3 Year-Round Customer Engagement Lessons We Learned This Holiday Season

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In today’s age of social media, businesses hear from their customers almost constantly, regardless of industry. This is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, unhappy customers have the power to destroy a brand. But on the other, this constant feedback presents an opportunity for companies to continuously work to improve the experience they offer customers.

The holiday season is especially compelling proof of this, as customers are more vocal during the rush to snag all the gifts on their shopping lists. And looking at Twitter and Facebook data for top retailers over the holiday season confirmed the importance of happy customers: Amazon and Costco, the two brands with the best sentiment scores on social media this season, are also the two fastest growing companies by sales revenue.

Beyond that, analyzing social media sentiment during the holiday shopping period also shed light on some specific customer engagement lessons that can (and should) be applied year-round. Take a look:

Customer Engagement Lesson #1: Get (and Stay) Integrated.
This holiday season, social media channels lit up with complaints about product availability and frustration when shoppers were unable to apply discounts and coupons to items (both in-store and online). One big-box retailer saw a 78% increase in product availability mentions compared to all brands on Black Friday, along with a 71% increase compared to historical percentages. Many customers complained about certain deals being available only online or only in-store, including many items customers reported were never made available to purchase. This led to the retailer’s overwhelming number of “false advertising” mentions, which came out to 116% above normal range.

Of course, no company sets out to disappoint customers or falsely advertise their products. Instead, the issue often stems from a lack of internal communication. The solution? Focus on real-time updates to store staff so they can guide customers appropriately. If the item in question is sold out, make sure staff aren’t frustrating customers by pushing them online or to another store.

Customer Engagement Lesson #2: Always Show You’re Listening.
On top of having problems around availability, numerous brands didn’t address these issues when customers complained. One retailer reached back out to less than 4% of the customers who were having trouble shopping and verbalizing it online. On the flipside, another retailer with website issues replied to 90% of the online customer complaints engaging in conversations with the customers to guide their next best action … and customer rewarded them with following through on purchases.

When things go wrong, listening is often all it takes to get your brand back on track. Nearly half of people with bad experiences will return to do business if the company simply demonstrates it listens. That’s why ignoring comments and social interactions is detrimental to a brand … and why, year-round, brands must ensure there is a process in place for responding to every email and social interaction. The first step towards making this a habit is to track engagement, while some companies have also begun to prioritize the order in which they respond to social comments based on customer influence and loyalty program status.

Customer Engagement Lesson #3: Don’t Forget the Basics.
Finally, brands can’t forget the importance of face-to-face customer engagement; it’s still the cornerstone of business success. Costco, for instance, scored very high sentiment for employee attitude, helpfulness and overall quality. It’s no surprise then that the retailer boasts a churn rate 56% smaller than average. This correlation between sentiment and churn was evident more broadly speaking as well.

The lesson here is clear: While being responsive to customer feedback has become increasingly important for all brands, it doesn’t take away from the need for friendly, properly trained, well-educated staff to help shoppers find products, answer questions and resolve issues. Social media should serve as one of the tools to better see where customers need help and where your staff is falling short; it shouldn’t replace the human aspect of customer service. If it does, your company is the one that will likely get replaced.

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