Part 6: Communities: Should you start one?
If your customers are already congregating online, in Twitter or Facebook or a private community, the best thing to do is to start participating there, following whatever guidelines the members set out for your participation. It may be your product, but it is their place. They aren’t going to want product pitches; they will want participation and they’ll likely expect help.
Before you build your own community, which can be an expensive proposition, make sure that your customers really want one. If there isn’t one already, the reason may be they don’t want a special place to speak with your company and each other online. Unless you are absolutely certain that your products engender that kind of loyalty, start small. Perhaps with a forum or suggestion box.
Starbucks and Dell have taken the suggestion box to the extreme, building sites on which customers can make public suggestions and vote on the ones they like best, but you don’t have to have something that complex. Start with a simple email alias for suggestions, and be sure someone responds quickly. What works about the Starbucks and Dell sites isn’t the voting. It’s that the companies are responding and taking action on suggestions.
Regardless of how much or how little technology you use, the key ingredient in customer care will always be the people interacting with your customers. Technology, whether the telephone, email or Twitter, is just the tool we use to do it. And the keys to success are the same as any other business endeavor: honesty, patience, consistency and commitment.
And that brings us to the end of the main article. There are two more short posts to follow on Sunday: microblogging considerations (Part 7) and some recommendations for next steps for both individuals and customer service groups just getting started with social media (Part 8).