directly on your business. Talk to other business owners who’ve participated in the event and target events that have a good track record of participation and success. Remember that quantity isn’t always better than quality – if the event doesn’t play to your brand, no matter how many people attend, your return on investment will suffer.

4. Understand sponsorship levels

Many events offer different levels of sponsorship. While it’s important to know exactly what you’re getting for your investment, be sure to select a sponsorship that plays to your strengths. For example, a gold sponsorship may come with all the frills but if you can’t scale or provide the right resources to take advantage of it, go for a lower sponsorship tier and up your own marketing efforts to raise awareness of your involvement.

5. Don’t just show up – engage

Think about ways to become an integral part of the event.  Align your tactics with the event’s goals. If all you can afford is logo placement, it might not be worth participating. Be creative, offer discounts to attendees, offer branded giveaways, get your logo on the event host’s giveaways (for example, branded water bottles) or host a contest or other experience that gets attendees interacting with your business.

Bring your employees along, too. Encourage them to get involved, both as staff and as participants. Whether it’s running in the turkey trot as a mascot for your business or bringing their kids for a photo opportunity with Santa Claus.

6. If you’re hosting a private event, invest in your VIPs

Private events are a great way to make your valued customers feel special. Whether you host a private in-store sale or an invitation-only holiday party for your loyal customers, you’ll get more from your investment with a little research and a plan of action. Here are a few tactics:

  • Offer customers the opportunity to bring a “plus one.” This will make them feel more comfortable and help you reach new buyers.
  • Do some customer research. Use your CRM tools, social media conversations, and email marketing responses to gauge what your VIPs are interested in or have purchased lately. This will arm you with conversation starters.
  • Use the event as an opportunity to refine your mailing lists and outreach efforts. Find out how your VIPs prefer to hear from you, whether it’s email or social media.
  • Send out thank you notes and follow-up with a special offer, just for your VIPs.

Have you hosted or sponsored any events lately? How did you ensure you got the best possible return on your investment? Leave a comment below.

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About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

How Sweeping Changes to the U.S. Patent System Will Impact Your Small Business

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: November 7, 2012 Updated: September 21, 2016

If you hold patents, have patents pending or are thinking of filing a patent, then it’s time for you to get to know the details of the most significant reform of the U.S. patent system in more than a century.

On September 16, 2012, the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA) of 2011 was signed into law, signaling an historic overhaul of the patent system. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the provisions of the AIA will “spur innovation and economic growth by streamlining the patent application process and introducing new procedures to ensure patent quality.”

So what does this mean for small business owners to whom patents are valuable assets? Here’s what you need to know:

You and Your Competitors Can Now Give Input on Pending Patent Applications

For the first time in the history of U.S. patent law, third parties can now come forward and challenge patent applications. For example, if you know of someone who is trying to file a patent on a product that would interfere with your business, you now have an opportunity to provide information to the patent examiner to help them determine whether the innovation in the application is patentable. 

By introducing third party input into the examination process for the first time since the inception of our nation’s intellectual property system, we’re able to expand the scope of access to prior art in key areas like software patents,” said Undersecretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos in this press release.

To support this change, in October 2012 the USPTO launched a crowdsourcing tool – AskPatents – to solicit input on patent applications. If you are concerned about a particular patent, you can post questions and challenge patent applications online. USPTO patent examiners will take these comments into consideration when reviewing applications. Inventors can also check the site to see if their idea is patentable.

Resolving Patent Disputes Just Got a Whole Lot Easier

In the past, if you were to contest a patent or a competitor filed a patent dispute against your business, you could expect the process to involve costly legal fees and drawn-out litigation in district courts. Under the provisions of the AIA, however, the USPTO offers a “timely, cost-effective alternative to district court litigation for challenging the patentability of a claimed invention in an issued patent.” Under this provision, the USPTO handles post-grant reviews (for a fee), resolving disputes more quickly and saving small business owners the hassles of dragging a patent dispute through the courts. 

In a nutshell, these provisions “…establish a more efficient and streamlined patent system that will improve patent quality and limit unnecessary and counterproductive litigation costs,” said USPTO’s David Kappos.

