Why Your Social Media Should Follow The Customer – Not Your Opening Hours

Open All Hours

Can you imagine launching a business in 2013 whose opening hours are Monday to Friday between the hours of 9.00am to 5.00pm?

I’d love to see THAT pitch on Dragons Den. It would be insane. I can’t think of any successful business model still in existence that operates in this way.

In the years following the Sunday Trading Act – through to the internet boom of the late 90’s right up to our “always on” present  – the idea of customers only operating in “office hours” has become increasingly archaic.

So why is it that many brands social media presence says hello at 9 and goodbye at 5? 

A few weeks ago I was asked advice from an organisation who were at the early stages of using social to engage with customers. Their main fear was that people might contact them at weekends as “they were a 9-5 business”.

I challenged this. I asked them whether their website disappeared from search engines at 5.00pm. I suggested that if it doesn’t – your customers will still expect service , whether or not you choose to provide it. So – through the eyes of the customer – you are essentially a 24 hour business who only provides service for 8 hours.

66% rubbish.

I wasn’t trying to be clever – just pointing out that in a connected world many of us have stopped thinking about whether something is open or closed. It just exists.

An article this week made the point that many brands are still using social media “as a publishing channel rather than an engagement channel” and that this includes pushing content in the hours where customers would be less likely to engage.

I agree.

The issue is that most organisations have carried their old world analogue behaviours – communicating within “office hours” – into the digital world. But the digital world doesn’t work in the same way. Here the customer is truly king, we are open all hours. And there is nothing you or I can do about it.

If we think about our own behaviours we know this to be true.

Using my Twitter account as an example  – the most engagement I get is between the hours of 6am-8.30am and 7pm-10pm on weekdays. And on weekends 8-11am and 7-11pm. This will be different for all of us and according to social media channel.

But 9-5 is certainly not the primetime when it comes to engaging customers.

I’ve worked in customer engagement for many years – and I would suggest that the very best conversations , the real relationship building conversations – do not occur within these hours. They never did offline and they certainly won’t online.

And that’s why some brands are struggling to engage.  They are broadcasting to people who are not listening. They are attempting engagement on their terms and not the terms of the customer.

3 tips:

  • Think about when you personally are most likely to engage in conversations online. It might be when you are watching TV or waiting for a bus.
  • Now think about who else is competing for your customers attention in those times. If it’s too busy – avoid it and pick another time slot.  
  • Now start posting some interesting content and begin some conversations around that content. Repeat 3 times each week.

Sounds like really obvious advice. But if it’s that obvious , why are so few of us doing it?

Please add any of your engagement tips in the comments box. I’d love to hear them.

2013 – Do we need a new operating system?

Windows 95

My first post of 2013 has been slightly delayed due to holiday. I love holidays. Not because they get me away from work but because it’s where I can put work into focus.  The further away I get from Bromford and the UK the greater clarity I get on the things that need to change. It’s a great way to put things into perspective and get inspiration. And you get a January tan.

So please forgive the holiday excesses of this post, which was written on a flight back from Singapore with a wine in one hand and an eye on the remake of Total Recall. (Which is absolutely appalling by the way, save yourself the time.) I’ve also blown my usual “Keep a post to 500 words rule”. Normal service will resume shortly.

Singapore is interesting. You will probably get more inspiration from 24 hours there than from any trade publication , sector conference, or benchmarking club you spend time on this year.  Singapore (where someone actually said to me “We solved homelessness and unemployment”) seems to run on a whole new operating system. A kind of iOS 6 to the UK’s Windows 95. The normal rules don’t seem to apply.

Flicking through Twitter whilst I was away it also struck me how much innovation is going on right now. The use of digital to bring together the disconnected. New services and initiatives in housing , health , financial literacy and job creation springing up on an almost daily basis. And these are not just being developed by a few enthusiasts but becoming mainstream provision.

In Africa. And Asia. And South America.

But not the UK.

The young and the hungry seem to be achieving things faster than we can.

I love the UK and I love the sector in which I work.

