How to Handle Unsatisfied Customers

Complaints are inevitable when you provide products or services to customers, because there is simply no such thing as 100% satisfaction across your entire market. There will always be customers with expectations which you cannot meet, or those who will misunderstand your offerings completely. It is because of this that customer service is a crucial part of any business, and that, in turn, is why customer care call centers are now so common.

But with the boom of social media, handling unsatisfied customers has proven to be a rather big challenge. A few taps and clicks can change the perception of hundreds to thousands of people, and it is every marketing person’s nightmare to be the center of a complaint posted on social media.

Though there is very little you can do about a customer’s posted complaint once it is made public, there are, however, many ways of handling the problem. There even lies the possibility of turning the situation around. So, what are some ways you can serve irate or unsatisfied customers?

1. Apologize for the mistake

Let’s admit it: apologizing and swallowing your pride are two very underrated and underappreciated actions. The more natural response to a complaint would be to get defensive, but that would only lead to fighting fire with fire.

When a person is enraged and unsatisfied, the best way to start off your end of the conversation is to say, “Sorry.”

2. Address the customer right away – publicly

In such situations, the worst thing you can do for your business is to let the situation drag on. Ignoring a person’s negative feedback could only cause more anger to build up, or worse, it could make everyone think that you do not care at all. Remember that social media could work for you too, so do not be afraid to respond to complaints, especially if the mistakes can still be rectified.

Start by showing your customer that you are giving appropriate attention to his or her concern, and that you are publicly taking responsibility for his or her dissatisfaction. Make it clear that you wish to correct the situation.

3.  Offer a precise solution

Without overpromising, try to be clear about the next step. Especially if the solution might require further expenses on the company, or if you (as an administrator of social media accounts) do not have the authority to promise customers whatever they want, be open and transparent about how the situation will proceed.

4.  Offer a re-do or a replacement, along with additional benefits, when possible.

More often than not, the customers simply want to get the best out of what they paid for. If they were not satisfied with your product or service, what you can do is offer them a re-do or a replacement.

If it was a service, assure them that you will be putting them in the hands of your best staff members, who will be doing their best to provide high-quality service. If it was a product, ensure that you will do everything in your power to provide their money’s worth.

5. Take the conversation offline

Although it would be advantageous to show other potential clients how good you are at customer service, try not to discuss the details of your problem and solution in public. It would be best if a representative of your company offered to meet the customer to discuss the issue further. In cases when that would be too much to ask, a management-level representative may also just call the client and present ways by which you can make up for the mistake.

Just remember that, to an irate client, seeing an actual face, or experiencing the actual presence of a company representative will do wonders in letting them know you care.

In the end, the customer is truly king. For as long as their complaints are within reason, and are actually constructive enough for the company to recognize some areas for improvement, there is no reason why negative feedback should be ignored. A simple apology and some effort to make up for a mistake or misunderstanding could go a very long way, and could even develop some good will between clients and your company.

This post was contrbuted by Sheine Austria. Sheine is a professional writer whose passion is digital media, technology and blogging. She also used to do some photography in her college days. Sheine is also a single mother and decided to transfer to California and discover her future there.

How to Turn Guest Complaints Into Compliments

The hotel industry is notorious for guest complaints. If you’ve ever worked retail, you know the saying “the customer is always right.” This applies to the hotel industry as well since the customer is buying a room for a night or more. How customer complaints are handled is often key to keeping that customer and gaining more.

I recently stayed at The Damai Resort in Orlando FL and overheard a very upset guest’s reaction to the pool being closed for routine clean up. While I was also looking forward to the pool that day, I understand that routine maintenance must happen. But what I was most impressed with was how the staff member handled this upset guest and seemed to turn his attitude around by the end of the conversation. It seemed that by simply listening to the guy and giving value to his concerns and offering fun Orlando alternatives, the guest left happy and content.

