I like this infographic Visual.ly created. Though it’s mentioning marketers, the clear subject matter is how valuable your customers are, and the impact to a company’s bottom line if a customer doesn’t feel appreciated.
Companies have a vested interest in ensuring customers have the best possible experience with their product and their brand. For this reason, good sales personnel work very hard to match the customer with the product that best suits their needs based on the information a customer provides. When a customer shares a piece of their story and asks for a particular product, it may appear the requested product will not be the best match for the customer. You might look at their order history, in an attempt to provide the best service possible, and suggest that the widget being requested might not be the best fit. Let’s face it, if the customer purchases the wrong item and has a poor experience, the customer associates that experience with the company.
When the customer takes your advice, things go smoothly. But, what should you do if you are faced with a customer that does not accept your advice and insists on leaving the conversation with the merchandise or service they have in mind? For a good salesperson, this can cause inner conflict. On the one hand, you want your customer happy. On the other hand, you know based on evidence in front of you that the item requested won’t provide the best experience. What should you do? Is the customer truly always right?
Let me share a scenario with you.
A customer walks into an upscale shoe store and peruses the latest styles on display. The salesman, who is seasoned and has an eye for detail, can see that she probably wears a size 8 shoe. The woman glances his way and he comes over with a smile, thinking this will be a quick sale before his lunch break. They chat briefly about the weather and this morning’s traffic. The woman, clearly charmed with the small talk and the salesperson’s demeanor, points at a certain shoe and asks whether the man has that shoe in a size 6. The salesman thinks “oh no, she’s one of those…she thinks her feet are smaller than they are and this will take forever stuffing her foot into the shoe. She’ll be embarrassed and won’t buy anything, and I’ll be late to lunch.”
Now this isn’t the salesman’s first customer by far. He knows a thing or two. So he smiles and says “hang on, I’ll be back in a sec,” and heads for the stock room. A moment later he returns, shoe box in hand. The woman’s brow furrows as she sees the size 8 on the box. “I think you’ve picked up the wrong box,” she says. “Oh no, trust me, this is the size you want.” He begins to open the box, sure that she’ll be more pleased with the fit. But the woman is clearly becoming frustrated and he thinks “oh no, here it comes.” The woman says “Sir, I’m sorry, but I asked for an 8 and that’s what I want.” The salesman’s smile disappears and he says with all the patience he can muster, “ma’am, I’m sure that you think you want a 6, but I can see from the size of your foot that you will need an 8. I fit ladies in shoes all day and I’m certain that I know what you need.” The woman, now upset with being patronized by the sales clerk, responds by saying “I’m glad that you can tell the size of my foot. But I asked for a 6. The shoes are not for me, but for my daughter. Since you are so smart, I’m sure you can tell by my feet that I’ll also be leaving the store now.”
Sometimes, for whatever reason, customers choose not to freely share all the pertinent details that would allow us to see the entire picture. I recommend you start by asking questions to get a better picture. If the customer is reluctant or uncomfortable providing that surrounding data, it might be best not to pry, but to give your product recommendations based on the evidence you have at hand. Then, perhaps point out once, twice at most, the items that could make the product requested by the customer a less appealing choice than what you are suggesting. If the customer is still determined, and the requested product will not cause imminent danger or physical harm, I recommend allowing the customer the freedom to make their own choice. Customers want to feel like you hear them, and that you understand them, and they don’t want to feel like it is challenging to do business with you.
So, the next time you find yourself in this situation, feel free to give my recommendation a try. And rest easy knowing that you did your best to provide all the contextual information for the customer to make his or her own informed choice about your product set.
Sometimes to make things right, you have to open things up and make a mess. Fixing can be terribly messy. Recently, my husband and I hired a handyman to do some home improvement work for us to get our house ready for sale very quickly. My husband, who typically handles those items, remarked that though the man did acceptable work, he failed to clean up after himself. I looked around and realized he was right. There was still a film on the floors where the tile had been replaced, and where walls were sanded the dust had not been removed. It looked… well, it looked sloppy.
