Analyze Offline Data to Refine B2B Social Media Efforts

Many B2B companies do not realize that they already have a treasure trove of data waiting to be analyzed, to provide guidance for a variety of marketing activities, including their social media efforts.

It is very likely that your B2B company has a customer service division and chances are you may even record calls for quality assurance (I hope). Taking it a step further, you may even have a built-in speech analytics module that a business analyst may routinely look at to understand keywords, trends in tone, inflection, job title of the person calling, sentiment, and much more. I often think of these systems as the offline version of an online social media monitoring platform.

The great thing about the data that’s collected within these types of systems is that it’s easier to detect trends and eventually apply statistical meaning because of the sheer volume of this more traditional channel for customer insights. Also, with potentially less discussion occurring online from customers of B2B products, it’s that much more important to use the data you already have at your fingertips and work towards applying it to understanding your marketing mix.

Once you’ve secured access to this type of offline data, take the following steps:

1. Find Trends in Offline Data

Build a dataset that spans back at least 3-6 months and report on the most common keywords and trends in any positive or negative themes.

2. Use Keywords to Begin Social Listening

Take keywords and keyword phrases that the business analyst produces with the offline data source and use them in conjunction with your brand or specific product names using social listening tools.

3. Compare Historical Data

Use a social media monitoring platform that will allow you to retroactively pull social data that’s reflective of the same time period that you’re pulling your offline data. Date range-specific query is even more important in understanding trends in online and offline data when you launch a new product, service or promotion into market.

4. Optimize Marketing and Social Media Efforts

Use this information to inform your marketing organization in how to most effectively identify and communicate with their target audience via social media. The more authentic you can be in developing a communication bridge between your organization and your target customer, the more effective your message will be.

Have you analyzed the data from other functions within your B2B company to guide your social media efforts?

All B2B Customers Are Equal, But Some Are More Equal

It’s another Friday and I’m thinking about B2B customer service and social media again. If social media facilitates two-way communication between B2B companies and their customers, then it makes sense to use social tools and the opportunities they present to serve customers. The following articles all relate to customer service and new ways to think about serving customers in the age of influence. Have you considered a quicker response to someone with a larger online following, or gasp, a higher Klout score? Those types of decisions should be strategically based, not as a reactionary response.

If you have thoughts on customer service for your B2B company, or other recent articles about it, please let us know in the comments below.

Gartner Predicts that Social Media will be a Support Tool Among 40% of Top 1,000 Companies
from Zen Desk Blog
By now, most companies have gotten the memo about brand management via social media. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, you know the drill. As corporate social media strategy matures, what’s on the horizon? It’s customer service.
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The Social Customer Service Elite: All Customers Are Equal But Some Are More Equal than Others
from Conversionation
Last week George Orwell’s famous “All animals are equal but some are more equal than others” line from “Animal Farm”, his anti-totalitarianism novella, came to mind in an unusual context: customer service in a “social media world”.
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Doing Business as Unusual: Customer Service
from Social Marketing Forum
I’ve just been reading an excellent whitepaper authored by Dr. Nicola J. Millard, Customer Experience Futurologist with BT, titled “Clouds, Crowds and Customers: Doing Business as Unusual.” While many of the points the doctor makes in the whitepaper resonate with me, one or two stand out. She states that it’s not important what technology does, but what people do with it. And she also says that companies can’t simply use new technology to prop up the status quo – they have to change the way they think and operate – it’s no longer business as usual.
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6 Ways to Screw Up Your Social Media Strategy
from Hubspot
We all make mistakes when we’re learning something new. That philosophy stands true for business people and school children alike. So what separates those who learn and succeed from those who learn and fail? Why, it’s the correction of one’s mistakes and seeking improvement, of course!
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Ten marketing lessons from DemandCon
from Matt on Marketing
Two packed days of great content, sharing, networking and learning just wrapped up in San Francisco at the first DemandCon. Impressive quality of people and thinking here focused on B2B demand generation, marketing automation and sales funnel improvement. You know a good conference when the word “firehose” is used often.
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5 Ways To Know If Your B2B Employees are Social Media-Ready

Customer service continues to be a major social media initiative for B2B companies, but not every customer service rep is ready to represent your company or brand online. Social profiles are usually managed by marketing, public relations or even an outside agency, and often customer service personnel are charged with responding to product issues and service inquiries.