Here’s what I learned:

THE EASY FIX

A guest calling to request an extra blanket or towel isn’t complaining, yet. But that request can turn into a complaint if not handled properly. At current hotel prices per night, a customer expects his request to be met quickly. Maybe the call was placed and the customer left the room for a few hours. That blanket should be on the bed waiting for the customer upon return. There should never be a second call for a simple request.

LISTEN AND L.E.A.R.N.

The word LEARN is an acronym for how best to handle a customer with a complaint. First, you need to L or listen. This is absolutely the most important because it’s only by listening that you can assess exactly how best to handle the situation. Allow the guest to explain the problem.

or empathize is next. Be empathetic to the situation by recognizing the inconvenience or disruption. Don’t point fingers or try to explain why something isn’t your fault. It may be that the customer is upset about something else and the complaint is a way of blowing off steam. Regardless of reason, convey sorrow that the customer is upset.

A is for act. After listening and understanding, you must act. If the room is dirty or the bill is wrong, see to it immediately or as soon as humanly possible. Wasting time or putting off repairing the situation will only make it worse.

R means a report must be made. In order to keep the same thing from happening, report the problem to the supervisor so it can be addressed in a staff meeting. Sometimes, discussing a complaint can lead to innovative solutions and fewer repeats of the issue.

N is for notify. Notify the customer that the problem has been handled. If the customer is already aware that the problem is handled, simply check with the customer later. You can do this on the same day or the next, but be sure to find out if everything else is ok or if there is anything else that needs to be done. A little extra attention after a complaint goes a long way toward making the customer feel he matters.

ATTITUDE

The overall attitude of the staff has a lot to do with customer satisfaction. If guests hear staff gathered in groups complaining, it lowers the satisfaction level. When bringing a problem to the attention of staff, a guest doesn’t want to hear the staff complain or explain why something didn’t happen correctly. After all, it’s the guest paying for the room and amenities.

Bottom line is that there are several ways to turn around a disgruntled guest. Many times it ends up being something small that could have and should have been fixed and doesn’t. If you can manage to turn around a frustrated customer, you’ll have a repeat customer for sure and may even get new business from them as well. Whether it’s the fault of the staff or the hotel or not, the end goal should still be a happy guest. That is the goal of customer satisfaction after all.

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This post was contributed by Carla C. Burton. Carla is a self-employed Mummy blogger with a BBA in Business Administration from Bond University.  Although a Gold Coast native, Carla moved to Melbourne in 2008 to further her writing career and raise her children.  Carla has become a top contributor to many blogs worldwide and thoroughly enjoys the freedom that self-employment has provided her.  To find out more about Carla or to follow her other posts, follow her on Twitter @CarlaCBurton.

Q&A with “Talk to the Manager”

An ancient relic of the hospitality industry has been revived to help navigate the ever-important digital conversation between businesses and its customers. Talk To The Manager (TTTM) is the prodigy of the primitive comment card that used to adorn nearly all businesses who wanted to gain customer feedback.

TTTM doesn’t rely on metrics that traditional comment cards can measure. Instead, they’ve realized that a customer’s perception is priority number one and what better way to make a great impression than to let the customers ask the questions rather than default to a business’s pre-scripted survey. Along with TTTM’s analytics, customers help hone the exact tools that business can implement to improve the quality of their experience in real-time.

The way it works is: when you sign up with TTTM, you receive a unique phone number that customers can text their anonymous comments to whereupon the management staff can respond. The applications for this simple yet effective app can be used by any business to tailor their experience to meet customer expectations.

We recently had a chance to interview the creators of Talk To The Manager. Their business model is proof that tackling tough issues in the hospitality industry don’t always demand complex solutions.

What kinds of variables do you track besides the negative and positive feedback?

We’re currently building out a TON of new features in the dashboard that will provide much deeper analytics, but be displayed in an easy-to-understand (and actually use!) format. However, until they’re completed we’re unable to disclose exactly what they are, but keep an eye out in the coming months. They should all be released within the next three months (hopefully much sooner).

