Social Media and Customer Service for Green Businesses

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Last week I had the chance to hear Pete Blackshaw talk about his book “Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends. Angry Customers Tell 3,000”. His message is particularly important for eco-entrepreneurs, so I’m summarizing some of his talk for you green business entrepreneurs.Pete Blackshaw talks about how social media can build loyalty

Green businesses are particularly well-suited for consumer advocacy. Customers who shop from your company due to a shared concern for the environment and/or a desire to avoid toxins are likely to tell their friends about the benefits of your product or service. The flip-side is that they are also likely to be particularly vocal and angry if they feel you have betrayed your green mission.

Social media, primarily blogs, have greatly lowered the barriers for consumers to voice their opinions. They can easily advocate on behalf of a brand or take a company to task for bad service, misleading advertising, products that do not work, and more. And the title of Blackshaw’s book rings true.

The question for green businesses is are you making it easier for 1000 people to advocate on behalf of your business, and are you reacting quickly and authentically when there is a mis-step and a customer is unhappy?

We marketers used to say that a brand is the sum total of all experiences with a company–not just the product or service but the employees, partners, website, collateral, ads, service centers, etc.

Your Google ranking is part of your brand

Well, now, customer service discussions on blogs are now part of your brand experience. Blackshaw says, “Your brand equity is the sum total of your company’s search results.” When numerous posts are made highlighting a company’s mistake (think of Dell’s flaming batteries), they are cached by search engines like Google. For a long time, a web surfer typing “Dell” into a search engine got page after page of links to stories and comments about Dell’s more-than-malfunctioning batteries. Blackshaw says that Dell had to be innovative and come up with new blogs on customer service topics (with frequently updated and relevant content) to be able to get the Company’s message to show up in those same search results.

What is your industry’s talk driver?

Blackshaw says there are different “talk drivers” in different industries. These hot-button issues get customers riled up and can lead to very long threads of rants on social media sites. So, while, businesses should be interested in everything being said about them in the blogosphere, there are certain topics that, when they come up, should be addressed immediately and with significant resources. In wireless Internet and phones it is billing. For autos, it is safety. In food and dining it is hygiene.

However, social media is not just for damage control. On a positive note, Blackshaw noted that “validating someone’s voice is viral marketing”. Companies can provide platforms for customers to advocate on behalf of the brand. Think of companies like Timbuktu who encourage their customers to upload photos of themselves with Timbuktu bags onto a Flickr page.

And even if you do not post everything your customers say to you, just making it easy for customers to communicate to you builds loyalty to your brand. Blackshaw says customer service is usually seen as a cost center and not an integral part of the marketing department. “Feedback pages generally say ‘don’t talk to me’. Why not invest in good design and make it easy for customers to give you good ideas and to let you know what they do like, so you are sure not to mess with that?

Catch your customers in the happy zone

Make it easy for your customers to praise you when they are in the “happy zone”. Blackshaw described a visit to a Peet’s Coffee cafe where a polaroid camera hung right next to the coffee pick up counter, where satisfied customers could snap shots of themselves enjoying their made-to-order specialty coffees and post them on a bulletin board.

What do you do to encourage customer loyalty? Please let us know.

And for further reading, check out these other posts:

Using The Web to Build Your Green Business

PR Tips For Green Entrepreneurs

Social Networking and Online Marketing for the Ecopreneur

Green Market Research in Six Easy Steps

Sustainable Shopping in Portland, Part 2

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