Posts Tagged ‘customer service’

Reversing the Polarity of Your Social Media Strategy

May 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Reversing the Polarity of Marketing

In the kampy 70s-era Batman TV series (and movie), Adam West’s titular character was always trying to extricate himself from a supervillain’s trap by “reversing the polarity.”  It’s one of those pseudo-sciencey terms that pre-teen kids find believable (even nerdy kids who like Dr. Who).

Colleagues and I have joked before that the marketing budgets of some projects would be better spent bribing the very small target population than trying to break through the deluge of noise consumers encounter each day by paying for mass media channels (the very entities creating the noise).

Twitter.  Facebook.  Pinterest.  Linkedin.  Blogs.  RSS.  SMS.  Foursquare.  Google Places.

Thanks to social media there are enumerable ways for any organization to broadcast messages to its publics.  There are so many channels with such low cost barriers that the decisions marketers and PR pros need to make are all about how many to spend time on.

However, the focus on broadcasting often overshadows an important and underutilized feature of the Internet-connected world: the ability to reverse the flow of information to focus laser-like on a very tiny population.  I’m not talking about Narrowcasting.  The “casting” part still implies a lack of a quality relationship with each of the unique people you’re trying to enlist.

It is increasingly easier to be successful by focusing solely on good customer service or by serving a very specific clientele.  That’s the Long Tail at work.  Creating relationships.

Rather than spending resources buying access to a megaphone could you reallocate those resources to, one at a time, find the 25, 50, 100, 1000 people you actually need to make your campaign a success?  I bet you could … if you can just “reverse the polarity.”

FedEx Deserves a Black Belt in Crisis Management for Response to Viral Video

December 22, 2011 2 comments

Earlier this week, a YouTube video from a security camera made the rounds showing a FedEx employee carelessly tossing a package (containing a computer monitor) over a fence to deliver it.  As of today, the original has over 4 million views and opportunistic content-scrapers who have re-posted to their own profiles have garnered hundreds of thousands more.

Huge public relations crisis, right?  Nope.

FedEx delivered a master class  in crisis communications with its response that should be taught in PR classrooms.  Check it out:

Let’s break down what happened (which is an affirmation of the principles articulated by Arthur W. Page):

  1. They responded quickly.  They didn’t wait for the situation to reach a tipping point; only two days passed between the uploading of the original video and the response.  Can you imagine the kind of effort it takes during the heaviest delivery season to negotiate and organize a well-crafted video response to a negative customer service experience for a global corporation?  Right now the response video is the #2 video, right under the original negative video which is #1.  It has over 116,000 views – six thousand of those were accrued in the time it took me to draft this blog post, so it’s gaining traction.
  2. They told the truth.  At no point did they try to write it off as an isolated incident, a hoax, or try to blame a third party contractor or regional human resources department.  They embraced it.
  3. They made it right with the customer (a YouTube user with the alias ‘goobie55’).  Before anything else, they reached out to the party affected and fixed the situation.  Unfortunately, goobie55 has not (yet) done the right thing – which is to post an update to the video noting FedEx’s response – hopefully that will still happen.
  4. They took it seriously.  FedEx knows how quickly information is shared online and they responded swiftly with senior management.  They didn’t let the situation linger unanswered or task local staff to handle it.  They also likely used all the resources in their arsenal – which may have included a traditional public relations pitch campaign (given the over 150 articles covering the response).
  5. They internalized the problem.  According to FedEx Senior VP Matthew Thornton, they are also are now sharing the video with employees as a case study in why careful handling of packages is important.
  6. They gave the organization a face.  You could hardly find a better face for the organization than VP Matthew Thornton; the nonverbal communication is fantastic.  He’s in a shirt and tie (no suit coat), with thick-rimmed glasses and a similarly-thick mustache – he looks like a working-class executive who is personally-invested in the company and doesn’t shy away from rolling up his sleeves.  Though he’s likely reading from a prompter, Thornton is convincing nonetheless.  In a way he projects the feel of a small business owner who knows well how accountable he is to his customers.
  7. They had a track record to stand on.  This is perhaps the most important part of any crisis is what happens BEFORE the crisis – something that can’t be emphasized enough.  Every organization needs to make quality service and products a priority (which should go without saying, but it doesn’t – plenty are operating on an old model of sub-standard quality upholstered in glitz and style).  No crisis response, no matter how eloquent, can save an organization that sucks at what they do from a high-profile example of their suckage – the companies that conduct themselves that way are only able to do so because they’re a monopoly (think AT&T or Comcast).

The only improvement I might have made is to have Thornton add an action item at the end of his video (you can provide hyperlinks within YouTube videos very easily) that invited any other customers with a bad experience to immediately share, or link directly to the process for resolving disputes, it so it could be fixed.  But that’s just me nit-picking.

Hopefully a lot of people are able to learn from this – kudos to FedEx.