Your service seems like a more proactive approach to customer satisfaction opposed to reading about  performance and food on websites like Yelp. Do you think your service will facilitate not only better reviews, but also relationships that create repeat customers?

We definitely believe our service to be a proactive approach. And you hit the nail on the head, we built this specifically to help get better reviews and create brand loyalty. We don’t want to stop reviews, because that would be silly, they can be a great tool and are never going away. But we want businesses to get a chance to respond to issues privately before they end up on public review sites, that way they can resolve issues and get better reviews. A lot of people today are talking about online reputation management (ORM) but we like to think of our service as preventative online reputation management.

Have you considered building a space online where people who use your service get to post a review on your site instead of Yelp?

No. We don’t want to be another review site. The point of our service is to get private feedback directly to on-site management in real-time so they can resolve issues. We are all about privacy. We keep both the manager’s and the customer’s phone numbers hidden from each other, and all feedback is kept in our dashboard for private viewing by the business. We like to think of it as their diary. Sometimes you make mistakes and have bad days, hopefully with our service you get a chance to correct those mistakes and they don’t have to be written on a public review site for everyone to see.

On the other hand we have found that over 75% of the messages from customers are positive, so we have created a way for the business to share these positive anonymous customer testimonials on their Facebook and Twitter profiles if they would like, but that is their choice.

Disruptive technology is a big topic that’s discussed right now. Did you consider how your service would change the traditional conventions of how restaurants will run their kitchens and services?

In all fairness most things being created for the restaurant industry today would be disruptive if they were actually adopted. The restaurant tech industry has so much competition right now because there really hasn’t been too many tech advances adopted by the industry as a whole, so there are some MAJOR opportunities. That’s a big reason our technology is so simple. We’re not some new app you and your customers have to download, or some website you have to visit, instead we are a simple text messaging service that requires absolutely no set-up. At our most recent trade show we had an older gentleman who owned a chain of restaurants pull out an old flip-phone from probably 2003 and ask us if our service would work on his phone. He was kind of being snide and joking until we told him yes it would work no problem and his jaw about hit the floor. He has since signed up.

So I guess in answer to your question, yes, we absolutely understand the possibilities of how our service could ‘disrupt’ the industry, and have a ton of additional features/products in the pipeline that can help it get there, but for now we are only worried about proving to the restaurant industry how simple our tool is and that it is a tool that is ACTUALLY USEFUL.

Some argue that this trend is a step toward the digital obsession with people and their electronic devices. How do you respond to this type of commentary?

There’s really not much that can be said at this point to stop the digital revolution. A lot of people don’t like the fact that consumers are becoming so addicted to their devices. As a company we don’t have an opinion whether or not this is a good or bad thing, we just see opportunity and pursue it. We’re entrepreneurs.

How to Handle Negative Restaurant Reviews

The culinary industry thrives on word-of-mouth. It takes more than a restaurant’s advertising campaign to bring customers in, as hearing about a great little burger joint from a friend of a friend goes a long way in bringing in business.

As the name implies, the service industry relies on its ability to deliver. When people hear about great service they flock to experience it for themselves. In contrast, when people find out that there is much to be desired in the food or service they are less likely to ever go in the first place.

How to handle negative restaurant reviews

The truth of our modern digital age is that information can be spread very rapidly. As a result, negative information is spread just as rapidly because of the technology we have at our hands. Knowing how to handle negative reviews online is extremely important.

In the past, a bad restaurant review would be printed in a circulated newspaper, giving you little opportunity to respond. In fact, the traditional way to address a review was to invite the food critic to return. Now, with numerous sites like Yelp and Urbanspoon not only can customers post their experiences, but the restaurants can also respond to those reviews.

