After decades of hard work setting the bar for the industry for quality and reliability, Toyota’s recent recall woes with a number of its models have left its revered reputation in tatters. Managing 10 million recalled cars is a costly issue no doubt, and for some corporate cultures, one of the last things you’d ever want to do. But consider what was at stake: sudden acceleration that can cause life-threatening accidents. Executives could have acted decisively and done the right thing by pre-emptively recalling vehicles, but only did so after weeks of public and government outcry. Sales are most definitely taking a hit, and export figures are being revised downward. In the first couple of weeks, Toyota’s market capitalization dropped over 20% or $35 billion.
One of the cool things about technology is how it can help companies get closer with their customers. We saw it with the web and now with the trend towards social engagement, there are no shortages of ways to connect. However, too often we see companies use technology as a barrier or don’t have the right people or processes in place to engage properly. A few quick suggestions on how to get better business results through customer engagement.
From anecdote to information. Most people are reasonable people, but sometimes customers feel screwed over by customer service. They get poorly treated and when escalated, are not listened to and then roundly insulted. We all hear the PR nightmares that you think are one-offs but for every one you hear about, there are probably countless others that go unheard, masking the size of the overall problem. With tools like blogs, forums and Twitter, customers now have platforms to voice their opinions. And likewise, companies now have more means to get a pulse on their customers’ sentiments. Using social listening tools, there are now ways to systematically aggregate the anecdotal stories into a more balanced, complete picture of what’s going on. This is useful to both marketers and operations staff who can now get very quick feedback. Eventually, this can feed into a CRM program so the sales & marketing gurus can be satisfied.
Hearing vs Listening. Once companies have the ability to listen, they now need the ability to act on what they’re hearing. Acting on what you’re hearing is listening. Of course, the hard part is whether or not organizations can re-align themselves around this new reality. This means ensuring employee’s roles are matched up to customer needs and they’re given the ability to make decisions that solve customer problems. Too often, an issue needs to be escalated to senior management in order to get something done. This causes frustration for customers and front-line staff alike who don’t feel empowered to make a difference.
Nip it in the bud. Quite often, what usually begins as a small issue like a billing error or incorrect product, ends up bubbling up into a huge issue and angry phone calls (recall Vincent Ferrari’s AOL customer service disaster). If companies spent time in the social space, they would find no shortage of customers complaining. Rather than see it as a problem, I see it as an opportunity to be proactive and a reason to reach out to customers. Why not let employees engage with these customers and try to solve things directly instead of pushing them to a random, faceless 800-number or knowledgebase? Equipping employees with the tools to search out these issues and deal with them quickly and efficiently will exceed customers’ expectations and engenders a lot of good will. I recently issued a minor gripe about a piece of software — only to have the developer reach out within hours to assure me a fix was on the way. That kind of outreach changed my view of the company and has now made me a loyal customer.
A few simple strategies can help make a big qualitative difference to how customers perceive your company. And in the world of marketing, perception is reality.