Lessons of the Exterminator: Transforming Your Social Media, One Customer at a Time

by Mark Ivey |

I guess it was inevitable, but we’re quickly seeing companies dividing up into two social media camps: those that get it, and those that don’t. Take one indicator: how companies respond to customer complaints. As Jay Baer pointed out, an amazing 70 percent of companies didn’t respond to customer complaints in a study of 1,298 Twitter complainants (Maritz and Evolve24).

I’ve personally tweeted negative comments about experiences with big companies like United Airlines and Chase Bank, with no response (vs National Rental, which responded quickly to my tweets about a mishap at one of their rental locations). By comparison, I’ll bet you’d respond if you’re a small business owner and your business depended on it.

Why? Because you’re closer to the customer. Bigger companies-ok, let’s say marketing and communications departments-are several degrees away. They’re detached from the customer. This will have to change.

Dead american cockroach
Image via Wikipedia

Getting to know and help your customers-customer service- isn’t rocket science, but it does take work. Entrepreneurs and small firms who depend on repeat business get this.

I was reminded of this recently when I hired an exterminator to  get rid of some pesky ants around my house. “Pete” had already come out 3 months ago and sprayed, but a few ants were starting to pop back up so I had him return. He said he’d be glad to do it, and said he often came back and sprayed months after a homeowner’s warranty period had passed.

“The idea is to keep the customer happy, that’s all that matters,” he said.

But the other reason was this tended to generate extremely positive reviews on Yelp and Angie’s List, which Pete monitors like a hawk. He’s now #1 pest control company in Portland with 21 reviews on Yelp, all five star. The next competitor has three, and Pete has more coming.

Reviews are a powerful marketing tool and Pete is doing what big companies struggle with-turning customers into raving advocates.

He even launched a new section on his website for reviews and feedback, thinking that if people are complaining he’d rather see it first-hand. “If they complain on my site I can do something about it vs being out there somewhere else where I can’t do anything. Plus I can use it to talk about my services, my approach”- in other words, “turning lemons into lemonade,” as Baer put it.

This is a great judo approach-using negative comments to connect with customers. The Maritz study found that 83% of the complainants that received a reply liked or loved the fact that the company responded.

Yet some companies still resist, thinking they can control negative feedback. Look at what happened to Chapstick when they deleted some negative comments on their Facebook page: A PR fiasco.

Note to these companies: we’re in a new world. The consumer is now empowered, so deal with it.

Sure, Pete is just a simple, single-dimensional example. He doesn’t have to deal with layers of corporate bureaucracy, inertia, lawyers, corp. politics, and battle-worn senior managers. But he is a great example of staying close to the customer and meeting their needs. Customers like his positive, direct demeanor: “I tell people if you’re not satisfied, give me a chance to make it right,” he says.

Bigger companies are often missing this connection with the customer, and social media is beaming a giant spotlight on the issue.

“Customer service” should go well beyond responding to comments. You can use your blog, Twitter or Facebook page to glean tons of insight about your customer-what they think about your company, your product, the overall market and so on. You can use this to improve the product or figure out better ways to market it. Of course, you can also use it to share valuable content that will help them run their businesses, and endear them to you.

The ultimate goal is to transform the customer experience across all touch-points, and how they view your brand. When the company thinks of your company, you want them to think … (fill in the blank).

This will require a massive transformation of the way we do business, and deal with our customers. We’ve come out of a world of mass production, mass marketing and advertising, mass…everything. Now we must figure out how to develop 1:1 relationships with our customers and scale these, a new type of relationship marketing. And we must leverage subject matter experts and others who until now have been buried behind the corporate walls.

Yes, we need to develop an army of authentic, corporate-like “Petes.”

So far this has been a challenge with the companies I’ve worked with. Many want to rush ahead, launch a few quick programs and emerge as a major online industry influencer. Those that have succeeded realize that, in the end, customer service is about relationships, and trusting relationships take a long time to develop and nurture. You’re not going to do it with slick marketing or PR- or just throwing up a Twitter or Facebook page. Social media is a marathon, not a sprint, and we have a long way to go.

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About the Author

Mark Ivey

Mark Ivey is a social media consultant with the ION Group and a published author with a broad corporate background in editorial, marketing, social media and executive communications. He’s served as a Bureau Chief at BusinessWeek magazine, national media spokesman for Intel, and recently, as Editor in Chief for Hewlett Packard, where he pioneered a new program to drive its enterprise blogs and other social media activities. Besides family, friends and good wine, his passion is social media-training, strategizing, and exploring new digital paths for his clients. Find him on Twitter at @markivey.