As a restaurant owner you have very limited control over what someone says online, but you do have control over how you handle bad publicity. Fortunately, this builds positive rapport with restaurant goers that has the potential to turn any negative attention into an opportunity to strengthen credibility within the hospitality industry.

Take a deep breath

The natural response to being attacked is to quickly defend yourself. The problem here is that a quick response means you did not spend a lot of time thinking it through. Before you respond to any criticism, stop, take a deep breath, and walk away. Give yourself a day to think it through and sleep on it. When you have had sufficient time to flush out your angry adrenaline, then you can come back to dealing with the criticism.

Accept the criticism for what it is

Whether a critique is good or bad, accept it for the opportunity that it presents to grow and develop. A gleaming customer review points out where the strengths are in your experience. If they loved the way their steak was cooked then you know you’ve got a chef doing something right in your kitchen, if they liked the service, then you probably have a waiter or waitress that could teach the other members of the staff a few things.

The common belief when reading a negative review is that it is exaggerated. While it is certainly true that people have a tendency to blow things out of proportion, don’t immediately dismiss a negative review because you think it may have been exaggerated. Instead, carefully consider what was said. Did they complain about a particular server, was the restaurant too noisy, or maybe their dinnerware was dirty.

Ask the server in question if they remember the customer and the incident. Maybe you can turn down the music in your dining room. And dirty dishes might be an indicator that a dishwasher, man or machine, may be in need of some attention.

Be cool and respond

After you have had some time to handle the problem on your end, now is the time to respond to the criticism. Most reviewing sites offer a way for the business to respond, either by posting to the same review board or by personally contacting the people posting reviews.

Don’t open a response with an attack. Be apologetic, thank the person for coming and offer your sincere wishes to address the concern and improve their experience if they choose to return. If the situation is about to escalate into an internet nuclear war, then just walk away. Getting involved in a confrontation almost always ends up with your business looking like the bad guy. Be polite, apologize, and let it go.

Don’t just focus on the negative

You might find that handling bad reviews can be a little time consuming. Although, if you spend all your time dealing with complaints this is a sure sign that something in your business plan needs to be seriously evaluated. Even if you try and address the situation and offer amends, some people just want to vent their anger, and others can never be appeased.

It’s easy to be distracted by negative comments and reviews, but don’t let that monopolize your time. If a customer leaves a good review, thank them for the experience and for taking the time to write the review.

By taking the time to relax and address concerns with a clear head, you’ll show that your business is not only professional, but cares about its customers as well.

This article was contributed by Cassie Corbett. Cassie is a writer and culinary enthusiast with the cookware suppliers at World Kitchen.

Crambu: The Personal Hotel Concierge

Two inventive students at the University of Kentucky have been working on advancing the personal hotel concierge. Crambu is a text-message based concierge service that allows guests to customize their vacations from the simple touch of their own smartphones.

While many luxury properties already offer such services, Crambu is geared toward smaller hotels that may not already be implementing such services technologically.

It is currently being beta tested in 4 hotels in KY and IN: Embassy Suites Lexington (full service), Crowne Plaza Louisville (full service airport), Fairfield Inn- Princeton IN (limited service), and Gratz Park Inn Lexington (boutique). They are very different hotels with room quantities ranging from 40-588.

Hotel Concierge on iPad

Here’s how it works:
A guest enters their phone number on an iPad located at a check-in desk. A staff member then verifies the guests length of stay and room number on an iPad located behind the check-in desk.

crowne plaza front desk

The front desk of the Crowne Plaza Hotel features iPads, allowing guests to personalize their stay.

The guest then receives a text message with a custom link, which opens a web app personalized towards that guest. From the web app, a guest can make room requests for towels, noise complaints, roll-away beds, maintenance requests, etc.

They can also view general hotel and local information such as pool and spa hours, WiFi username and passwords, TV guides, frequently asked questions, local food and entertainment recommendations, restaurant directions and menus, local tour guides, etc.

