Vodafone Call Off The Dogs – But Still Gets Bitten

In a move that may have passed many by last week, Vodafone Essar (the giant telecom’s Indian arm) withdrew a legal notice against a customer who had criticised Vodafone’s services on Facebook.

Vodafone had claimed that the customer had made false and defamatory statements about them on social media sites and were seeking to protect their reputation.

However, in a significant move, they decide to withdraw the notice claiming that “Vodafone Essar states that the legal notice served to the customer has been withdrawn in good faith. Vodafone Essar would also like to take this opportunity to inform that as a customer obsessed organisation, we have always welcomed critical feedback and suggestions from both direct and social media customers as it helps us to constantly improve ourselves to serve their discerning needs,” a spokesperson said.

But this wasn’t enough to persuade the customer who said “So finally, Vodafone relents. After two long meetings and several calls and SMS and emails with over two weeks one of their very senior management person sent me a mail today early morning stating that they have in “good faith” decided to withdraw the legal notice.

However, they cannot concede to paying damages/compensation. I have informed them that I retain my right for a legal recourse.”

Whether he does or not is another issue. but again this is surely an example of a global brand struggling to face up to the new world of consumer power. Unless his comments were indeed libelous, surely Vodafone could have handled this better – on a human scale.

Again a reputation suffers as a result of clumsy mismanagement of a sitaution that is surely to become more and more familiar in the future.

The lesson – be human, be fast, be outstanding.

Why Social is Something you ARE, not Something you DO

Converse, the leisure / fashion footwear brand currently has just under 16 million fans on Facebook. Its parent company and global behemoth, Nike, has just over 4 million.

I don’t have the turnover figures for the two brands to hand, nor do I know what their marketing budgets are, but I’ll bet my mortgage on the fact that the disparity between the two is reversed – and then some.

So, why does one win on Facebook and the other, relatively speaking seem to be struggling to attract the numbers that its market share would suggest it should have? Well, closer inspection shows the proliferation of the Nike pages – football, basketball etc., but the prime business for both brands is to sell shoes that are worn for leisure and recreation.

But by looking at both pages, you can quickly see that social media is looked upon by the Converse team as more than simply a channel to talk about themselves. Nike, seem to talk about Nike rather a lot.

I’ve maintained many times that social media is like a cocktail party. Guests arrive and talk and listen and engage naturally on a very human level. Spot the person who simply talks about themself and they’ll be the one with no friends at the end of the evening.

That’s why Converse’s plan to hold auditions in cities around the US for up and coming bands, demonstrates a crucial and yet so seemingly obvious point; that the people who love Converse, have more going on in their lives than wearing shoes. They are into music, fashion, movies etc etc and Converse engage with people on this level.

For British brands, particularly with that slightly stiff approach to communicating with customers, this change in the way people roll is a challenge. An inconvenient, awkward challenge that takes them out of their comfort zone. You can’t go to the cocktail party and then start dancing like a Dad at a wedding because you think it’s cool!

But you can listen to what your core customers are talking about on social media and do something with them in the same space.

I’m talking about humanising your business. Relating naturally to customers and not necessarily just on the familiar territory that you’ve occupied before – catalogue, page advertising etc, but on their patch – their blogs, Facebook and Twitter.

In fact the marketing textbook term, ‘brand awareness’ reveals the current problem for some – but think about it the other way around. People want to know that brands are more than simply being ‘aware’ of them. They want brands to ‘see them’, ‘hear them’ and ‘talk to them’.

How can you socialise your brand? You could talk to us! The prizes for getting it right are magnificent.

[first posted on http://iainflovatt.com]

We’ll Be Good, Really We Will..

I had to laugh really.

“We don’t want to be bad, we want to be good” the man said. His almost pathetic appeal to the TV cameras sounded more like a naughty boy who’d been told that if he wasn’t a good, he wouldn’t be allowed out to play. As Peter Rabbit said, “Why do it do it? What can it be? There’s naughtiness in everyone, but twice as much in me”.

But this wasn’t a child, this was Philip Clarke, the newly appointed head of Tesco, Britain’s most successful retail brand of the last ten years.

