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Social Media: the Next 800 Number?

At RKG's 3rd Annual Client Summit, Josh Greene of 1-800 Pack Rat delivered a terrific talk on Social Media outlining the advantages of a well-done program, some tips for doing it well, as well as some of the headaches involved with going social. We'll share more of Josh's thoughts in a later post, along with tidbits from our other outstanding speakers. There are many different components of social media, so I'm limiting my commentary here to social media as a vehicle for communicating with customers. Whom does this really benefit? At first blush, the benefits fall primarily to the consumer. No longer do customers have to call a service center to report a problem, or fill out a form online; just shout out your complaint on Twitter or Facebook and the social media monitors will come riding to the rescue. The first few times it happens, people are blown-away and impressed...thereafter it's expected. Enhanced ease of communication certainly helps businesses as well. Product and service reviews can be tremendously helpful provided the firm has resources dedicated to gleaning actionable information from those reviews. And, businesses would rather hear complaints they'd otherwise miss and have a chance to rectify problems rather than losing a customer silently with no explanation. Like a great many issues, though, the question is: do those benefits outweigh the cost of monitoring? Right now, certainly yes. Those firms who can execute a social media communication strategy comprehensively and with follow through will stand out from the crowd. I wonder though, is this just another 1-800 number for businesses? Those of us with grey hair remember that in the 1970's, companies that had a toll free number gained a significant competitive advantage over companies that required customers to make a long-distance call. That competitive advantage was short-lived as every other company followed suit, and pretty soon the toll-free number was simply an expectation that cost companies money without, perhaps, generating additional sales. On the other hand: maybe every time we make it easier to communicate we eliminate friction and grease the skids for future revenue. Perfect ability to react to each of our customer's thoughts of the moment might lead to material incremental business. I suppose, like any other aspect of customer service, the ability to "spoil one's customers" is just one more way a business can differentiate itself from its competitors, and perhaps customers will be willing to pay a bit more for that benefit. Thoughts?
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