Guests without smartphones can make room requests by text message, so this system works for any phone on the market.

Staff members respond to room requests and communicate with guests from the iPad located behind the check-in desk.

Crambu is actively seeking feedback to help better their product. Would you use a text messaging service to communicate with your hotel? What could make this service better? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below!

What We Can Learn From #Timeto365

Microsoft debuted its latest version of Office today, along with its “Time to 365″ campaign.

By visiting office.com/timeto365, users can leave tips for others with feedback on different ways to use the various components of the new offerings.

timeto365

The #Timeto365 hashtag is also being promoted on Twitter, allowing conversation about Office 2013′s launch to be streamlined, and for people to follow along and learn more about the launch party that took place this evening in NYC.

The platform is now offering a subscription model, which allows for easy access of your items on a mobile device as well as the ability to launch and sustain a business website; create, store, and edit docs online; and connect immediately with colleagues on projects. Learn more here.

Despite these new features, the reason I decided to write about Office is because of their social media presence.

Earlier, I tweeted the Forbes article talking about some of the benefits of the #Timeto365 subscription. I often share articles simply because I find the information valuable, and not because I necessarily anticipate a response.

I was baffled to find that less than an hour after I tweeted, the @Office Twitter account had responded.

office-twitter

I hadn’t tagged their handle; only used the hashtag. To take things a step further, in their tweet back, they referred to me by name and referred to my blog, displaying that they’d clearly read my Twitter bio. This kind of personal touch they displayed is extremely rare among the rapid pace of Twitter.

Furthermore, as they’re undoubtedly receiving a high volume of tweets today, the fact that they’re monitoring their brand and the hashtag this intently, and responding personally to tweets, is quite impressive.

I responded letting them know I’d check it out, as, while I may have eventually upgraded before, I had a greater desire to do so now after this more intimate exchange. To that, they responded again:

Office-tweet

These kind of responses, seemingly rare among brands, further displayed their humanization and superior customer service. Taking the time to say thanks for supporting, along with the explicit offer to reach out for help, is incredibly refreshing to hear as a consumer.

Additionally, upon checking out their Twitter stream, it was evident they were treating others the same way. They refer to nearly everyone by first name, and often include something personal in each response.

Rather than use today to just push their product, they jumped on the opportunity to reach out to their consumers and create personal, memorable connections.

When Facebook Offers Attack

ResorTimeFacebook recently unraveled its “Offers” feature to a variety of brands. While its obviously positively-intentioned and seeks to be a win/win to both businesses and consumers, there is still a lot to be sorted out, and it’s extremely important for brands to fully understand what they’re getting into prior to setting up an offer.

Last week, ResorTime.com, a membership-based travel site that offers exclusive nightly timeshare rental deals at popular resorts around the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, was given an opportunity to take advantage of this new program.

Their offer went viral within 72 hours, and, unfortunately, due to an overload of complaints, had to be shut down.

Nevertheless, there were also a few positive outcomes that resulted as well.

Hospitality 1st covered the story, noting the following pros and cons:

 

What Went Wrong

  1. Location: Because the title of the offer was limited to 90 characters, ResorTime.com did not specify a location, which led to confusion regarding to where this offer was applicable. ResorTime.com’s registered address is in Carlsbad, which was viewable in the offer email, leading people to believe the offer was for Carlsbad instead the offer’s intended destination, Lake Tahoe.
  2. Claiming the Offer: When a Facebook user clicked “claim offer” to simply view more information, their wall was automatically updated relaying that they had actually “claimed offer,” and their friends began seeing this post in their own feeds.
  3. No Delete Option: Many users complained that they were not able to “delete” the above-mentioned post from their wall, suggesting a Facebook bug since posts typically have a “hide” or “delete” functionality.
  4. Complaints: Because the offer seemingly forced itself onto people’s Facebook timelines and their friend’s feeds, many began complaining that ResorTime.com was spamming or scamming them. A common complaint was that the company was attempting to gather email addresses, which may have seemed like the case since users received an email about the offer when they clicked “claim,” but in actuality, the email was from Facebook and there was no way for ResorTime.com to access any user’s personal information, including email address.