He carried on, “we need to..create more engagement”. This almost simpering message felt like a slap around the face acting as a wake up call.

More engagement? Sharpen customer communications (sounds dodgy!), sort out the details…we’ll soon see if these are merely platitudes, but let’s be generous for now and say well done, you’ve woken up to the rise of humanised business that social media is leading.

But Tesco will need to change beyond belief. For every tweet they might send in the future (they’re not big on Twitter!) someone will show you a farmer having his livlihood threatened by Tesco’s buying culture, for every ‘little bit’ that counts on Facebook, we’ll see protests outside a recently closed pub or business that Tesco want to tun into a Metro within a mile of one of their superstores.

I guess the retailer that bares comparison in the US is naturally Walmart, owners of UK supermarket chain Asda, whose sustainability initiatives are the biggest sign that big brands, huge brands, need to respond to customer’s concerns in a very real way. But Tesco have a mountain to climb.

I recall an article in Marketing Week by Professor Mark Ritson, which was totally negative to the potential benefit to businesses of social media tools. In fact he cited the success of Tesco, who at that time were silent when it came to social media, as the biggest success story in recent British economic history and that therefore they should be the model for aspiring businesses. Facebook and Twitter are purely for celebrities he said. I guess Ritson would see Salesforce.com’s purchase of Radian6 a few weeks ago for $340m as a huge mistake.

He may prove to be right of course, but Tesco – the case study central to his argument, appear for now to have left him behind and to have bought into the fact that what businesses need in 2011 and beyond is to be real, human, authentic and yes – sociable.

In hard times, the pressure on retailers to keep prices low is immense. But if a retailer makes my time spent with them either in store online or on the phone, a pleasant one, respond to me when I ask them to and show me individual attention I will remember that more than my milk costing 2p more.

And I’ll tell everyone all about them.

PS – Just checked Philip Clarke’s Twitter page. He’s doing well. Has over 3,000 followers….but he’s following just 2! And one of them is Tesco!!!!

Service ≠ Subservience

So impressions of the UK since returning from the Windy City – rain, gray, rain, misery, rain, poor customer service, rain.

OK, so the rain is a given, but it’s the striking difference between the US and UK on customer service that has really struck me. Since being back for just over one month now I have been told by a waitress that she only has “one pair of hands”, been served by a girl in Halfords who said not one word to me, made no eye contact and dealt with my purchase with her feet resting on her desk the whole time and been made to feel plain stupid by London Underground staff, when my ticket wouldn’t let me through the barrier, by just staring at in me looking exasperated.

I was also lectured by a conductor in front of lots of other passengers because I had no ticket – reason being that the ticket machine on my station was vandalised and other travellers clearly had season tickets. That was nice at 6.30 in the morning. Thanks Capital Connect.

These experiences have been punctuated by one or two great ones, namely at the checkout in M&S, who remembered just what sandwich I’d bought a couple of days earlier!

But overall, the experience has been rotten.

I do get the impression that the people delivering this dire level of interaction (to call it service would be quite wrong), have a chip on their shoulder. It smells of a ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality, perhaps borne out of the old British class system that was refreshingly missing in the US. Whilst there, not once did anyone ask me what school I’d gone to, or ‘what line of country’ my father was in!

So here’s the thing, the level of service I experienced and came to expect in the US I feel was a result of the absence of inverse snobbery. In fact there was a real respect for those providing service. I remember the first time I rode the train and hearing the passengers call the guard “Sir”. By the time I left I was doing the same. It was natural. Customers knew that their waiter wasn’t a servant, but a hugely important part of their experience.

And they tipped well!

As I’ve written many times before in this blog, social media now gives a louder voice to those who want to challenge the level of service they have received. Complaints online are amplified through social channels and provide the complainer with a barrier to hide behind that saves them from a real confrontation (something we Brits shudder at the thought of), meaning that their true feelings come out.

The enlightened companies are listening to these voices through the SMM tools such as SM2 or Radian 6, and are engaging with customers to turn things around, listening to the issues that people are facing and using this information to develop products and services into markets with greater confidence.