More to Come

Look for additional provisions to come from the AIA in March 2013, when the U.S. patent system moves from a first-to-invent to a first-inventor-to-file system. This will bring the U.S. in line with other nations and make it more important than ever for small businesses to consider filing a provisional patent application and engage a patent lawyer as soon as possible.

Read more about the new and upcoming changes on the USPTO website: Historic Patent Reform Implemented by U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Related Resources

 

 

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

On Measuring Social Media ROI For Real Business

By Tim Berry, Guest Blogger
Published: November 2, 2012

Warning: this post is all about the questions. It doesn’t include the answers. Asking the right questions is a good first step to getting the answers.

Theoretically we should be able to measure the ROI (return on investment) of anything we do in our business. We talk about ROI, and return, and payback when we look at an ad campaign, direct mail, product development, purchasing some big-ticket item. We make assumptions about ROI all the time. But it’s not always easy, and our assumptions are not always correct.

What about social media ROI? I’ve been searching the web. Some smart people are working in this area, of course. But it’s a hard nut to crack. Everybody seems to like the idea, but is there a formula to apply? I’m not sure.

I think of social media as 1.) amplified word of mouth; 2.) earning a voice instead of buying a voice (a reference to the fact that with social media you can engage large numbers of people based on the value of your content, rather than on how much you paid for the advertising); and 3.) a new addition to business marketing that should follow basic fundamentals.

Wikipedia defines ROI as:

(gain from investment - cost of investment) / cost of investment

We talk about ROI in percentages. For example, if we bought the share of stock for $10 and sold it for $20, then ROI is (20-10)/10 = 100%. Or if we spent $25,000 on a direct mail campaign that generated $35,000 in sales, the return is (35,000-25,000)/25,000 = 40%.

Technically, ROI calculations ignore time. Doubling our money in a day is 100% ROI, but so is doubling it over 10 years, also 100% ROI. But the return on the 10-year doubling is only about 7% per year. So that’s why the more technical measurements, like net present value and internal rate of return, take the amount of time into account. In this post, however, I’m talking just about ROI, not those more sophisticated analyses.

Problem 1: Measuring the gain

What’s the measurable business impact of social media? In dollars? Ultimately it’s obviously an increase in sales or a decrease in costs. But how do you measure an increase in sales if social media generates new customers walking through a physical door? How do you measure a decrease in costs if you can’t track which parts of the costs were cut by using social media? Maybe the advertising you didn’t do?

Take the example of the taco truck using Twitter to broadcast locations hour by hour: Obviously this increases sales, but can you pin that down to specific numbers?

There are some business types that lend themselves to measurement: Web traffic leading to web visits and conversions, for example.

Some businesses build measurement into the social media content, by using promotion codes or specific ties to Facebook likes or ads.

Problem 2: Measuring the costs

The social media platforms are mostly free. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn (depending on options), Google+, and Pinterest. But the time you spend isn’t free.

As a general rule of thumb, an employee costs a company per hour but 1/1000 of the annual gross salary. That’s because the overhead costs double the annual cost, roughly; and then you divide by 12 months, 52 weeks, and 40 hours per week. Overhead costs include payroll taxes, work  space, computers, electric power, bandwidth, etc. So the $50,000-per-year employee costs the company roughly $50 per hour.

So, if nothing else, the cost of social media is the cost of the time invested.

Conclusion

  1. We can’t measure everything that’s valuable in business.
  2. We can’t rule out social media because it’s hard to measure
  3. But we can, if we focus on getting the right information, and using realistic estimates, get a very useful estimate of social media business ROI. 

About the Author:

Tim Berry
Tim Berry

Guest Blogger

Founder and Chairman of Palo Alto Software and bplans.com, on twitter as Timberry, blogging at timberry.bplans.com. His collected posts are at blog.timberry.com. Stanford MBA. Married 46 years, father of 5. Author of business plan software Business Plan Pro and www.liveplan.com and books including his latest, 'Lean Business Planning,' 2015, Motivational Press. Contents of that book are available for web browsing free at leanplan.com .

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