What Went Right

  1. New Likes: 4,838 new likes resulted from the Facebook Offer
  2. Publicity: Over 200,000 people clicked “get offer” to receive more details
  3. Web Traffic: 271% increase in web traffic to ResorTime.com compared to the week prior.

Despite the mishap, ResortTime has done a great job of taking responsibility for their actions and publicly responding to, and apologizing for, the issue.

They took to Facebook to declare a blatant apology and explanation of what happened, plus ResorTime’s Blog highlighted the following lessons learned:

  • Specify Destination: The best way to avert some of the problems would be to specifically say where the offer was valid at in the title of the post, not just once people visited our website.
  • Details: Add as many details as possible in the limited 90 characters of text allowed in the Offer title.
  • More Information: On the ResorTime.com Facebook page, have more details about the offer that people can view before clicking the link.
  • Terms & Conditions: Fill out the terms & conditions so when users click “get offer” and receive an email they will see more instructions about the offer, a statement alerting them ResorTime.com does not have access to their information, and that they have not actually “claimed” anything yet but only received a link to more information about the deal exclusively for our Facebook fans.

Make sure you’ve covered all your bases before creating a Facebook offer!

How the Storage Industry is Using Social Media

SpareFoot StorageWhen you hear the words “social hospitality,” the storage industry doesn’t necessarily come to mind.

The storage industry probably elicits memories of angry auction people on a television show, or the summers between your sophomore and junior year of college.

Nevertheless, it is a massive industry that is starting to realize the effectiveness of utilizing social media.

Now, how does something like the storage industry fall into something like social hospitality?

Let’s start with the word hospitality. When you need storage, all you are looking for is a secure place to store your things for an indefinite amount of time. Having a wonderful facility manager to guide you through your experience can definitely make a difference. At its core, the storage industry is very service based.

Storage facilities are starting to learn that utilizing social media can be used to their advantage. By using Twitter and Facebook, facility owners can have conversations with their customers, answering questions and concerns regarding their specific location or services.

Through these avenues, they can also announce deals, promotions, and further extend quality service to their customers.

Sadly, there are some facilities that use social media as an avenue to reroute customer complaints. Of course, addressing complaints is not always a bad thing, but balancing between the two is a necessary act. Engaging customers is far more successful than being merely a constant stream of apologies.

Social media is especially useful to the very small mom-and-pop-owned storage facilities that don’t really have a voice in the industry. Considering advertising can be a bit pricey at times, being able to promote through social media is a viable option for those that have the commitment to maintaining a strong online presence.

The storage industry is starting to wake up and realize the importance of having an online presence. Granted, some facilities do a poor job at maintaining it: One facility’s Twitter stream is filled with at-replies apologizing to complaints while asking their customers to email their concerns.

Others extend their hospitality by engaging current and future customers through conversation and getting to know exactly who uses their facility. The important thing to remember is that storage is a service-based company and listening to your customer is key. If one can translate that digitally through social media, social media can be a successful endeavor for anyone in the industry.

This guest post was contributed by Joseph Ver. Joseph is a student at Saint Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. He enjoys watching movies, going out to eat, and complaining about his homework and projects. He works for SpareFoot, a company that helps customers locate storage in their area. Whether you live in Chicago or Houston, finding storage near you is easy with SpareFoot. 

Meet Chicago’s Tamale Guy

Right when Chicago’s bar-goers want to feed their late-night cravings, the Tamale Guy makes his appearance. The distant call of “Tamales! Tamales!” and the sighting of the Tamale Guy’s red cooler filled with tamales has become something of a legend among certain Chicago neighborhoods. Forget food trucks or hot dog stands. The Tamale Guy is a genuine icon of Chicago nightlife, and in recent years, his status and his business has only improved with the help of his loyal following’s use of social media.