But is it time for a whole new operating system?  What our businesses do , and how that business is done, surely needs upgrading?  Because at the moment – they just can’t move fast enough.

Our existing OS is often run on Board Meetings and Business Plans and Budget Approvals and Risk Assessments – all things that are 20th Century constructs and need re-imagining.

So. Let’s make a start.

  In December I posted that 2012 was the year that the housing sector went social. By that I meant it had dipped its toes in the waters of new technologies and ways of communicating – particularly social media. And , all things considered, I think it made a pretty nifty start. But no-one in the sector has gone digital. New websites , Twitter accounts and fancy infographics certainly. All are more relevant and engaging ways of communicating.  But has anyone truly redesigned their business for the connected customer?

The big accepted issues in 2013 for the housing sector are welfare reform and the lack of affordable housing supply. However I don’t think that looking back in 20 years time we will agree on that.

2013 will be remembered as the year in which customers started leaving us behind. Operating faster than we can.

We are lucky. We have never lived in a time where our communities can become truly connected with each other and everything.  There are 5 million people living in social housing in the UK  and many more receive care and support services. Everyone of them will be able to connect with one another , lobby us for change , run our services , provide support for each other and create jobs that don’t exist.

The way our business operates can stand in the way of that.  Or we can step aside and facilitate the ascension of the connected customer.

I don’t underestimate the task ahead. It requires a huge mind-shift by organisations and stakeholders. Many have not considered the impact of the connected customer/tenant/user/patient. Some , dinosaur-like , are resisting adaptation and are soon to face their own personal Ice Age.

What sort of things could we be doing?

  • How about we give up our websites and make them open source to users? See if they could do a better job than us?  (I’m guessing they can)
  • What if we let communities design their own hubs – letting them join health , housing , and care in the way they would like to see them work? (Rather than how we think it should operate)
  • Why don’t we let tenants design and run a choice based lettings and transfer system that works? (enabling actual choice ,rather than an illusion of it, could be an early goal)
  • What if people could swap providers of services (support, work programme, care) and design their own as easily as I can edit my basket on Amazon? 

None of the above are particularly innovative. Certainly none are impossible. The only barriers to any of them happening are us. You and me.

This is my first post of 2013. It’s my personal resolution that by the end of the year we will have real examples of how we have used digital not just to engage users , but to fundamentally reshape what we do.

I’d love to hear what others think. Do let me know. And Happy New Year!

The Rules of Attraction

I was asked a question the other day:

“No-one is engaging with our Facebook discussion. Will you have a look at it and tell us what you think?” I turned the question back on them. “If it was you. And you were the customer. Would you have joined in?”

After a few seconds deliberation – the response. “Err , no – I wouldn’t.”

“Well”, I said. “There is your answer.”

I’m no expert in Social Media. But I’ve worked in customer engagement for over 10 years, and there’s one thing I absolutely know to be true. If you wouldn’t find it interesting yourself – why on earth would your customers?

Social Media is a relatively new tool. But just because it’s easy and cheap does not mean customers are more likely to engage with us.

There are three rules I was introduced to in my early (offline) days of working in customer engagement. They apply just as much today, in the online world.

1 – What’s in it for your audience? Why is engaging with you a good use of their time?

2 – Be entertaining. And if you can’t be entertaining – be extremely interesting.

3 – Go where the customer is. Don’t expect them to come to you.

A lot of customer engagement via Social Media fails to follow these basic rules. Organisations too often talk about themselves and what’s important to them rather than remain focused on the customer.

Here are a couple of examples of what I mean:

What’s in it for the customer? – @monmouthshirecc is a superb corporate Twitter feed that isn’t corporate. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it promote anything about the actual organisation. And that’s probably why it has over 4,500 followers. Would you honestly follow your companies own Twitter feed if you didn’t work for them? If your answer is no – It will be no for your customers too.

