How To Keep Your Customers Loving Your Brand

Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room” – Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon

Inside the wallets of Generation Y

This is one of the most interesting infographics I’ve seen recently.
  • The huge advocacy for Amazon is amazing.  95% of those surveyed say they “Love the Brand”.
  • But TUI – the German travel company that most of us know for operating Thomson and First Choice Holidays have the opposite relationship with Generation Y. An astonishing 99.4% say  the brand “is not for me”.
What have Amazon done to get pretty much 100% of an age group as fans? 
And what on earth has TUI done to disengage an entire generation?
To help us understand – I present my experiences of the two brands over the past few years.

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I’m unashamed in my love of Amazon.

Amazon , for my money , provide the best low cost customer experience in the world.

Amazon.co.uk isn’t a website – it’s a living breathing eco-system. The reason Amazon are lousy at social media is they don’t have to be good at it. It’s all contained in Amazon World.

Amazon got to know me on our first date. They discovered what I like and since then have made some really helpful recommendations.  They never let me down. When one of their suppliers has messed up they have taken full responsibility without us arguing.

They never , ever , talk about themselves. Only about me.

I have only spoken to the mythical Amazon people once. I broke my Kindle. It was my fault. But they didn’t even want to know that. All they said was – ” Mr Taylor – our priority now is to get you a new Kindle as soon as possible”. That was on a Sunday evening in a telephone call from somewhere in the US.

I had a new Kindle the following morning.

I love them and it feels like they love me too.

TUI

I love holidays. And there was a time I was in love with Thomson.  But Thomson don’t pay me much attention except when they want my money.

I used to spend a lot on them. I don’t have kids and am lucky enough to travel fairly often. I always complete their surveys on the flight back. But I’ve never once heard back from them.

I arrive home and they send me an email to say “When are you booking again?”.

Once they asked me to take part in an exercise to design a new loyalty scheme. I told them that I didn’t like their proposals but had lots of ideas I could share with them. They never got back in touch with me.

Last year I forgot to pay the balance on my holiday. By one day. It was the first time in 10 years I had ever done this.

They said they were sorry but they had resold the holiday. They had a new policy on late payments as a lot of customers were letting them down. I pointed out that I was a loyal customer with two other holidays booked with them at that time.

They said the policy applied to everyone regardless of loyalty.

They said I should speak to complaints and see if I could get my money back.

I’ve never had a bad holiday with them. But sometimes in a relationship you can get taken for granted.

It was time to call it a day whilst we were still friends.

What do these two experiences tell us?

Generation Y are no different from you or I . They like companies to engage with them and treat them like they are special. They hate companies talking about themselves – they thrive on being part of an experience. A relationship that matters.

But this post isn’t really about Amazon or TUI.

  • It’s about the Charity who takes £5 out of a donors bank account every month and keeps asking them to pay a bit more.
  • It’s about the Housing Association tenant who has been resident for 20 years without a thank you for paying their rent each and every month.
  • It’s about mobile phone providers who don’t proactively offer you reductions in your contract before your renewal date.

It’s about organisations not listening to what people are saying about them when they are not in the room.

So listen to Jeff Bezos.

Be in the room.

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.

The Connected Homeless

homeless2“It’s amazing how nice their Smartphones are. Some would actually go without food rather than lose their Smartphone.”

This quote is from a manager of a homelessness hostel.  Someone who has observed up close that, for the Connected Generation , staying in touch with their networks isn’t a luxury- it’s a necessity.

This isn’t something particularly new. Many reports have established that homeless people are making use of online networks to find shelter, food , and to keep in touch with relatives. And there are examples of the homeless starting online support groups as a very practical means of staying in touch with each other.

This week I helped out on a project to develop a digital hub and social network for the homeless. Mobile and social technology give us unprecedented opportunities to reach out to the most marginalised in society.

The research has identified that under 25 year old homeless are “highly proficient” in the use of social networks to maintain contact with relatives and friends. Additionally smartphone ownership amongst the single homeless is becoming pervasive “regardless of circumstance”.

But it also identifies that existing service provision often isn’t equipped to engage online.

 “Why can’t I be on Facebook? I have as much right to that as anyone else. Just because I am homeless does not mean that I don’t care about this stuff, you know? My family is on Facebook. My friends are on Facebook. People who care about me are on Facebook.”

