Buy or bye: Social insights into what customers really want

COMPANIES maintain that customers come first but how many have evolved to understand their customers in the digital age?

Customers today discover new products and services on social media, easily search for alternatives online, compare reviews, and conveniently tweet their feedback to companies, good or bad. The world is the customer's oyster today where choice is concerned and no brand is considered indispensable.

In tandem, the customers' expectation of brand experience has increased. Customer service is not only 30 per cent more important to consumers than the brand, but also 52 per cent more important than "value for money" in driving customer satisfaction, according to recent Twitter research.

Customers desire freedom and flexibility in how, where and when they are served, alongside such perks as more personalised experiences and 24/7 availability. This level of personalised service to consumers is only possible if brands up their customer service game and dive deeper into the customer journey.

As the first place where customers typically share feedback to brands, Twitter is more than familiar with the customer experience desired. How well a business understands the different stages of the customer journey in relation to social media best practices can help springboard it to greater heights.

Awareness - Use social listening/audience insights for better understanding of customers' needs and targeting

When it comes to creating brand awareness in the media, brands are offered the unique opportunity to cultivate one-to-one-to-many interactions with consumers. This has the benefit of allowing the broader community to form an opinion on a company's offerings or service interaction, and usually in a manner that's both conversational and public.

Before starting on the task of acquiring potential customers however, it's important to take a step back and think about how one might define the ideal customer service experience: How does a firm want its customers to feel? What should the brand voice sound like?

Once those questions are in place, the next step is to mine the potential audience for insights that can help better frame customers' needs, and in turn, help refine targeting strategies in the quest to build awareness for the product or service.

With the right analytics tools in hand, social media channels can afford a wealth of data that brands can leverage to fundamentally shift the economics of proactively engaging customers, yielding new, more targeted opportunities for meeting customer needs.

In addition, companies can learn more about their customers than ever before, enabling personalised products and services tailored to each individual, helping to define strategies down the road for converting potential customers into actual paying ones.

Conversion - Engage with personalised customer service interaction that encourages conversion

By not shoving products and services in their faces, and instead presenting prospects with genuinely useful information via the many social media channels available, this consistent flow of content can help educate and inform potential customers, gradually building trust in a company's expertise, service or product to help them make purchasing decisions.

This content can come in the form of industry insight, research and statistical analysis, or even actionable metrics which the prospects can use to finetune their own marketing efforts.

On the other hand, if a business has been tracking where conversations happen most often with its target customer base, direct and genuine engagement with customers (in a tasteful and personalised manner, of course), can also be used as a way to encourage conversion.

For example, Coca Cola's #ShareaCoke campaign involved direct brand engagement with its customers, encouraging them to grab a personalised bottle of Coke, or to share one with friends of the same name.

Retention - Provide responsive real-time customer service that improves customer satisfaction and increase recommendation

Customer service teams are frequently tasked to balance the seemingly impossible: Reduce operating costs and generate revenue, and by the way, do something about customer satisfaction while they are at it.

In the past, entities such as banks and telecommunications companies have relied on call centres to help manage customer queries in the hopes of converting prospects into sales results. Today however, it's the rare person who's willing to be put on hold for 20 minutes before being transferred from one department to another.

Customer service today needs to be instant and responsive, and there is a cost-effective, engaging method to customer service which brands have been slow to embrace - social.

With the right strategies in place backed by an empowered team, customer service on social media can be transformed from an operating expense to a critical brand asset that directly impacts positive brand image, as the public are watching and forming opinions about a company's brand as they see it supporting its customer in a personal, effective manner, all in real-time.

Apple, for example, recently got in on the act by setting up shop on Twitter for customer support, using the handle @AppleSupport. Providing tips, tricks and other helpful information aside from answering customer queries, the @AppleSupport account has been a raging success so far, with more than 209,000 followers, and 18,300 tweets.

For some, social media serves as an early warning system; T-Mobile, for example, found that a change in its service offering suddenly spiked negative sentiment on Twitter from 1 to 3 per cent, all the way to 37 per cent. This pulse-check was fed back into the organisation, and the company's CEO, John Legere, was able to quickly tweet a response which brought sentiment back to normal levels.

It's also interesting to note that dedicated social media customer service teams can serve as the "voice of the customer" within the larger organisation and share transformative insight. This insight can then be used to help make informed decisions to help drive future plans.

All in all, the more thoroughly a company gains understanding of the customer journey, the better it will be able to frame its priorities. The value of social media goes beyond using these services as broadcast channels or customer support avenues, but instead provides a real-time pulse on customers' behaviours, attitudes and needs. Now, a firm can know and serve the people most important to it like never before.

  • The writer is director of business development, Asia-Pacific, at Twitter.

This article was first published on April 28, 2016.
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