Studies have shown that people who complain on social channels are already dissatisfied with the response they received through traditional service channels (phone and email). This means that online responses need to be carefully composed to effectively answer the customer. While it is sometimes necessary to take the conversation offline, it can also be important for others to see the details of the situation. Frequently customer service reps are familiar with the customer and their issues, so it is less about solving the problem, and more about discussing it in a public space.

The following five points can help evaluate who in a customer service department can be initially responsible for creating and posting responses on social profiles.

1. They Have a Facebook Profile
Even though over half of the US population is on Facebook and it seems like everyone has a profile, there are still people who don’t. But just having a profile is a start for a customer service rep. Someone who is interacting with customers online needs to understand how people communicate on social networks. There is much less formality and often people post comments to get a reaction. If someone misses the tone of a post, they can respond inappropriately.

2. They Have Strong Writing Skills
Often customer service reps are hired for their people skills, their telephone skills and their ability to follow a script to resolve a situation quickly. Responding to customers in writing, whether in email or online, requires a different set of skills. Reps need the ability to combine standard answers with a customer’s specific problem in a clear and concise way. A simple writing test can determine how someone would respond online.

3. They Have Strong Product Knowledge
A good customer service rep must understand the product to be truly effective in responding to customers. Due to length requirements of online commenting, it is important to be able to write succinctly about product issues. It is much easier to discuss something briefly if you truly understand it. It is also likely that customers discussing products online, especially technical products, may have a deep understanding of product specs and functionality. Reps need to be able to interact at that level.

4. They Understand Public Perception
A good customer service rep understands that every response, whether it is made via phone, email or online, can be shared with the world. This is true in both positive and negative interactions. As that information spreads across other networks, the perception of others is shaped by that information. People who have worked for the company for a long time can sometimes be challenged by this significant change in their world view.

5. They Know They are on the Front Lines
No matter how much content and company messaging your B2B company puts out through traditional and online methods, an interaction with a customer service rep, even responding on a social profile, can completely change a customer’s opinion. If many B2B purchases are about relationships, make sure the customer service team is part of the relationship. Sometimes large companies have dedicated customer service teams to their largest customers, and this supports the relationship. This approach is about more than service. It’s about the relationship with specific people as well. Even in one time interactions, customer service reps are the company.

What are other ways to know if you B2B employees are ready for social media?

Customer Service Ideas and Examples for B2B Social Media

Today’s posts are about customer service. While they are not specific to B2B companies, and some are not even about social media, they provide good examples for how all companies should be thinking about customer service. Whether your frontline is Twitter, Facebook, telephone or a retail counter, the experience a customer has may be the only interaction they have with your company. Think about what that means before you measure customer service based on shortest phone time or other efficiency means, and consider true customer satisfaction as part of the equation.