The adoption of these techniques combined with more of a focus on customer service generally – thank you (Mary Portas and Michel Roux), hopefully mean brands are upping their game in this crucial area.

To serve someone doesn’t mean being an inferior or subservient, but that you are sharing something about which you are passionate, whether that be a product, food or a ride on a train!

Reports of the Death of TV are Greatly Exaggerated

Despite the seemingly inexorable rise of online as means for brands to reach out to and engage directly with customers, a report from Advertising Age shows that whilst this is true for western countries, traditional print and broadcast media are growing fast in the world’s emerging economies.

Here’s a quick take of some of the findings:

1. TV is still a necessity – more so than ever in poorer countries.

2. We are watching more TV, not less despite the growth of internet access.

3. But what we watch is changing – more soccer and American Idol type shows – more than a third of the population of Afghanistan tune in regularly to ‘Afghan Star’!

4. Facebook continues to crush its online competitors.

5. ‘Cofficing’ – operating in cyber cafes, is the way people in developing countries are accessing the web.

6. Brazil, Russia, China, India and Indonesia are the most avid viewers of online video.

7. And these same people are accessing online content through mobile devices.

8. The spread of iPads and other tablets will continue to dominate.

9. Despite circulations declining for printed media in the west, they are growing in the developing world.

Whilst this blog is concerned primarily with social media and how business can win on the social web, I’m particularly delighted that TV isn’t dying. In fact having lived in the US for the last two years I can say that the quality of programming is higher than I ever thought or expected. American TV was a standing joke in the UK – “57 channels and nothing on” sang Bruce in 1992, but the quality of HBO’s output such as Boardwalk Empire and others like House and best of all, MadMen mean the bar is being raised in terms of quality.

However, advertisers need to continue to recognise that these audiences also want to engage with brands on their own turf – and that is to be found online.

The Monarchy Gets Sociable

No doubt many of you have already picked up the fact that H.M. The Queen has launched a fansite on Facebook.

This is tremendous stuff and I will avoid trying to make a witty quip on the subject, but have this post simply serve to record this great event!

The iPod toting Monarch now lives on Facebook and I for one see this as adding certain validity to FB – I think that’s just me.

Already on Twitter, You Tube (The wonderfully named “The Royal Channel”) and Flickr, the Queen is now showing how irresistible social tools are in messaging her subjects.

Perhaps this also highlights the older demographic that social tools are now attracting?

The Opposite Of Love

Ask yourself that question – just what is the opposite of love?

Clearly all the cliches will dictate the answer is ‘hate’ – and that it’s a thin line! However, this post will seek to point out that, in the context of business and customer relationships, the opposite of love is indifference.

If a customer complains to you directly, you’ve already probably talked to your customer care team, to treat this as an opportunity to over deliver in making things right and delighting them with the resolution.

Of course this is absolutely right. But what if a customer becomes disillusioned with you, but doesn’t take the step of complaining?

Well I would suggest that this is worst scenario of all. If you’re measuring your customer loyalty rates and need to grow your level of retention (and who doesn’t?), then other than reach out to them with emails, catalogues or advertising, how can you address this silent majority of people who don’t communicate with you directly anymore?

First of all, consider the results from the Alterian (Your Brand at Risk? Or Ready for Growth? 2010) suggests the following

  • 84% of people trust recommendations from their friends
  • 70% of people trust recommendations from complete strangers!
  • But just 5% of people trust advertising

So if you’re tempted to increase your promotional spend to reach out to this group and consider that if just 5% of people will believe what you say, but  70% of people trust what a complete stranger says, then the power of word of mouth very soon, becomes apparent.

But if they’re not complaining to you directly, how do you find these customers?

Firstly, you have to listen. I’ve written extensively about the various SMM (social media monitoring) tools that are available to dial in to conversations about your brand or your products. But the skill in maximising on the opportunities that these tools offer, lies in learning where the communities of lapsed customers are hanging out.

If you can build positive sentiment amongst your key influencers – SMM tools can help you identify them and their communities – then you are in a really strong position to win back these lapsed customers. It’s almost a case of redefining testimonials.

How are you looking to engage with your lapsed, indifferent customers?