Customer relations

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A recent blog posting on ReadWriteWeb about why we tweet shows that many of us use Twitter for purposed-based activities, such as obtaining news, information, or work-related activities, rather than just for fun.

The fact that people are actually using Twitter as a resource and are paying attention to the information is a double-edged sword for businesses: you have the opportunity to hear what your consumers are saying, but you have to be willing to listen and hear what they are saying as well.

Generally when a company enters a social media platform, they are capitalizing on the opportunity to tap into the wants, ideas, and invaluable feedback from your consumer base, and realize that it outweighs the damage control that is involved when a problem is brought to light.

Recently, a Twitter user was sued by her management company for an allegedly “malicious” tweet. Of course there are two sides to every story, but I am going to look at it how it was perceived, which is all that really matters in terms of CRM and publicity.

The management company was reported to have said “We’re a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization,” as the Twitter user was reportedly not contacted about her tweet. I will not begin to get into the ethics and standards of whether or not tweets should be held to journalistic standards, or if they are just an extension of our free speech, but I will point out this reaction caused that tweet to be exposed to millions of people, rather than just the 20 or so people following.

In terms of brand management and customer relations, social media should be used as a tool to help improve a business. This situation is a perfect example of how a social media presence could have been used for a proactive valuable exchange, being that the woman’s tweet wasn’t directed at the management company, and the company found it of their own accord.

A social media presence is not about keeping track of what is being said about your company, and quickly squashing anyone who speaks negatively; it is about keeping track of what is being said, and if negative comments are found, using it as a competitive advantage to see how to resurrect the situation, and also how to prevent it in the future.

There will always be nay-sayers and bad-mouthers, and part of collecting valuable feedback is also dealing with some difficult people and situations. I think brand management via social media can be best utilized by appreciating any and all feedback in order to improve future interactions, not by forcefully silencing any negative comments.

How should companies manage negative comments? How proactive do you think a company’s brand management plan should be?

I went to SocialMediaBarcamp last week and had a few insights, but first and foremost, I wanted to comment on the philosophies of Canadian company Freshbooks, and specifically those of their Head of Magic (uh, coolest title ever?), Saul Colt.

Saul loves his customers.  Saul loves people who aren’t his customers. A few examples:

  • If he’s in a new city, he throws little get togethers for all his customers in that city.
  • Even though you can buy Freshbooks online (in fact, that’s the only place you CAN get it), Saul has gone out of his way to actually meet hundreds of his customers.
  • He bought someone flowers after she got stood up by a date… and if you’re thinking what does that have to do with anything, he bought them on behalf of Freshbooks, and the woman wasn’t even a customer. **Update: as per Saul’s comment below, she is a customer, but Saul sent her flowers simply because he thinks she rocks.**
  • He responds to every single Twitter out there (he’s pretty sure at least) that mentions Freshbooks, both good and bad.
  • He will actually tell you that he “makes love to his customers…. well, not in the physical sense… but still.”

Did I mention that Freshbooks is a company that offers invoicing and billing services to freelance professionals?  What do they need ot love their customers for so much?

Saul highlights one of my major philosophies not only in the business setting, but in life. Paying attention to the people around you - how they view the world, what they care about - is something I strive for every day in any setting I’m in.  I feel I grow from it, and my relationships have (I think) always been better because of it.

The same is true in business.   You always make better business when you care about the people you’re serving, even if you don’t need to have any further contact with them past a credit card interaction.  We’ve all been talking about this for some time now, so I don’t think I’m saying anything too new.  But Saul and Freshbooks have it right in action.  And even if we all know this philosophy is the right one, Freshbooks is miles ahead of a lot of companies out there.

So I say, keep making sweet love to your customers Freshbooks, because they sure seem to be enjoying it.  And the rest of us should start picking up some moves.

UPDATE: Check out Andy Sernovitz’s case study on Freshbooks and word-of-mouth (WOM).

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