I thought about how, as a consumer, we really expect things to be put back in the condition they were before we contracted a service to be completed. Think about getting our cars serviced. How would we feel if our mechanic returned our vehicle to us with oil on the hood? Or what if when we went to a restaurant, the dirty dishes from prior patrons were left on the table? When we purchase a good or service, we expect full service.
For online services, think about reducing customer effort. The following three steps can help ensure we have “cleaned up our mess” sufficiently after our initial customer interaction on social media or in person:
- Follow up with customers after an initial service request to make sure they did get the result they were expecting
- Ensure the service was completed to customer satisfaction
- Ask if customers have any questions or additional needs
So, get out there and clean up your mess. Just as with the handyman, the quality of your work will shine through if you tidy up after yourself when the work is complete.
For brands, having a presence on social media has become expected and necessary to thrive. Setting up that Twitter handle or Facebook page is relatively easy, and then you put out some content and do some paid media and try hard to stay relevant for your customers, which gets harder, and then there’s this content calendar and yayy, … now people are responding to you! Wait.. uh oh.. they’re asking questions. Am I supposed to answer all these?
Yes, this feeling can be overwhelming. And to be honest, the answer really is different for every brand and every budget. But let me share a scenario with you.
Close your eyes. Imagine a retail store. It’s bright, shiny and clean. Employees are smiling and all dressed in crisp polo shirts with the company’s logo and they look all well-polished. A customer walks up to the counter and says to the man behind the counter “Hey, I’ve got a question about this here. Can you help me?” The employee, still smiling, sporting logo, stares silently, blinking at the customer. (ummm, awkward.) So, the customer tries again, “Sorry, maybe you didn’t hear me. Can you help me?” More blinking. Another customer walks up next to the first customer and says “I need to pay my bill.” The employee behind the counter turns to the second customer and says, “Certainly, I’m happy to help you with that, follow me.”
What just happened? Well, if you’re the first customer, what just happened was you lost all faith in that expensive, shiny store front and that logo that was attached to the chest of the employee who completely ignored you, that’s what just happened. If you’re the second customer, what just happened is an increased uncertainty about whether you will or will not be able to have your needs met at the store, because though you were helped, clearly the first customer was not. And, if you’re the employee, you probably felt slightly embarrassed that your face is attached to the logo that helped one person but not another. Wow, that’s a lot of feelings we just talked about.
How does this translate to social media customer support? Imagine you’re on Twitter, tweeting merrily, and you realize that your new tablet case has a defect and the fabric cover is peeling away from the plastic shell. “Dang, I just bought this!” you think. Then, realizing you’re already on Twitter, put faith in the universe and tweet out to the company, “help! my tablet case is defective.” You wait for a little bird to bring you a reply. Instead, crickets. You wait more. Nothing. So, you go to the company’s twitter page and you see that tweets after yours are being answered, tweets about “love this new pattern!” and “thanks for sponsoring our fun run!” receive “glad you like it!” and “hey, we love to help the community!” Well, what about you? You are a paying customer, you know, and… and well nobody’s listening to you! There’s the translation.
Both scenarios have to do with a lack of clarity around what the customer can expect from your company. The original intent of social media was to provide a space where people could interact socially. Businesses saw this as an opportunity to connect with consumers and convert them to customers, and many have had marked success. Customers have found this a convenient space to transact business. But not answering customers or answering only occasionally trains them that, though you have a presence on social, you are not fully able to transact business on social. It’s like a false storefront. So, what do you do? Set clear expectations with your customers. Decide whether you want to only be present on social, or whether you want to transact business on social media and make that your strategy. If you are a large business, you probably have the resources to staff people to answer inquiries either during certain hours or 24×7, whichever your audience demands. If you’re a small business and can’t afford staff but still want to transact socially, there are companies out there that will offer support services to you where they answer customers. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach by any means. The important thing is to develop a strategy and clearly set customer expectations, so they are sure of what they can and can’t do. Can’t afford to respond on social media? No problem. Just let your customers know what they can expect from you on social, and show them where they can go to get their needs met.