Improving Customer Experience Starts with Listening
A viral story from last week about the Balgonie Castle wedding venue provides a good lesson of how using social media to get close to your customers can go wrong. But what the event highlighted to us here at This is Milk is what a lost opportunity this represented.
If you listen to what customers think of your product, service and policies you can use that to help you understand their experience of your offering which can lead to:
- Improving your products and services - through deeper knowledge of your customers' expectations
- Improving your market position - through greater understanding of what your competitors are offering, and how you stack up in your customers' eyes
- Connecting with your customers where they are - show you care and communicate in the right way.
So What Happened with Balgonie?
A customer who planned to host her wedding at the venue posted on a Facebook page for brides in Scotland, asking about whether the payment policy of the venue seemed typical or not (having been asked to pay for meals three months in advance and being charged full price for children’s meals). She did not name the venue, but the event manager felt the need to interject, professing how she was ‘sick to death’ of customers complaining on social media. This quickly escalated and culminated in the event manager posting the customer’s personal details in the Facebook forum and threatening legal action. The conversation continued with the venue manager using the contract as the justification of the activities. "The contract says so - therefore like it or lump it" is what came across.
The conversations surrounding the incident were telling for the venue manager. From where we're sitting it looks like her customers' expectations (and those of other brides to be) were not to pay full price for kid's meals, and not to pay 3 months in advance. Moreover, her competitors had lower costs for children and more satisfying payment terms. Therefore a smart business response could have been to amend the terms of the contracts to be in line with the market and customer expectations.
What happened instead, from our perspective, was potentially very damaging to the business. Brides talk as they say, and nowhere is it more evident of the potential for backlash than a viral story of customer dissatisfaction. Not all publicity is good publicity.
Are You Listening?
Your customers are talking about you – but do you know how to listen? We'd all love it if our products and services were so good we never got complaints or negative feedback, but as business people we have to learn to love negative feedback.
Generally speaking people don't tell you if they've had a negative experience, but they will tell everybody else. And that's a problem. Word of mouth is still the most effective form of marketing, and a bad experience will be spoken about much more than a good one. We're all inherently lazy, don't like to complain, hurt people's feelings or worse don't care enough to provide feedback. So when you do know what your customers are saying - treat it as the privileged opportunity it is - listen and make changes for the better.
The Beauty of Social Media
Social media brings you the opportunity to meet your customers where they already are. It can present a much more natural way to foster a conversation, but one of the most important benefits that social media can bring for your customer experience is the opportunity to be a ‘fly on the wall’ and find out what your customers really think about you. You have access to customer concerns and honest opinions through your hashtags, relevant Facebook groups, topic-specific online forums, review sites, your own company pages, and the list goes on... If you learn to be a good listener on social media, you can use this to your advantage to assess your position in the market and most importantly, your customers’ expectations of a business in your field and how to better serve them.
The lesson from the Balgonie incident is clear to us - don't join the conversation if it isn't in the right spirit. Social media channels, such as Facebook groups, are open spaces and customers have a right to talk freely about your business. In many cases, it’s not really necessary for you to jump in, especially if they’re not posting on your company page.
You need to know when you should be in ‘proactive mode’, and when you should go into ‘listening mode’. At any rate, never treat comments about your business as personal attacks. This behaviour immediately makes you look childish and unprofessional – the Internet laughs at authors on Goodreads and hotels on TripAdvisor posting irate, offended replies to negative reviews, and you do not want to join the same group. Weirding people out on social media is a fast and sure-fire way to badly sour your customer experience.
Go Viral for the Right Reasons
The only way to reliably make sure that your customer experience meets expectations is to actually listen to what your customers have to say. Social media can be a great source of these candid opinions that you can use to develop your business. What’s more, receiving negative feedback is always an opportunity to rectify your brand’s image and strengthen your relationship with your customers by responding in a satisfactory and friendly way. Stay gracious and humble, admit your mistakes to yourself, and find a way to improve.
It’s all about coming across as professional and responsive to your customers’ needs. You have the opportunity to provide great customer service through social media, meeting your customers where they are already talking about you, and using your soft skills to recognise the emotional states they’re in when trying to get in touch with you. If you’re finding that those emotions include frustration, disappointment, or bewilderment, it’s time to go into listening mode and find out why.
You never know what will get you attention – if you go viral, make sure it’s for the right reasons!
For a deeper insight into Customer Experience, join Angela for one of our Customer Experience workshops or learn about how we can help your business!