Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Many Ways to Get it Right, Even When You Got it Wrong

One of the concerns about Social Media that I rarely hear voiced among small and medium-sized businesses is the fear of "Getting it Wrong." While few people ever actually come out and say it, it's clear that many business owners fear saying something stupid and being branded negatively, as a result.

Let's get this out of the way right off - you can't make everyone happy. Not all the time, not some of the time...never.

No matter how carefully you behave in social spaces you're going to make a fool of yourself one day. Putting our feet in our mouths is a time-honored tradition of the human race.

So, how do you handle a negative situation? By remembering that, at the *very* beginning of your interaction, the other party has no anti-you agenda.

A person comes into your store and you are on the phone with something very important. Important enough that you simply cannot put it on hold, or talk around it. The potential customer waits, waits, waits. They walk around the store a few times, so clearly, there is something you can help them with, or they'd leave right away. And still, you really, positively can't get off the phone. You watch with increasing frustration as they try and signal you, or they start to look frustrated and eventually, after 20 minutes, they leave muttering.

That night when you login to Twitter, there's someone saying how you couldn't be bothered to help them, even though they were right there in the store! The person is angry and hurt and you are cast as the bad guy.

Yes, you could offer an explanation, but that probably won't solve the problem of the angry would-be customer. And explanations don't fix the problem. But there are ways of effectively handling the situation.

1- Prioritize your response

This person is angry for...what? Because you seemed to ignore them? Because you were on a phone call and didn't get off? Because they *might* have brought you business or because they *were definitely* going to bring you business?

If the person was just shopping around, they may or may not have actually given you business. Your phone call might really have been more critical. Could you have made/taken that phone call at a different time, or had someone else watch the front while you dealt with it?

Assess what, exactly, you are responding to.

2 - Apologize anyway

"I apologize - there was a terrible misunderstanding" covers a LOT of territory. Take responsibility for the situation. Don't try to explain it away at this point. It'll sound like an excuse. Own the mix-up, say it was on you. It shows that you get that there is a problem. Saying, "well there was mix-up, but there was a 'closed' sign on the door" still sounds like you want the other party to take responsibility but, from their point of view they did nothing wrong except enter your store.

Don't waste time assigning blame. No one cares. it doesn't help the potential customer to know that Jimmy the store clerk was at fault. All anyone wants is for the business to take responsibility and *do* something about it.

3 - Don't ask questions they've already answered

I once vented about a bad company policy online. The company asked me what happened. I explained that if they cared what happened all they had to do was look at my tweets - which they did not do. They then ignored the point of my complaint and offered to help me by "looking at my paperwork." This was a bad suggestion because 1) I had none, having left the store without a making a transaction - something they would have understood has they read the thread - and 2) because that is not a suggestion that any human is inclined to feel is meant to be helpful. By offering to "help" in a way designed to get them out of blame, they didn't "help" me feel any more inclined to give them money ever again.

4 - Understand that the other person is angry

When you've been hung up on, you get angry. When the checkout person is obnoxious, you get angry. When your order arrives broken, you get angry. Understand that the potential customer is *angry.* Treat them the way you want to be treated if it were you. Anything else is disingenuous and will not help you. Presuming they have some kind of agenda and were out to get you in the first place is delusional.

And here's the money shot:

5 - Offer fair, equitable and open-handed options

If you have no options to offer your detractor do NOT respond to him or her. You cannot make yourself look better by saying "Sorry, oh well." If you really think their business is worth it - offer something fair to make it up to them. Don't be half-assed or underhanded about this. You might be angry too, but taking someone for a fool is unforgivable.

If you're not going to follow through all the way in this process - do not engage the person at all. You cannot fake being a reasonable, kind person with good business ethics if you are not *actually* a person with good business ethics. Either you put up - or shut up.

Bonus Tip

Never, EVER, reply to a comment about bad customer service with some boilerplate line about how your "customers are important to you" or how "you are working to serve the customer better." It's just about the most asinine thing you can say to a person who just received crappy customer service for whatever reason.

With every step you take towards resolution, you have many ways to turn situation around. Treat your potential customers with dignity and respect and even when you got it wrong, you have a chance to make it right.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

We're not friends...yet

Social Media was created to connect individuals with some point in common - something that makes them equals. It might be an interest, a family connection, a school, a job or group - the idea behind Social Media is to allow you as an individual to find those people with whom you *want* to connect.

It's important to remember that you are not friends with your clients - yet.

At it's core, a business/consumer relationship is nothing more than an economic transaction. You give money to me, I give you a product or service in return. There's no relationship - good or bad - built into in this transaction.

You have the opportunity with *every* transaction to create a relationship, of course. But don't assume anything. Even if I love your pizza, it doesn't mean I'd go to bat for you in a pizza war.

When you build your Social Media presence, don't assume that you have the whole relationship thing sown up. Fans of your comic, regular customers at the bar, might still not feel that their connection with you is much more than consumer/vendor realtionship. People might care deeply about your hand-made soap...assuming that people will care deeply about your soap is delusional. You're not friends with your fans - yet.