Zappos: Nobody Does Customer Service Better
from Phaseware Files
You can’t have a conversation about customer service without eventually (or even opening the conversation) with Zappos. Here is a company that has been around for 11 years, is strictly internet (no bricks and mortar) that has consistently given particular attention to…..the phone. That’s right. Here we are in the 21st Century when everyone is supposedly doing all their shopping over the internet, never wants to talk to a customer service person, prefers the anonymity of social media, email, and online ordering.
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You Can’t Script Great Service
from WaterRemarks
Macy’s, that venerable institution of American retailing, is working to become less “outstanding.” At least, that’s the guidance the company is giving its front-line sales associates, who in the past were provided with very specific, scripted steps for interacting with customers – including a directive to frequently use the word “outstanding” when speaking to people.
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Excellent Customer Service Is NOT A One-Off Event!
from Jonathan Farrington’s Blog
Inconsistent customer care performance can have a negative effect on customer perceptions. Such an obvious statement? So how come most companies struggle to maintain consistency? Gas stations for example, know that every time a customer walks into one of their outlets, wherever they are in the country, they should expect to receive the same standards of service. Nationwide consistency is essential when customers are likely to visit multiple outlets – one poor performance can threaten the customer’s perception of the entire operation.
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Defensive Branding
from Twist Image
Should brands respond to all negative comments?
The common held response to a question like that is usually a stern and obvious, “yes!” In theory, it makes perfect sense. In practice, what do you think is really going on? From a customer relationship management standpoint, it’s clear that every complaint can best be viewed as an opportunity for a brand to connect to a customer (my often trotted-out line of “real interactions between real human beings” comes to mind… again). The theorists will also push that every complaint is a blessing too. Still, in boardrooms and in hallway conversations at conferences, the brand managers will let you know that not all customers are created equally and neither are their complaints.
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Making Customer Service Social
from Social Media Today
The bottom line about social media: it’s all about communication. It is simply a series of platforms that use different forms of content to transfer ideas from a source to a recipient. The underlying benefit of social media is that the platforms have potential to transfer information from a single source to tens of thousands—if not more—recipients. How your organization chooses to communicate, and what kinds of messages you choose to send, not only define your social media policy; these messages also specifically illustrate how you use social media as a tool.
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Have you experienced great customer service lately? Let us know in the comments below. I was recently in my local post office and there was a postal employee working the line, asking everyone what they needed. He helped with forms, shipping envelopes and even letting people know what decorative stamps were in stock. It was ideal for me, as I needed to ship something overseas, and I had no idea what forms I needed.

7 Ways to Improve B2B Customer Service with Social Media

Customer service is a growing application of social media for B2B companies. In many organizations, social media started with marketing or communications department, and as they began monitoring for brand mentions, they quickly discovered they were intermediaries between the customer and the customer service department. If you have not yet brought your customer service reps into the realm of social media, it is time. They are the most qualified to respond via social media, as they are the ones responding by phone and email. While they probably need some basic social media training, the following ideas can help them become comfortable and successful using social media.

1. A Monitoring Workflow
The person monitoring for mentions, whether they are in corporate communications or customer service, needs to know what to do with customer service requests when they find them. Are you working in real time and these questions need to get to the customer service reps immediately? Does everything funnel through the department manager? Is there a single person on the customer service team responsible for responding on social media? Make sure you have set internal expectations for a response time. And make sure you can track responses by the customer service team, whether in CRM-type tool, or even a social media management tool like CoTweet or Hootsuite where you can assign tasks to team members.

2. Response Time Policy
If you already have established customer service response times, for example always responding to emails the same day, or within 24 hours, develop a social media response time that fits within the culture of your organization. Make sure it is something that you can meet, because you want to post this publicly and set customers’ expectations for a response. Keep in mind that posting a long window of time may demonstrate to your customers that real-time customer service is not something you can handle.

3. Social Media Etiquette
While customer service reps have always been on the front lines representing the company, if they will now be responding using social media, they need to understand the etiquette of the platforms. Some people can get a bit snarky when posting on social networks, and some of that grows out of the informal nature of the conversations. Informal or slightly fun is okay in your responses, however, they also need to be serious. Customers and prospects need to know that your company is taking them seriously. Also make sure everyone understands the public nature of social media, and how quickly a misstep can be shared and spread.

4. Post Answers to Common Questions on Your Blog
Your customer service reps can tell you the 10 most common questions asked by customers and prospects. Write a blog post for each one of them and use keywords in the titles so people can find them using search. This is the inbound marketing approach to customer service. Providing self-service answers on a blog is an efficient way to get people answers to their questions. Consider using short videos as ways to answer these questions too. Product managers are good people to recruit for these videos, as they can speak authoritatively about the products. Customer support people also have the technical knowledge to do this, and it starts to put a face on your customer service team.

5. Create a Response List for Common Questions
The outbound version of answering those most common questions is to prepare short answers for each platform, for example under 140 characters for Twitter, that includes a link to the blog post that answers the question more fully. This doesn’t mean always send the same “canned” tweet in response to a particular question, but give your customer service reps the basics to respond quickly and easily. Share this list with others on the team, especially product or sales people who engage on LinkedIn. This way they can respond to questions and include links to blog posts with more information.

