One Negative Review Leads to a Lawsuit

One man, posting anonymously under the username “JT”, shared his thoughts of his rented apartment’s property management company on Yelp.  The result: the company is suing JT for defamation.  Needless to say, this raises numerous questions about what we can and cannot, or should and should not be writing online.  Do your online reviews and recommendations fall under your First Amendment rights to freedom of speech?  JT maintains that what he wrote was “not pretty, but it was true.”  The property management company claims his opinion is welcome but they merely wanted to clear up inaccuracies. For business, making the hasty decision to file a lawsuit over a detracting comment, post, or review may be the worst idea…ever.  It just continues a stream of bad press.  Instead, see this detractor as a huge opportunity to flex your customer service skills.  Acknowledge, respond in a timely manner, and try to solve the problem to the benefit of both parties.

I recently had a somewhat similar situation happen on the Facebook page of my family’s business, a small dairy company in New Jersey. One of our customers had a displeasing trip to one of our stores where an employee treated him rudely.  He was so miffed that he felt the need to write a lengthy and disapproving post on our wall.  I wrote him back privately and told him that we were extremely surprised and saddened to hear about his experience, guaranteed we would speak to the employees working on the offending night, and offered him coupons to come back to the store.  He wrote me back and said he “appreciated my response” and was “glad to feel welcomed again”.  Did I need to incentivize him?  Probably not.  But, what’s important is that instead of deleting the post from Facebook and ignoring it – I took 5 minutes to address his concern and make sure we didn’t lose a customer.  Any company should (and can) use social media to its fullest advantage – creating ample amounts of Advocates willing to recommend you.  Oh, and JT’s lawsuit has since been withdrawn.  Seems the property management company found a better way to handle the situation.

-Lucy Arnold, Marketing Intern, Zuberance

Does your company embrace transparency?

ZuberRants contributor, Ted Rubin, recently wrote about a fundamental value that every company should embody in today’s social world: authenticity. Last week, I attended the Social Media Optimization Conference in San Francisco during which a panel discussion touched upon another core value that every company must embrace: transparency.

During “How to Build and Leverage Your Social Graph,” the panel discussed what to do when an unhappy customer is blasting your company through social media on both their personal profiles and your branded profiles. Sally Falkow, President of PRESSfeed, advised to take the issue offline, or at least to email, and out of the public eye where you can quietly resolve the problem. Khris Loux, CEO of Echo, disagreed and said brands should do the exact opposite. Instead, keep the conversation online and in the social media world where people can see how you consistently and gracefully provide effective customer service.

I completely agree with the latter approach. We now live in a transparent world whether your company embraces transparency or not.

Even if you move the conversation behind closed doors, what is stopping that angry customer from quoting your email response and tweeting it or posting it on their blog for the rest of the world to see, comment, and fuel the fire?

And, let’s face it. No brand is perfect. There will always be disgruntled customers. But companies who demonstrate their swiftness in social media monitoring and can follow up with a solution to their customers’ problem, are capable of turning detractors into Advocates. In fact, a recent survey from The Strauss Group found that 95% of dissatisfied customers would do business again with a company if their problems were solved quickly and satisfactorily. Wouldn’t you like to show that to your entire community?

A few months ago I was one of these angry customers that turned to social media to vent my frustration with AT&T. Irritated and impatient from being put on hold for over 15 minutes, I tweeted (and excuse my French), “AT&T is on my shit list.” An AT&T representative immediately replied to me, asked that I send him my number via Direct Message, and then resolved my issue over the phone. (In this case, it made sense to take the issue offline due to efficiency.)

As an avid social media user, I was extremely impressed with their prompt response and appreciated that they solved my problem in a five minute phone call. They were able to turn me, as a detractor, into an Advocate. I even posted a follow up tweet, “Wow, @ATT is on top of their social media game. Thanks for your help!”

Keep the conversation on Twitter or your Facebook page so you can show both happy and unhappy customers that you are listening and value their opinion and satisfaction with your brand. Plus, your customer service experience will probably will make its way back to the social web anyway. Transparency is an inherent component of social media which simply cannot be ignored.

-Cara Fuggetta, Marketing Manager, Zuberance

How do you convert a passive fan of your brand into an Advocate? #NYBAS

After moderating a fantastic event "How to Turn Word of Mouth and Social Media into Sales" in NYC, I asked Abbey Klaassen, editor of AdAge, what she thinks the trick is to convert a passive fan into an active brand advocate. Someone who goes out of their way to tell everyone how wonderful your product is.

Klaassen said a great way to convert fans to advocates is to simply delight them in completely unexpected ways.

As an example, she told a great story of receiving a free burrito at a Chipolte restaurant. Klaassen had always been a customer and a passive fan of the chain of Mexican restaurants, but one day, out of the blue, she received this special unexpected treat. A free burrito!

It was an element of surprise and delight that took Klaassen off guard in a positive way. The net result is she came back to her office and told everyone about it. "I don’t know what I did to deserve this, but I like it," said Klaassen.

-David Spark, Social Media Journalist, Spark Media Solutions

Loyal Customers, Brand Advocates, What’s the difference?

As I have talked about the characteristics of Brand Advocates over the past few months I typically use one of my favorite subjects, “Coffee Shops,” to explain the difference between Loyal Customers and Brand Advocates. So grab a cup and here we go… I know I’m not alone, but about 3pm in the afternoon, my craving for that coffee beverage really starts to kick in. Much to my checking account’s dismay, I have become a Starbucks customer almost once a day. My daily routine is largely driven by the fact that my favorite coffee shop is 15 miles down the road and Starbucks is a one-minute walk away.

Do I recommend Starbucks to friends? Not really, but I’m a fairly loyal customer of Starbucks.

But if a friend or co-worker asked me to recommend a coffee shop I would recommend Red Rock Coffee in Mountain View, CA. I have sent more people to Red Rock than I can count. The “Silicon Valley” vibe, locally owned spirit, carefully handcrafted beverages complete with foam art, and coffee making expertise are a beautiful blend. I’m a Red Rock Advocate and a highly valuable customer for their business.

So let me get back to Starbucks to fully illustrate the difference between Loyal Customers and Advocates. The info graphic below shows how 1 in 5 Loyal Customers are Detractors.

This statistic describes my Coffee world well. Even though I spend a lot of money at Starbucks, I’m primarily a Detractor in that the main reason I go there is out of utility and lack of other inspired options.

But something happened over Christmas that actually moved me up the scale towards being a Starbucks Advocate. One of the baristas gave me a hand-signed Holiday card with a gift card inside. I assumed the idea was thought up by someone in the marketing department but I really didn’t care. It was a thoughtful and personal gesture that made a positive impact on my perception of Starbucks or at the very least the Starbucks location to which I go every day.

So what suggestions can Brands take away from my Coffee experience?

  • Don't make too many assumptions about loyal customer’s loyalty or Advocacy. It is quite possible that “loyalty” may simply be from a lack of better choices.
  • Consistently ask your customers how you (the brand) are doing with them. Our recommendation is to ask the Ultimate Question: “How likely are you to recommend our brand or products to your friends?”
  • Continually strive to make customer experiences more human and personal. For example, Denihan’s Affinia hotels give their customers a choice of 6 different types of pillows and allows guest to bring their pets. These great experiences are the corner stones of Advocacy.
  • Don't confuse Loyal Customers with Brand Advocates. Instead, think about these 2 groups as distinct segments.
  • If you have yet to systematically identify your Advocates, your Loyal Customers are are a great place to start because they have the most experience with your brand. There are surely customers in this segment that are recommending your products to their friends, or would do so if you just made it easy for them.