Do We Remember How to Talk to Our Customers?

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Cycles are natural. We see them everywhere in life, both in business and the world at large. Fashions are updated and recycled as the years roll by, the seasons change as time passes, and business cycles evolve as the months and years continue.  What was once new becomes normal, then normal becomes old, and old is eventually recycled as new again.

In My World, “Old” is “New”

A good majority of the world I work in is new. Twitter and Facebook haven’t been around for that long, and blogging certainly isn’t ancient either. New tools may have a bit of a learning curve, and that’s fine. We all took a bit to figure out how to use email, and we’ll take a bit to figure out how these new social tools will apply to our businesses as well. What’s not new is what the tools enable us to accomplish.  We’ve been talking to our customers since the dawn of business.  From shaking someone’s hand, to replying to an email, we’ve always had conversations with the people that are interested in our businesses, or putting their money where their mouth is and supporting them.  Today, many of these conversations take place on places like Facebook and Twitter – but they’re still conversations.

Don’t Forget Where You Came From

When helping people through the social media learning curve, I am not surprised when this type of question comes up:“Can you tell me what I should say if a customer responds to my post?” My usual response to that question revolves around asking them what they’d say if the same customer called their main phone line with that response, or what they would say if they were talking to them at a trade show. Sometimes that helps, which shows that people are still struggling to understand the rules of the road.  That’s fine – people are still learning and those questions are good to ask. Other times, my follow-up question is met with a look of sheer panic. This look generally signifies the fact that talking directly to a customer is a completely new concept for the person asking me the question. That surprises me, as I speak with far more marketers than I do, say, corporate accountants. The fact that I’ve seen this pop up more than once has caused me to wonder if we’re really that far behind the scenes as marketers.  Is it idealistic to think that most of us attend a trade show or sales call on a regular basis?

People Like Talking to People

Have we forgotten how to talk to our customers, rather than just push messaging out in their direction? My first answer is “no”, and I can think of many great examples to support that answer.  However, when I think about it another way, I can come up with an equal-sized list of companies that fear a pushed message turning into a conversation, and these companies grip hard and fast onto their ideal of making sure everything that anyone says has the corporate seal of approval. So yes, the tools are new. Things have changed. But, it appears that amidst all this change we somehow forgot that we were just people talking to people. It seems in many cases that talking to our customers is new and so the cycle continues. Talking to our customers apparently became normal, then was retired from many of our lives at some point in time, and is now a new and brilliantly novel concept.

What Can You Do?

  • For many companies, putting someone on the internal side of the social phone that already talks to customers on a daily basis is a good starting point. Are there any marketers, customer service people, technicians, or account managers that you’d trust to start responding to people’s questions/comments online? If so, what do you need to do to make that happen?
  • Is the fear of a conversation a result of not knowing what conversations are currently taking place? If so, start by showing people what others are saying, and even how your industry peers are responding.
  • Define a chain of accountability. Who is responsible for handling what types of posts, and who ultimately has oversight over their actions? Do you need to get legal involved? What about a list of common questions and approved answers, would that help? Start by defining who owns the attention to these new channels, and follow that up with providing clarity and removing the “fear factor”.
Am I over-thinking things? Do you have a different viewpoint? Feel free to share your responses in the comments! Photo Credit: StephenMitchell]]>

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