Recently, I got an email from a friend with 20+ years of executive-level marketing experience at a large firm. He’s just learning about social media, and asked about Facebook.
Since we had done a very successful post on the Cozi page that day (it garnered over 300 comments and some critical customer insights), I immodestly encouraged him to check it out.
I received this reply:
I could not figure out how to get directly to the post, so I had to wade through a long list from the last 24 hours. Seems like much of what you (Carol) are doing online is providing technical support. Ever think of hiring an intern for $12/hour and training them to provide online technical assistance, so you can spend more of your time on strategic initiatives?
My reply to this is “no”, and here’s why:
1. Some of the best social insights come from customer service
Social media is about listening and talking to people. If you don’t have time to answer customer questions, you probably won’t be very good at social media. This is true on a company level, an executive level and a personal level. It’s also one reason (among many) that so few big companies are truly good at it.
You see, at big companies a few people get paid a lot to plan, and a lot of people get paid a little to execute. So, in a big company context, an hour spent in the customer service trenches by anyone making more than $12 hour feels like a waste of time, brainpower and money.
In truth though, allowing mid and senior level people to remain divorced from customer interaction is a huge minus for everyone. No report can capture the nuance of customer feeling. And failing to understand feelings is how you end up with disasters like the infamous Summer’s Eve Douche ad.
2. You can’t fight to improve what you can’t see.
The concept of continuous improvement was invented by an American named W. Edwards Deming, and social media has made it easier than ever for companies to continually improve based on feedback. But only if you take the time to listen.
When YOU have to chase down the answer to whatever comes up that day, you start to see every chink in the company’s armor: product, customer service, engineering, logistics, communications. If there is a weakness somewhere, it will be revealed in the hunt for answers.
3. It’s not just about the numbers
Yes, it’s great to have an intern comb all the incoming complaints, questions and issues and put together a spreadsheet for you on which issues are coming up most. But relying purely on reports inevitably dilutes the passion behind the data. It’s a lot easier to say, “Well, that problem only affects a small portion of our users”, when YOU aren’t the one having to tell them there’s no solution to their problem.
Moreover, you get incredible insights into the customer profile from these interactions. (See point #1) Would a smart executive in charge of strategic planning or product development take the time to read transcripts or watch video clips of focus groups? Of course they would. Social media allows you to focus group your customers every day. But only if you show up.
4. The biggest value in customer interactions comes from empowering those who have them
Companies that hire low-level, low-wage kids for EVERY customer-facing task are throwing away huge amounts of value. Only someone with experience and some business depth can pull out the relevant insights, turn them into an action plan and then champion that plan to the executive team. It’s not reasonable to expect the intern who makes $12/hour to deliver this. The job of the social media lead includes MAKING the time to talk to customers and ensuring that those insights make a positive impact throughout the business.
So the 30 minutes to an hour a day I spend reading and answering customer questions – whether on Facebook., Twitter or the blog — isn’t a waste of my time; it makes me better at my job. Better at understanding our customer, better at developing social strategies that fit their needs and better at building relationships with our most passionate brand advocates. Most importantly it makes me better at delivering usable insights to the Product, Marketing, Sales and Support groups.
Now, do I spend hours every day answering every question myself? Of course not. I let our superb help desk team do the heavy lifting that makes customer support such a unique and valued feature of the Cozi brand. But I don’t for a minute believe that I should be doing something more “strategic” than understanding the customer experience.
So set aside some time each day to really hang out with your customers. Because that is what social media is for. Not for feeling too important to answer a question. But for developing a real, human understanding with thousands if not millions of customers, and USING that relationship to make your company better at serving them.