6. Show Off Your Superstars
Customer service reps frequently toil in anonymity. Even though they say their name at the beginning of a call, most people don’t hear it, or don’t pay attention to it unless there is a problem. As one of the key benefits of social media is that it allows your B2B company to present itself as a group of people rather than a faceless monolith, put your customer service people out front and center. Many companies list who is tweeting, or even on-duty, in a Twitter bio. Some companies add initials to individual tweets so people know who is responding. And for larger organizations, customer service people have individual Twitter accounts with their name and the company name in the handle. Now that Facebook lets you shows Admins and post as yourself, these are two opportunities to respond as an individual person, rather than the company or Page.

7. Know When to Take It Offline
Simple responses to common questions can, and should, happen publicly. But real issues that require research or detailed conversations need to move offline. As soon as an issue is identified in this category, respond publicly with an email address or a request to send contact information via Twitter Direct Message. Other people following your company need to see a response, and the customer with an issue may require a response that is longer, and not appropriate for public channels. Frequently, customers who have raised issues using social media will post a positive comment once the issue is resolved. The ongoing perception that your company cares about its customers and wants to solve customer issues is important. If this is not true, using social media will be a challenge.

What are other ways to help customer services reps become more adept at responding using social media?

Treat Your B2B Customers Like Vanderbilts

Yesterday I spoke about social media to a group of B2B companies who are licensees of the Biltmore brand (thoughts on that are forthcoming). The Biltmore Estate, located in Asheville NC, was built by George Vanderbilt as “country retreat where he could pursue his passion for art, literature, and horticulture.” Between my stay at the Inn at Biltmore and my tour of the Biltmore House, I was reminded of a level of customer service that most companies do not reach, or even consider.

Treat Each Customer as the Most Important
In a self-service world where we have gotten used to a lack of attention, frequently from people who are in the service business, it was refreshing to be repeatedly greeted by a smiling staff member that really did want to help. These were people happy in their jobs, who understood the importance of keeping guests happy. Next time you are on a call with a customer, don’t just ask them how everything is, but really mean it. Say it in a way that shows you really do want an answer. Don’t just ask if they need anything, but offer to help. Treat each and every customer as if they are your most important customer. One easy way to do this is to think about every customer as if they are the most important. And on some level, they really are.

Create Experiences that Prevent Customers from Seeing Other Companies
Customers are always have their eyes open for other vendors. The Biltmore Estate owns so much land that from any point on the property, everything you see it part of the estate. While it is not possible to isolate your customers from seeing other companies, one of the ways to truly distinguish your company and reduce the likelihood of them exploring your competitors is to provide a level of service that is unmatched. This means creating a high-level experience that removes any thoughts of competitors from their minds.

Service from Another Era
At the turn of the 20th Century, family members and guests at the Biltmore House were treated like royalty, and in fact, the wealthiest members of society were like royalty in America. Everyone’s every need was catered to by a large staff who was trained to serve. Yes, this was another era, and also a part of society most of us never see, but if you treat customers with a high level of respect and concern for their needs, their loyalty follows. Don’t think about bottom line, how many hoops you have to jump through to honor a customer’s request, or even how your will find time to get it all done. Focus on meeting your customers’ needs. Each and every time. Each and every customer.

How This Relates to Social Media
Increasingly, B2B companies are using social media tools and connections to seek out new vendors and partners. If your current customers rave about your company’s level of service, new prospects will find it. When people ask their networks for recommendations for new partners, which do you think carries more weight? “I get the best price from XYZ company, but I can never get anyone on the phone” or “I pay a little bit more for ABC company, but the number of times they have helped me get out of jam is amazing. They really care about keeping my business and treat me like a business partner, not just an entry on a spreadsheet.”?

What are your experiences with high levels of service as either a provider/supplier or as a customer and have you shared it online? Do you think customer service can be a differentiator?

Disclosure: My stay at the Inn at Biltmore was provided as part of speaking at the licensee partner conference.

