I was recently interviewed by Adfero, the UK’s leading dedicated online news provider,  on how companies will utilise technologies like social media to improve their customer service and target their marketing better in the coming years. You can read the full interview and my answers below. They are useful questions for any business contemplating how they can use social media to improve customer service and I hope you find the answers helpful in the discussions and ideas you are generating within your business.


 – Is social media still in its infancy in terms of business usage?

Some businesses rapidly identified its business potential as a way of striking up a conversation and strengthening relationships with customers and staff. Zappos (an US online shoe company sold to Amazon for $1bn) is one of the pioneers in using social media. The CEO, Tony Hseih, has over 2.5 million followers https://twitter.com/zappos and the reason he has so many followers is he gets what social media is all about – connecting NOT sales.

Looking at Tony Hseih’s twitter stream you will notice that he doesn’t promote Zappos or their products. He uses it as a channel to share his dreams, aspirations, passions and thoughts with both customers and staff. Zappos intimately understand that social media is about transparency, trust and timing. What we call the 3Ts. For example Zapoos was the victim of a cyber attack. Rather than just send out a PR notice or email to customers and staff and try hide the event, Tony broadcast the news immediately (timing) over twitter explaining what they were doing about it. Communication sent to internal staff was also made visible in the social media space (not behind the company’s firewall) ensuring complete transparency which in turn builds trust.

 Zappos also encourages staff to have twitter accounts and set up YouTube channels and to take videos of themselves working.  Again- the leaders at Zappos recognise that effective relationships are about trust and treating people as intelligent individuals who can and do make intelligent decisions if treated like adults. I don’t get the majority of companies who ban facebook, twitter etc. Social media is the way in which today’s young generation of talent communicate and get their news. Imagine if newspapers had been banned from the workplace 20 years ago. Back then managers would come into work and get a coffee and read the daily news. Banning social media today makes no sense at all.Treating employees like adults, however, does.  Trust is a massive competitive advantage in today’s workplace. The companies that go beyond the hype of social media and recognise it as a vehicle for building trust, dialogue and connections will be the winners of the future

– How will companies utilise social media to better target their marketing in the coming years?

Social media is not about marketing which is predominantly a push activity. Social media is about building relationships. It’s about listening to what customers are saying.  It is possibly the most brilliant research vehicle out there and it’s free for companies willing to take the time to listen. With the advent of social media, I believe that marketing as a function is actually dead (See my blog: Fire the Marketing department.) Rather companies should start a “partnering” department because the concept of partnering better describes and captures the essence of what social media brings to modern business. Social media allows companies to invite customers into their business to help them develop new products, advertising campaigns and even run parts of the business!  Giffgaff is a mobile phone company run by its customers. Giffgaff differs from conventional mobile phone operators in that the users of the service may also participate in certain aspects of the company’s operation, e.g. sales, customer service and marketing. In return for this involvement in the business, the user receives hard cash or extra talk minutes. I interviewed the CEO of GiffGaff and he told me that on average customer queries are answered by the GiffGaff customer community within 3 minutes. Not many call centres can boast those service levels.

– Can social media be a useful customer service tool?

Absolutely. Zopa is a innovative financial services company that offers peer-to-peer lending. They encourage the use of Facebook and twitter in their customer service delivery. As soon as the customer service team discovers a person talking or complaining about Zopa they engage in conversation. This has two benefits  – customers are impressed that Zopa is listening and prepared to act and as CEO Giles Andrews said to me because twitter only has 140 characters, you get to the root of the problem very quickly. 

Our research shows that social media is best used for customer service and customer engagement, rather than marketing. Marketing’s 4p’s are rapidly being replaced by the 4E’s – Experience, Everyplace, Evangelism and Exchange and social media is driving this change. I like the example of Heathrow Airport. They use twitter to follow what travellers are saying about Heathrow and they have a conversation with the travellers providing them with useful information- such as which gate to go to or what is happening with a flight delay. They wish travellers safe trips and what I like the most about this example is the fact that there is a real person who is passionate about having a discussion and helping customers have a more pleasant travelling experience as they enter or leave the UK. 
You can read the article in Adfero here
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