Build a Social Media presence that's down-to-earth, likable, approachable and authentic and you'll find that you do have friends among your consumers. Give them the opportunity to speak up and tell the world and you'll quickly know who your true friends are.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Social Will Template - In Case of Emergency

Recently, an online acquaintance of mine died suddenly. It occurred to me at that time, that those of us who have multiple online presences haven't yet dealt with what to do with them when we pass away.

So, I've created a template for what I'm referring to as a "Social Will" - a document that will designate a representative to close, delete, or leave active all your social media and online profiles. It's not yet a legal document, but it's a REALLY good idea to have someone who can tell your online acquaintances what happened and close/delete accounts you'd rather not have lingering around.

Here's the bare bones template for a Social Will - customize it as you like. I hope it starts a trend of making us consider our online lives as significant a part of ourselves as our real world lives.


Social Will

I, (your name) being of sound mind and body, on (date), do hereby make my wishes known for the disposition of my online profiles in the case of my death.


In case of emergency that includes hospitalization or death, I ask that my legal representatives or survivors please contact the following people and ask them to spread the word to their respective communities (specify communities if you need/want)

Primary Contact Name
other contact info

Secondary Contact Name:
other contact info

Designation of Social Will Executor and Duties:

I hereby name (contact) my Social Will executor and ask that s/he contact the following sites to take the actions I have outlined.


Here are a list of my online profiles and what I wish for each if I am deceased:

Site Name
Your Profile Name - Action you chose for profile (Close, Delete, Leave Open)
User name:

Site Name
Your Profile Name - Action you chose for profile (Close, Delete, Leave Open)
User name:

Site Name
Your Profile Name - Action you chose for profile (Close, Delete, Leave Open)
User name:

(repeat as necessary)

Your Name

Signature (Date)

Witness 1



Signature (Date)

Witness 2


Signature (Date)

Friday, April 9, 2010

Direct Messaging is Privileged Messaging

Whether it's called a PM (Private Message) or DM (Direct Message), you have a red phone directly to you potential customer's desk.

But, before you start sending those private messages on all the great news you want to share, ask yourself if you're about to abuse that private line.

You wouldn't call the Kremlin to ask what they had for breakfast and you don't want to Direct Message a stranger to tell them about that great new investment opportunity or tool to help Facebook friends find them on Twitter. If you've sent more than a dozen cold DMs about your product/service, consider yourself the Social Media equivalent of a telemarketer.

Has the recipient been discussing the issue with you, or have they asked you about the topic? Then they've picked up that red phone and called *you* - jump on that opportunity as soon as you can. However, if you're sending out a message that is unasked for, unwanted, irrelevant or is being sent en masse then, when you look at your marketing tactic without delusion, you'll see that it's really spam and nothing more.

Every Private Message is a Privileged Message.

PMs should be relevant: There should be some previous sign of interest from the recipient
PMs should be authentic: Don't repeat the same message to multiple recipients
PMs should be targeted: Each consumer is different - show that you've listened and understood their point of view
PMs should be infrequent: This is a once-in-a-conversation opportunity. Don't hammer your followers of you'll find yourself blocked/ignored and possibly even reported.

Use your privilege wisely, and you'll not only enhance your current customer relationships, you'll create valuable new ones.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Social Media - A Story of Betrayal

Once you have made the plunge into using Social Media for your business, you're going to note a curious reaction among some of your peers.

Some of them will nod and welcome you into the fold - and others will act as if you've betrayed them. (You *may* even encounter a few who ask you how you're using it and how it's going, but that group will be far smaller than the other two.)

A friend of mine whose job is specifically to foster communications between two industries had been resisting Twitter for some time, mostly because of time constraints. She already blogs, write books, Facebooks and does video. Her husband (who works in the less-communicative of the two industries) had been on Twitter for a while and many folks who work in the more-communicative industry were also there.

When she finally decided to join Twitter, she quickly learned that it was useful, fun and manageable. But those of her friends and peers who had decided to avoid Twitter reacted as if they had been betrayed. ("Et tu, Brute" was actually used.)

As humans, we develop peer groups based on any number of things - things as profound as religion or philosophical worldview and as mundane as sharing recipes and watching the same TV show. With every peer group comes a series of unwritten rules about behavior and objectives. When a person crosses too far over the understood line, that person will be treated as if they have betrayed the group. This is as true for forms of new communications or technology as for anything else.

When party lines were common among telephone users, those people who opted for a private line were viewed with suspicion - what could they possibly say that everyone couldn't hear? And yet, eventually we all opted for private lines - then added extra lines, so each member of the family and the business had their own separate line.

When you think about using Social Media for your business, consider each possible platform an extra phone line to the customers that are on that network.

Have a great brick-and-mortar store that you want more visibility for? It's not a betrayal of your peers if you've decided that Foursquare is exactly where you want to be.

Social Media is talking with people.

It's not a betrayal to open that extra line of communication. Ever.

Project Wonderful