Who Is the Tamale Guy?

The Tamale Guy is Claudio Velez. With the help of his sister, Maria, he makes his pork, chicken and cheese tamales fresh every day, packs them up in his cooler, and makes his way through the hipster bars on the Near Northwest Side of Chicago. He drives to each neighborhood and, on foot, hits up the bars that either don’t have kitchens or have kitchens that close early. For hungry Chicagoans who have had a few drinks, he is a welcome sight, and they’re more than willing to pay the five dollars for a pack of six handmade, always-hot tamales. For bar owners, Claudio has helped them keep patrons from leaving the bar to find food elsewhere.

The Tamale Guy on Twitter and Yelp

The Tamale Guy is reliable – he will often make his usual rounds through bars in Chicago neighborhoods such as Wicker Park, Humboldt Park, the Ukrainian Village and Roscoe Village. But there is no telling where he will be at what time, and which routes he’s taking on any given night. Thank goodness for Twitter.

Just as food trucks have turned to Twitter to help their customers keep track of where they’ll be next, the Tamale Guy’s fans have taken it upon themselves to set up a Twitter account for Claudio that lets people know where he is. Twitter users can follow @tamaletracker to get updates on Tamale Guy sightings – which bar, which neighborhood and at what time. When they send a @reply to the account with a sighting, the message is retweeted to the Tamale Tracker’s followers. At the time of writing this, the Tamale Tracker has 4,082 followers.

On Yelp, the Tamale Guy boasts a four-and-a-half star rating, with 243 reviews and counting. The lengthy, detailed praises further attest Chicagoans’ devotion to Claudio and his tamales:

“The chances of running into the Tamale Guy are slightly higher than catching a chupacabra. However, I would imagine the joy that would come from actually catching the chupacabra is on par with the joy people feel when they realize the Tamale Guy has arrived in their bar. As a purveyor of masa based deliciousness, I highly recommend anyone who does see the Tamale Guy in their bar to try out his tamales at least once. They’re almost as good as his legend.”  – Mike W.

“I love this guy. He’s an entrepreneur in the greatest sense of the word … And man, the Tamale Guy works … All you have to do is think about him, and he shows up, right where you are. But you have to act quickly, because he’s gone just as quickly as he showed up. The tamales are great – the cheese are my favorites, and, with the long strip of chile down the center, pack a little kick. While the first time I fell in love with the Tamale Guy’s wares I was a bit inebriated, I’ve eaten them sober and they pass the test. Love it.”Michaelia F.

The Rise of the Tamale Guy

The Tamale Guy has been featured locally in the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Red Eye; in Saveur, the Tamale Guy is listed right after Rick Bayless in a list of great Mexican eats in Chicago; on Serious Eats, he is included in “16 Tamales We Love in Chicago.”

While the mystique of the Tamale Guy certainly contributes to his growing popularity, it’s the reliability and consistency of his tamales that are the keys to his success. Twitter is simply a boost in exposure, and yet another sign of how social media is making everything, from the latest news to fresh tamales, more accessible to everyone.

This guest post was contributed by Jacqui MacKenzie. Jacqui is a writer for Straight North, a search marketing Chicago firm that offers professional services in SEO, social media and Web design. Jacqui writes for clients that range from providers of environmental monitoring equipment to specialists in web design for podiatrists. Check out the Straight North Blog, or follow @StraightNorth on Twitter!

Customer Service Through Social Media

When social media sites first emerged, businesses soon recognized an opportunity to push their products, brands and messages. Over the years, successful companies have learned to host open dialogue with customers via Facebook and Twitter. The positive implications for online customer service have been significant, as have the risks. Below are four tips for using your social media accounts as vehicles for smart customer service.

customer service through social media

1. Share Your Business with the Customers
A personal connection with your customers is invaluable. You’ll build loyalty, and your social media followers will spread the word through Facebook shares and Twitter retweets. Don’t trust that simple one-way messaging will be enough. Make yourself accessible. Let consumers know they can contact you directly by way of Facebook and Google+ comments or Twitter mentions.

