There are many ways to listen online, and there are as many ways to respond. Tom Asacker writes: we define ourselves both according to what we identify with and what we reject, and given the abundance of marketplace choice, we now choose interactions which we feel will produce the best story possible.As customers, that's what we do. When customers interact with us, we have an opportunity to help enhance their stories. The social Web is a set of tools that allow us to do that in many more ways that ever before, wherever our customers are.
However, even the best tools will not tell you what to do.
The first step in connecting with customers is to know what you’re listening for -- have you done your homework? Often there's a bit of a gap between the goals of marketing departments and the needs of customers. That gap can be experience of the brand, lack of awareness, or lack of support.
It's a good idea to find out what's going on before getting started with messages and incentives. For example, if nobody is paying you compliments, or if nobody is talking about you, yet they're talking about your competitors, you should find out why.Complaints may be a symptom that something is not going well in the relationship -- and not necessarily an indication that there is anything specifically wrong with your product. On the other hand, a problem needs to be fixed before it becomes an emergency and precipitates a social crisis.
How do you know which one is which? How do you answer the
social phone? How can you get more referrals and business from existing customers?
Listen for sentiment
It all starts with your ability to determine how customers are talking about your content and your brand. You will know if you pay attention to the number of positive testimonials and posts online. When you look at a period of time, what's the ratio?
Are people talking in general terms about your product or do they speak with passion?
Track share of conversation
Another way of finding out if you’re making headway is by identifying the volume of conversations aligned with an idea you might have shared. Or you could literally measure the number of links your content receives. On Twitter you could watch the times your content is retweeted.
What is your share of conversation vis-a-vis competitors?
Calculate where you stand
To determine what needs most attention then you could compare the types of sentiments contained in the posts or conversations about your company and brand. For example, take the number of referrals and compare that to the number of complaints written by customers seeking support and not receiving it.
It’s a good idea to also determine which conversations about the products/solutions you offer lead to conversions -- actual sales or inquiries that could lead to a sale.
If you’re monitoring online conversations you should capture the number of inbound inquiries compared to presence and activities, and look for patterns.
Involve customer champions
Marketers will tend to notice net new inquiries because they traditionally spend more time and resources on finding prospective customers. That’s why you need to partner with the team focused on existing customers.
As you become more sophisticated and start integrating social tools with Customer Relationship Management systems, listening and responding will be easier in short succession.By far the best problem to have with your customers is that of a high level of engagement. Are you answering lengthy comments on your company blog? Are there @ reply Twitter exchanges on both sides? Do you take the time to capture that information as part of the process so you can reinforce what you do well?
Many companies have begun monitoring what is being said about them. If customers are talking about you -- in some cases they're even talking directly to you -- get off the sidelines and start responding to customers online.
Answering the social phone costs you little, if you consider the cost of not responding.
[adapted from a post originally written for Fast Company]