In mid-April 2009, two Domino’s pizza employees decided it would be funny to pull a little YouTube prank. One employee prepared sandwiches for delivery while putting cheese up his nose and blowing nasal mucus on the sandwiches – all while his co-worker provided up-close camera work and a play-by-play narrative. Within 24 hours, over a million people had viewed the video. The incident brought a whole new meaning to brand reputation “nose-dive”. Domino’s sales plunged overnight.
In mid-May 2009, Michael Silveira – a 22 year old lab technician who does not own a car, got fed up with receiving unsolicited phones calls to purchase an auto warranty. According to a Wall Street Journal article, Silveira decided to seek revenge on the auto-warranty company by leaving voice-message recordings of Rick Astley’s 1987 song “Never gonna give you up” – sort of an audio version of “RickRolling“. Silveira invited other disgruntled customers to join him in his crusade- by publicly posting phone numbers and addresses on various activist sites. The online mob resulted in overloaded phone lines, changed voice mail greetings and even arson threats for the Irvine, CA based warranty company, AutoOne.
FRIEND OR FOE?
Both of these powerful examples prove the new social media customer service formula: one outraged customer + two fast typing thumbs + 50 Twitter followers = a formula for corporate catastrophe. If there was ever a time for companies to step-up their customer service practice, that time is now.
According to a study by the London School of Economics, brands must increase positive word of mouth by 7% to generate 1% of business growth – or reduce negative word of mouth by 2%. Which proves: negative word of mouth adversely impacts business growth. With today’s available social media, the potential for bad word of mouth to go viral is greater than ever. Disappoint just one customer – and be ready for the possibility that she tells her circle of social media friends, and so on, and so on – to create a wildfire swirl of “bad-vocacy” about your company.
There is good news however. Besides customer service, social media can be used to successfully blend initiatives of other traditionally siloed aspects of business- research, marketing, sales, and product development. Most businesses are still fumbling their way to adapting to this new model. Even though their customer’s conversation draws no lines between these topics- the disciplines are still disparate within their organization. But some companies are successfully proving communicating through social media does, in fact, result in business gains.
THE NEW HELP DESK LINE
Well-known brands like Dell and Whole Foods are using social media venues to provide sales support and customer service for their customers. Zappos’ CEO Tony Hseih personally has over 400,000 Twitter followers. He actively Tweets about Zappos’ passion for building relationships with their customers. The foundation of their success has been based on the fact that when people feel respected and engaged- whether in-person, on the phone or over a social network- they have a natural desire to share that experience with the people they know.
Many companies are also using social media to monitor conversations and proactively address customer concerns. Twitter and Facebook can now be considered the new Help Desk Line. Tools like Twazzup.com, TweetBeep, Google Reader, and Technorati can scan conversation and provide alerts – allowing you to react quickly to a customer before too much word of mouth damage can be done.
Not only can conversations act as real-time focus groups, some dialogues have led to product development success stories. In a recent presentation at the IAB conference, Forester Research’s Josh Bernoff explains how Del Monte used this technique to create an innovative new pet food product.
Creating a community through social media is the best way to create venues for loyal customers to provide their own content – and evangelize your brand. Organic created the Jeep Facebook Fan page which has over 126k fans. In addition to providing downloadables like IM icons and desktop visuals for fans to use, customers can also post personal photos and share their passion for their vehicles.
From large brands like Jeep and Zappos – to mom n’ pop pizzerias – companies are quickly learning that social media can function as their best friend or worst enemy. Positive word of mouth, whether in person or through social media, will still depend on the traditional business foundation built: providing a great product and treating customers well. What do you think? Do the benefits of social media outweigh the risks?