Be Entertaining – Organisations are not interesting by default. The best corporate engagement is all about personality. For the Social Housing sector we have to accept we are not Lady Gaga or Kim Kardashian. We are more Ed Miliband. So we need to have ultra interesting content. Or just be amusing. This video by @optimacommunity is a great example. It’s short , simple and funny. And it has a very deliberate call to action. It made me want to find out more.

Go where the customer is – There are thousands of local information websites across the UK. And there are countless local Facebook pages formed around communities of interest. Why not go to them and tap into existing networks rather than trying to create a new one? It’s harder work than lazily posting to your own page for sure , but it’s far more effective.

So the next time you wonder why no-one is engaging – ask yourself a simple question.

Would you?

12 Weeks To Change Your Online Life (or hand your iPad back…)

I’ve had a breakthrough that I want to share.

Last Week  I threw down a special challenge to some of our Board Members and Customer Stakeholders who we had struggled to get engaged in Online collaboration and Social Media.

3 Rules

  1. I’ll loan you an iPad for 12 Weeks.
  2. If it doesn’t change your life I will have it back. I will never mention Social Media to you again.
  3. But if you admit it changes your life and you prove you are tweeting , yammering and engaging with others online you get to keep it.

An hour before I gave this challenge we had debated every single reason NOT to engage in Social Media.  The usual reasons were given: Viruses; Personal Data Privacy; Abusive Language; Louise Mensch; Piers Morgan. All valid reasons that I certainly couldn’t dispute.

Instead of presenting a counter-argument – we produced the iPads. And the challenge. Accept it – and you get to play with one. Immediately

Instantly – a room full of hardened cynics are transformed as they touch , poke and turn the iPads around in their hands. Apple understand design and they understand how we first learned to play as children. When we didn’t have any cynicism towards anything or anyone.

I’ll let you know how the challenge goes.

By the way , less than 24 hours later I had  an email. From someone who just a few weeks ago told me they would NEVER engage in Social Media.

This is a bit of what it said:

Just wanted to say I’m a convert. It’s amazing. I’ve registered for Yammer. Can you send me that Beginners Guide to Twitter that you mentioned? P.S You won’t be getting your iPad back

The Amazon Test – #CustomerExperience Blog Post

The Kindle Touch

I ordered a Kindle Touch yesterday – expecting a delay as you usually get with new product launches.

It was ordered online at 15.38pm.

1-Click.

It arrived at my door at 7:35am this morning.

It arrives charged.

It knows my name.

By 7:45am it is up and running and has my entire library on it.

When you go into work on Monday morning – use that as a benchmark against any of your interactions with your customers.

Speak to a customer and ask them how it was when they last ordered something from you.

How easy was it.? How quickly was it dealt with? Did it exceed expectations?

I’m pretty much certain we will all fail The Amazon Test

Relationships that work – Customer Deal Blog

One of our main aims is to have customers who would recommend us to their friends. We put this in place over 7 years ago – as a big unifying key performance indicator aimed at getting the whole organisation behind delivering great customer experiences.

But this can’t be delivered on our own. Relationships are a two way thing.

The landlord / tenant relationship in UK social housing is a curious one. It has no break clause and is subject to no review or even dialogue to see how either party feels.

It has no equivalent in the consumer world, where the concept of walk away points mean service relationships can have an inherent dynamism about them. You satisfy the customer or you are at risk.

What we aim to do with the Customer Deal is to introduce that dynamic quality into the relationship.

So a customer won’t just be handed the keys.

We will get to know them before they even move in.
We will have a welcome visit where we see how they are settling down and what they think of the service so far.
We will arrange relationship reviews , typically every year or two years, where will talk about how things are going for both of us.

And based upon that we will look to tweak our service proposition to the individual customer. This could be incentives and benefits for keeping to the Deal.

I get a better deal out of O2 for being a loyal customer who doesn’t rip them off. Why shouldn’t a customer of social housing?

The end of lifetime tenancies has been painted as a terribly negative move within the housing sector. But , executed well , it brings with it the opportunity to introduce a totally different landlord / tenant relationship. One where the tenant is no longer a passive recipient.

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