Best practices for authentic customer communications

While every brand mishap doesn’t make national or global headlines, every negative customer interaction has the power to diminish a brand’s trust and affinity among their consumers. In our instantaneous society, seemingly small comments or inquiries to customer service or social posts can quickly turn into a firestorm if left ignored or addressed disingenuously. Let’s face it – no business is perfect, so brands must anticipate customer feedback and have a plan in place for any type of inquiry. Here are three tips to get you started:

1) Have a Mobilization Plan at the Ready

Chances are, you already have a plan in various stages of preparedness. Brands generally do a good job mobilizing around crisis situations. But even though every business deals with bad days and unhappy customers, the reality is that not every brand mishap is going to warrant a TV spot. When a traveler takes to Twitter because she’s experienced flight delays, a restaurant server has a bad day, or a consumer inadvertently purchases a defective product, there must be a plan in place to address these concerns quickly and personally. Thousands of people are watching and waiting to see how a brand responds – which will be received with either cheers or jeers.

With this in mind, set communication expectations: clearly state what times your company is available and your response times. Anticipate customer inquiries, craft an internal FAQ for your team on the front lines, and have ongoing internal meetings to discuss potential or actual situations. Set expectations of what types of inquiries need to be escalated and to whom, and make sure those senior team members have their own standard language agreements (SLAs) for response times. This enables response teams to get in motion and prioritize personal and emotional connections with consumers at every level, rather than spending valuable time wondering what to say and getting approvals up the chain of command.

2) Act in the Moment

What’s the use of having a plan if you don’t act on it? Put another way, timeliness is as important as having a mobilization plan at the ready. From a brand perspective, if PR or legal teams need to be pulled in to respond to “normal” level of complaints, the situation has gone unresolved far too long. From a consumer perspective, every minute that passes before receiving acknowledgement, a next step, or a solution is a minute too long.

Like many brands, Delta has embraced Twitter as a means for receiving and responding to customer feedback in real time. The once-active @DeltaAssist account was ported over to the general @Delta handle, where the company continues to address its traveler’s compliments and complaints. Looking at the feed, response times are generally within an hour, and each representative leaves his or her initials with a personal message.

Real-time marketing is usually discussed in terms of newsjacking and leveraging trending, viral conversations to a brand’s advantage. But often what’s required of a brand is a blend of real-time marketing and customer service that addresses the situation at hand. This in turn sets the brand up to over-deliver and delight displeased customers (as well as their followers who are watching).

3) Operationalize Humanity

Perhaps most importantly, brands need to operationalize humanity at every level. Yes, the idea seems like an oxymoron, but in this digital world, people are craving personal connections rather than conversation with a robot (or automated response). When a customer service challenge or a public relations snafu begins to unfold, a brand must respond both as a company and as people.

This requires training and trusting team members to do the right thing in the moment. Ritz Carlton’s long-famous $2,000 rule is hailed as the gold standard for a reason: It empowers its employees to make a guest happy at their discretion with no managerial oversight. If there’s a problem with a reservation or something amiss with a room, the team member handling the situation has the power to save, repair and resolve the issue with the guest.

While not every company may have the financial resources at their disposal that Ritz Carlton has, every brand knows their customer and appropriate levels of response. It’s not about giving free things away, it’s about validating feelings and helping to solve problems. Today’s technology and data give us an unprecedented view into what people like and don’t like and what’s important to them. As marketers, we should use that insight, infuse it with a human element, and approach challenges as opportunities to gain and continuously please a lifelong customer.

For more on utilizing your internal teams to boost customer satisfaction, download HelloWorld’s free eBook, “Referral Program Best Practices.”

See the original article at IBM Think Marketing