B2B Social Media and the Customer Service Funnel

Many B2B companies understand the idea of the sales funnel and track their leads using a CRM system like Salesforce.com or a module integrated into their ERP system, but they are not using the same organized process to handle customer service. According to a May 2009 study, only 40% of companies stated that their employees have the tools to handle customer service. With the explosion of the use of social media for customer service in 2009, the landscape for B2B customer service has become more complicated, and needs structure that can account for a variety of incoming inquiries.

The original sales funnel features four segments as customers move through the funnel: Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action. While not a perfect model for the sales process, it made some sense, and has even be updated to the more practical segments of Leads, Visitors, Prospect, Customer. We can apply a similar model to the customer service process, except as potential customers more through the sales funnel, their numbers are reduced through qualification of one type or another. The customer service funnel metaphor is not about reducing the numbers, but about making sure all parts of a potentially disparate process wind up in the same place.

Incident
A business customer using your product or service discovers a problem, or a potential customer doing their research before a purchase has a question about it. Before the advent of social media channels and the acceptance of tweeting a problem, sometimes out of frustration, a customer would write a letter or call a customer service phone number. The toll-free phone call, or a call to an account manager, is still the most likely customer action to address a problem or ask a question, however, many customers are announcing these online. This may be addition to contacting the company, but sometimes the online request is the only option chosen.

Awareness
Your company may have dedicated resources to creating an inbound call center to handle both sales leads and customer service calls. If you company is smaller, or your customers have relationships with their account manager, the calls flow in that direction, never making it to the call center. And who in your organization is managing Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or industry online forums and monitoring social web mentions? Maybe marketing, communications, or even an outside firm.

The most important part of the process happens right here. You have to have a central tracking repository that links these events to the customer and no matter where the awareness happens, it needs to be entered into this system. While a CRM system is ideal for tracking these sort of cases, not all members of your social media team have access, and small companies may not be able to invest in these levels of solutions. At a minimum, enter the incident into customer notes in your database with a list of next steps and who is responsible for those steps.

Acknowledgment
In traditional customer service communications, there is no need for acknowledgment. There is no need to discuss written letters anymore for B2B customer service, and the acknowledgment of a phone call is to receive the information from the customer and respond with an answer or a time frame to respond with the answer. But on the social web where someone tosses a complaint or question out, the acknowledgment serves two purposes. The first is to let the customer know your company heard the cry for help. These tweets in the night are becoming more common. The second reason is so other people see your company has responded. Even if the response is requesting the customer follow you back so you send them a direct message, the public response is an important part of the process.

Resolution
The goal of any customer service program is to resolve customer issues, while not expending too many resources in the process. Many call center operations focus on reduction in call times rather than customer satisfaction. The public nature of customer service on the social web changes the nature of the customer relationship. A full resolution of customer issues needs to move higher up in the customer service process. The reach of an unhappy customer is now greater than ever. Some of these customer interactions become more costly as marketing staff and account managers get involved, so a clearly defined process and system for handing these back to customer service is important, as cost tracking is still relevant. After resolution of these issues where social media played a role, keep a record of successes for future presentation to management of the benefits of social media.

What are some changes you have seen in customer service not that social media opens up the company to public issues.

Are You Really Listening to your B2B Customers?

Every discussion of social media begins with someone telling you that you need to start any social media campaign or program by listening. What are you really listening for? Mentions of your brand, your industry, your competitors? Maybe you find and follow blogs from industry thought leaders to understand the social media landscape in your niche. But once you start tweeting, blogging and creating content on the social web, it becomes even more critical to listen for mentions of your company or brand.

Social media outlets, and especially Twitter, have become a communications tool for customers to reach out to their vendors. It has become publicly acceptable to complain online about your experiences. And make sure to use the proper Twitter account in your complaint. Sometimes it is venting to feel better, while other times it is done to warn others about the experience. But from the vendor side of things, this is some of the most important listening that you do.