Some of us will find the concept of homeless people spending time on social networks and possessing smartphones as puzzling.  Have they got their priorities right?

It’s because we can’t truly imagine the trauma of becoming homeless and the things we would hold onto when we have lost pretty much everything else.  For many people – the phone is no longer a phone. It’s a small computer containing address details of friends and family, photographs of loved ones , and diary notes describing important memories. It’s a very personal item.

Additionally many of us have a false perception of the cost of smartphones.  We often still think of it as expensive technology.  But you could be paying as little as £10 per month for a decent phone and data plan. That’s less than the price of a Costa Coffee each week. If you were homeless , which would you choose?

Many public service organisations don’t realise that they are missing out on huge opportunities to engage with groups that would have previously been classified “hard to reach”.  That’s not just the homeless , but ex-offenders, young people not in education or employment , people with multiple health needs. The list could go on.

But whilst it’s revealed that many of the homeless have access to the latest digital resources , the organisations and professionals they have to deal with sometimes do not. There is still a lack of access to Social Media.  As one person I spoke to commented, “How can I tailor services to the homeless on Facebook when Facebook is still seen as a time waster by my manager?”

Then there are repeated stories of internet access to “sensitive” sites being blocked. One IT Manager was quoted as saying the company firewall is “doing it’s job well ” by preventing access to a site on HIV prevention.

But even more common is the story of front line practitioners without the tools to do the job. Using basic phones that can’t text properly never mind access the web.

John Popham has written about this in his blog – correctly asserting that organisations who don’t equip staff are “sending people out to do their jobs with both hands tied behind their back.”

There is a huge irony here – the “hard to engage” are no longer the customers and service users.  It’s us. The service providers.

In 2012 – a Smartphone ceased to be a luxury. It’s not a gadget – it’s a completely new interface for staff and service users to engage , collaborate and design better services.

If the homeless get that , why don’t we?

Do You Love Your Customers Enough To Follow Them Back?

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“We are a live, work, play company. When we first started using Twitter, it was a way we could stay connected while also helping our customers if they needed it.”

This quote comes in an article I shared about Zappos , the online shoe and clothing store. It says a lot to me about customer engagement. Here is an organisation recognising that social media presents an opportunity to stay connected. To engage with others. And to help customers.

This contrasts sharply with many companies who see the opportunity of the social stream to promote themselves, sell product or broadcast.

I’m sure no-one would admit that, but the behaviour often indicates otherwise.

Unlike Zappos, who don’t just talk it – they walk it.

A couple of hours after I shared the article – the following happened.

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Zappos favourited my tweet.

I was engaged and appreciated.

And finally I was followed.

Zappos don’t ship internationally. They have nothing to gain from me. But Zappos isn’t present just to sell. They are there to engage. In fact they have over 1,200 conversations each month with their customers. And they love them enough to follow them back.

Now, I don’t for one minute think that your follower/ following ratio is a complete measure of how engaged you are. For our personal Twitter accounts we all have our own “follow back” rules , and many people don’t like to follow lots of people. I get that.

But there is a difference between not following a complete stranger and choosing not to follow a customer. Or a potential customer. If you really wanted to engage, you’d surely want to hear what they had to say?

Zappos following a customer back says a lot about their culture. And a lot about how they achieved such rapid commercial growth.

They’re making an overt statement to customers – “we are no more important than you are”

I was discussing this issue with Shirley Ayres (a fount of knowledge on digital engagement).  We talked about whether an organisation could be considered truly engaged if it didn’t follow back. Shirley highlighted an organisation that followed back just 1% of its followers. (I’m not naming them here as this blog is not written with the intention to judge anyone.)

But it’s a great question.

What does your online behaviour say about your customer engagement?

A check on the twitter account of @monmouthshirecc (possibly the Council with the most “truly social” attitude) reveals they follow even more people than they have as followers. And they have a LOT of followers.

Zappos follows back over 90% of their audience and engages them in conversation about pretty much anything.

So , imagine you are a customer of a company or local authority and you follow them and they DON’T follow you back. They never acknowledge you.

Now , imagine you are a customer of Zappos or Monmouthshire.

Who do you think would feel the most engaged?

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?

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