Chevy, Ford and GM – all of which have worked public relations miracles in the last few years – are known for engaging followers with pictures, videos and interactive polling. Southwest Airlines will answer follower questions, and Comcast employs Twitterers to constantly respond to outage reports and other concerns. These efforts work wonders for your company’s image, and customers often feel appreciated.

2. Get Consumer Feedback
Forget paid focus groups, and tell your consultants to sit this one out. You can take your products and services directly to the consumer. If you have an idea, bounce it off of your Twitter followers. Post your concept directly to your Facebook page and let the feedback roll in. Followers and fans could help you generate ideas and improve on existing ones.

The feedback you acquire can be very useful. You can identify trends early, and your customers will feel involved in your business’s decision-making.

Use caution. Because consumers can mention you in a tweet, you have little control over how your company name is tossed back and forth among social networks. McDonalds recently learned this the hard way with a hashtag snafu that left the company scrambling to get control of its own message. An attempt to engage followers with a hastag of #McDStories backfired, and the fast food chain suffered through a day of negative press and embarrassing Twitter mentions.

Know that when you invite feedback, bad comments will roll in right along with the good ones. However, don’t let this discourage you from engaging the users who could be good for your business.

3. Respond Quickly
Customer service is a two-way interaction. They express concerns, and you have a responsibility to quickly respond.  Gone are the days of grumpy complaints sent by mail (or email, for that matter) and a follow-up form letter with an attached coupon. Concerns are now aired publicly, and many times the response should be, as well.

If you spot a comment that warrants a response, answer it publicly so that other users can see that you’re quick to address concerns. Go even further. If somebody drops you a friendly note or a mention, it’s ok to send a public note of thanks or a retweet.

4. Avoid Traps
Getting pulled into a petty online fight is easier than you’d think, so respond to your users with caution. Be aware that some users are itching for a fight; they want something for free or they enjoy the attention. No attempt at courtesy will mollify them. Your best course of action in situations like these is to make an honest attempt to respond, and then leave well enough alone. Take the hit and move on. Don’t let angry spammers dominate your social media feed. If the problem persists, block the follower.

If you pay attention to your followers and respond with care, social media sites can serve as a very useful platform for your company. Whether you host a Twitter account to update customers about your new credit card payment gateway program or a Facebook page promoting aluminum fabrication shops, it pays to be interactive with your customer service efforts. Feel free to comment below and let us know how you’ve used social media to improve customer relations.

This guest post was contributed by Chris Peterson. Chris is a copywriter for Straight North, a leading Chicago Web design agency. He specializes in B2B and B2C marketing, with experience in informational blog posts, press releases, and website content that emphasizes Search Engine Optimization. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, where he earned a Master’s degree in journalism.

Straight North provides a full range of online marketing services, including its innovative Chicago Web design group and highly experienced Chicago SEO team. Straight North develops strategy and executes marketing programs for clients with lead generation and e-commerce websites, and market regionally, nationally or internationally. Follow Straight North on Twitter and connect with Straight North on Facebook.

How Brands Are Listening in the Digital Age

A new infographic from Column Five and Get Satisfaction addresses the communication gap between many businesses and their social-savvy customers.

With major brands like Komen and McDonalds recently enduring very public, social media-based backlashes, the need for brands to listen to their audience is more important than ever.

A 2011 Dell-commissioned Forrester Consulting survey of 200 US-based companies explores how organizations have implemented listening and digital engagement to reap the benefits of the web 2.0.

What are some factors you think might encourage brands to be better listeners?

How Brands Can Listen in The Digital Age