The following example comes Bandwidth.com, a business phone and data provider in Cary, North Carolina (disclosure: and a client). I had nothing to do with this situation, but because they are a client, I also monitor their brand mentions, so I observed the following in real time. (Note that screenshots of customer tweets were captured immediately, while those from Bandwidth were captured the next day, so the time stamps don’t seem to match even though they occurred in the same time period).


An existing customer makes a comment about a problem that customer service wasn’t able to solve.


That comment is retweeted.


A new customer wonders what he has gotten himself into.


The original customer responds to the new customer and says he is normally a fan, but expresses a bit of frustration the customer service rep didn’t try hard enough.


The company replies to the user and others who tweeted the complaint or tweeted about it.


The original customer tweets that he received a phone call within minutes of his tweet of frustration.


That comment is retweeted.


The company publicly replies to the customer that customer service is dealing with the issue, even after the phone call talking to him on the phone. They also include an email address for additional contact.


The company thanks those involved for their patience.


The next day, the original customer tweets that customer service followed through.


That comment is retweeted.

This is a real example where a company monitored Twitter and saw a tweet from an existing customer that required follow-up. And that follow-up was a phone call. The person was a customer so it was easy to find their phone number and call. The one piece of inside information that I have is that the social media person, in the marketing department, is the one who followed up with the customer. After the phone call he followed up with customer service so they could solve the customer’s issue.

These situations are easy to find on Twitter, but you need to make sure you are looking. Whatever tool you use to manage your company Twitter account, even the Twitter website, makes it easy to spot Tweets with your account name, but you also need to set up searches for the company name without the @ and some common misspellings. Do this even if you have a simple company name (search Twitter for Goggle). The other part of this was that social media person has the authority to perform customer service. There is no need for approvals up the command chain. Note the three parts of the customer’s tweets: 1. follow-up to tweet 2. quick response 3. follow-through to solve the problem. This situation also points to the importance of setting up monitoring tools across the social web, because the comments are just as likely to appear on forums or other sites.

So the next time you discover a customer service situation on Twitter, as a marketing, pr or communication person, or even an agency, what is your customer service role? What are your means of response and time of response? How do you connect the dots back with the traditional customer service department? And how do you enter this as a resolved case into your CRM system, because you know that you should?

Customer Service as a B2B Social Media Strategy

There are many examples of companies using social media for customer service, but what if you turn that around and use customer service for social media. Social media is a way of engaging with customers, rather than broadcasting message at them. Customer service, and I mean good customer service, is treating your customers like they matter. Showing them that your company cares what they think and values their business.

Many organizations claim to approach their customers in this manner, but pretend for a minute this is the only way to communicate with your customers. Your marketing and pr budget got slashed for the rest of the year and you have count on your customer service as the only way to market your products to customers and prospects. Your sales reps can still close the sale, but this is the only way your message gets out. Does this change your approach to customer service? Rather than focus on short phone calls, sticking to the script, and even outsourcing your inbound call center, focus on the customer and their experience. What are they really saying? Do they have valid product suggestions? Do you have a real feedback mechanism for their comments? What about follow-up?

Top companies focus on customer service as a sales and marketing function. Companies that run customer service through operations or order fulfillment are placing the wrong emphasis on these customer interactions. It is not about efficiency. It is about serving your customers and meeting their needs. While you can’t guarantee that a satisfied customer will tweet their happiness, you can bet that a customer who is given the runaround will tell someone. And social networking has the ability to amplify that dissatisfaction.

One way to improve customer service is to encourage product managers, communications staff and even a few executives to spend one hour answering the phone. These are people who should have good product knowledge to handle most situations, but you can provide basic training that all new reps receive. It will be a reall eye-opening experience. If your company produces a highly engineered product and it is just not possible for anyone other than a product engineer to take phone calls, they can just sit and listen in on calls for one hour.

The following things will happen:

  • They will gain more insight into customers and their thoughts about the company
  • They will better understand other functional areas and the importance of communicating across functions
  • They will learn about the exceptions customer service makes every day
  • They will hear the excuses that reveal product, training and information shortcomings
  • They will get caught up in the details of one customer’s problem and spend half a day solving it.

Can you afford not to demonstrate to every customer that your business is riding on their continued patronage?