"Dear Vodafone, you suck." And, "I'm not sure if you've heard the latest hold music for Vodafone. After 23 minutes it sounds awfully like my will to live is fading away." With feedback like that on social media, who'd want to get involved in customer care online?
Insults like this - and losing control of what's said about your company - are among the many perils of using social channels in an age of volatile reputations and short-lived loyalty. But the telco has been able to claw back some control with a customer care programme, dedicated resources, listening smartly and making social media an ingrained part of the whole business.
The company's social customer programme has evolved from the pioneering efforts of then comms guy Paul Brislen to convince the IT department (with the promise of free beer and pizza) to set up a forum in 2006, social media manager Sara Phillips told the NZSOMO conference in Auckland this week.
Having set up the formal care programme in 2012, it now gets a new social interaction every four minutes, with an average response of 45 minutes, a 38 percent share of voice in the telco and ISP space and more than 15 dedicated social media employees.
But the bigger story is in direct messages from customer to the telco, up 360 percent year on year, says Phillips.
"Customers are getting more savvy. They tend to send us a message and they don't have to wait on hold. Dealing with that direct message volume has become a really big challenge for us."
Her hints for best practice on social media include:
- Defining your brand's tone - which at Vodafone is playful, personable, passionate and professional - then create a document to share that with your people. Also adapt your tone to that of the customer.
- Be adaptable, be human and don't be a robot.
- Do more than just have guidelines that are filed away on your intranet. Manage employees to learn about social media from the time they're inducted into the company.
One of fifteenminutes.co.nz founder Fiona Fenwick's biggest realisations about the power of social media was tweeting her distaste about a Meatloaf concert, only to find it made front page news on the Herald the next day.
She told the audience it was vital to have people with their finger on the pulse of social and to have buy in about the importance of social at the top levels of an organisation.
"It's not just about the numbers, it's about engagement and connection. And it's not always about you, but a wider dialogue."
The Air New Zealand fairy was a prime example of successful engagement, Fenwick said.
"[The numbers will] take care of themselves if you take care of the engagement. I don't think it matters how much [Air New Zealand] gives away. You hear great stories. We all talk about it and feel good and have the warm fuzzies about it. The whole knock on effect to Air New Zealand is huge."
Her tips for success are:
Consistent delivery of a brand
Getting buy in from the top by proving what's possible from social media
Being active across all the relevant platforms.
Responding quickly to all the negatives.
Taking a breath before responding Thinking creatively but strategically about how to back up your brand.
From the front line
Kiwibank social media editor Katie Byrne shared several examples of social media endeavour, including Oreo's Daily Twist, which taps into topical conversations and gives them a treatment unique to the brand.
She recommended companies "identify their vibe", putting their own spin on messages and talking about things that genuinely interested their audiences. NZTA's driving game and Intel's Museum of Me were examples of capturing users' "emotional data" to reflect their lives.
Kiwibank was seeking to put a human face on banking because consumers saw it as something they had to have, not something they wanted. And she said a bit of attitude on social wouldn't go astray.
"Something we need to consider is adding some teenage sass to the way we communicate. Teenagers challenge the norm, they embrace change. As adults in the business we can take some measured risk."
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