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In “Delivering Happiness,” one of this summer’s most popular books from the business category, Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh explains how he kept the online shoe company on life support in its early days by draining his own windfall from a prior dot-com startup. Hsieh was willing to put his entire net worth at stake because he was confident the Zappos team had the right formula for success — a formula that started with customer service.
“Our philosophy has been to take most of the money we would have spent on paid advertising and invest it into customer service and the customer experience instead, letting our customers do the marketing for us through word of mouth,” Hsieh writes.
Today’s entrepreneurs have a customer service tool that Hsieh didn’t have while he was building Zappos.com into an online retailer with $1 billion in annual sales: social media.
Like Zappos, FedEx recognizes that customer service is critical to building and reinforcing its brand. And as Marie Harl, manager of learning and innovation at FedEx, explains, good customer service begins with problem resolution and having positive interactions with customers where they want to have them.
“We have to meet our customers in their preferred channel,” says Harl. “For many of them, that means online through Twitter, Facebook, e-mail or chat.”
FedEx realized it needed to dedicate personnel solely to the concept of listening to and talking with customers through social media. Thus, the overnight courier launched its Blog Response Unit (BRU) team in April 2009. The five-member team reaches out to answer customers’ questions, address their complaints and solve their problems.
A recent success story shows how great things can happen when you follow key tenets of social media customer service:
- Make it easy for customers to find you. Harl points to one major sign that the BRU team is having the positive impact FedEx hoped it would: Customers are starting to seek them out instead of vice versa. And it’s a bonus when one of these customers is a so-called “key influencer” in the online brand management world. This was the case in June, when Andy Beal, founder of Marketing Pilgrim, went to Twitter to find out why his pre-ordered iPhone 4 wasn’t arriving on the day it was supposed to. He quickly found @FedExLina from the BRU team.
- Prepare to switch from one channel to another. FedExLina invited Beal to e-mail her with more information, and the interaction continued there. “All social media is connected. We’ve noticed a lot of convergence this year,” says Jeff McGuire, multimedia development advisor for FedEx. “We’ll often steer customers that we encounter on Twitter somewhere else because it’s hard to help them 140 characters at a time — and there will be instances where you don’t want to share information with your entire Twitter audience.”
- Be swift and certain with solutions. FedExLina responded to Beal’s e-mail within 15 minutes, notifying him that his package wasn’t delayed, but rather the online tracking updates were temporarily delayed. While she had his attention, FedExLina reminded Beal that he could authorize FedEx to leave the iPhone at his doorstep if he went to the Apple website and completed a shipment release authorization form.
- Steer clear of sales and marketing tasks. In most instances, online customer service reps should stick to handling customer problems and not view the interaction as an opportunity to sell something else. Positive word of mouth generated by a successful encounter such as this is profit enough. There are other means and opportunities to use social media as a sales and marketing tool.
- Be real and reliable. Beal says he initially thought FedExLina was an automated account trolling for mentions of FedEx. He was pleasantly surprised when he discovered that she was not only real, but willing to help. “Wow! … A large international company that actually gets how to use Twitter!” Beal blogged. “Not just pushing marketing messages down our throats. But actual customer support — during one of their busiest days, I might add!” And that, as they say, is the sort of positive publicity that money will never be able to buy.
Paul Nolan is editor of SalesForceXP magazine, a bimonthly publication that provides sales managers with insights for getting “Xtra Performance” from their sales teams.
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