Case Study for Seth Godin’s “Five Ingredients of smart Online Commerce”

January 6, 2011 1 comment

Marketing Guru Seth Goden just wrote a post – the “Five ingredients of smart online commerce.” After a recent interaction with Drs. Foster & Smith, a pet supply company, I thought I’d see how well their site fared by Godin’s metric:

  1. “They sell a product you can’t buy at the local store.” [Success]
  2. “They understand that online pictures are free.” [Fail]
  3. “They use smart copy.” [Success]
  4. “They are obsessed with permission.” [Success]
  5. “They aren’t afraid to post reviews. Even critical ones.” [Fail]
    [It should be noted that Godin doesn’t allow comments/discussion/review on his own blog.]

To be fair to Drs. Foster and Smith – for the most part they’ve handled the transaction well:  I was contacted promptly when I sent an email asking about returning the dog bowl I ordered (which was far smaller than the description posted on the website).  When I tweeted my dissatisfaction, they refunded my money before they had even received the returned product.

However, what I can’t abide is how they handled my review of the product on their website.  They have a section marked “Testimonials” for product reviews.  I submitted a review noting that the size was incorrectly advertised and that the product was unsatisfactory.  Rather than posting my review – they disabled reviews for that product (which they continue to sell).

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In the era of social media – this sort of situation is actually a chance to improve your reputation because it allows the public to witness your dispute resolution process (by preserving it online for people to see).  When you allow engagement on your website or social media presence, you create the possibility for people to happen across examples attesting to your quality

Here’s what should have happened:

  1. The negative review I submitted should have been approved/posted.
  2. Customer Service at that point should have initiated a refund (without me having to post a negative tweet).
  3. Someone should have responded to my negative review explaining the situation (I don’t blame Drs. Foster and Smith for the product description – they likely were misinformed by the manufacturer) and noting that my money was refunded.
  4. Then, I should have been invited to publicly rate my satisfaction with the response.  (Some might worry that I would still hold a grudge and post a spiteful negative review – but then that spiteful act would have been preserved too so people could see that I was just a jerk even though the company attempted to satisfactorily resolve my concerns).

By going the route they chose – Drs. Foster and Smith is missing out on the opportunity to show other potential customers that I was ultimately satisfied with them.  All anyone would see if they happened to search for background on the store (with the exception of this blog post) is my negative tweet and a tweet in response.

The “Road House” Guide to Social Media

December 16, 2009 1 comment

If you’re alive and breathing, chances are you’ve been flipping through the channels to get the weather and ended up losing two hours of your life because you ran across “Road House” on TV and were unable to turn away.  I think TBS’ official slogan is now “The Road House and Hunt For Red October” channel (go look now – one of them is certain to be on).

“Road House” coasts on the the zen-inspired, coolly self-assured charisma of “Dalton” (Patrick Swayze) who provides a perfect illustration of the difference between being Assertive and being Aggressive in responding to threats to one’s reputation online:

Aggression is unwarranted (even when you’re in the right).  Assertion is prudent.  The *textbook I use for my Interpersonal Communication class has a helpful way of contrasting the two:  “To be assertive is to make requests, ask for information, stand up for your rights, and generally pursue your own best interests without denying your partner’s rights. […] Being aggressive means pursuing your interests by denying the rights of others.”

Assertion without aggression is the essence of Dalton’s philosophy for handling inebriated bar patrons:

“All you have to do is follow three simple rules.

One, never underestimate your opponent. Expect the unexpected.

Two, take it outside. Never start anything inside the bar unless it’s absolutely necessary.

And three, be nice. If somebody gets in your face and calls you a [expletive], I want you to be nice. Ask him to walk. Be nice. If he won’t walk, walk him. But be nice. If you can’t walk him, one of the others will help you, and you’ll both be nice.”

Underestimation of ones opponents has been the downfall of many an institution – and with access to social media, the chronically-underestimated have never wielded so much power to communicate (there’s probably another analogy here between being drunk with alcohol and drunk with the power granted by social media).  In stark contrast to the conventional wisdom, the web is packed with highly-intelligent, highly-resourceful, and highly-motivated people who can (and will) make things miserable for you if you’re not playing fair.

Taking it outside, t00, is key.  One must participate in the threads of conversation where they live, because it’s rarely the case that it happens within one’s sphere of control (which is one of the reasons the other two rules are so important).  Another reality is that audiences are so fragmented and siloed that it’s impossible for a single online channel to reach a sizeable chunk of the population.

Being nice is perhaps the most important rule of all.  Being nice is the right thing to do.  Being nice can soften an embittered position.  Being nice builds credibility with everyone watching the interaction so if the other party in the conversation steps out of line – it shows.

So engage with social media.  But be nice.

*(Beebe, Beebe and Redmond.  2008.  Interpersonal Communication: Relating to Others)