On Customer Service Management – Is it cool to be sassy

We see more and more examples of this today–instances where Brands exhibit a fair amount of sass towards others (usually competitors) on social media. The results are more often than not, hilarious and awe-inspiring, even more so when the brands begin a reply war against each other. It’s great, entertaining content where hopefully no one really gets hurt (maybe just the social media team’s pride).

But what happens if the brand exhibits the same amount of sass towards a customer? 

Social media today is loaded with memes–content meant to incite humor. And some of the content we see that is being done by brands and pages on Facebook seem to revolve around how they interact with their customers. 

Admittedly–especially if the customer is of a special breed–handling these cases takes a certain kind of inhuman patience. It still amazes me to this day that call center agents for example can continue to act cool under fire by an irate customer. 

But there are cases online where the brand themselves can’t seem to control the urge to exhibit sass and unleash hell upon unruly, belligerent, and otherwise overly entitled customers. 

Sure it’s great content (so long as you don’t shame said customer by revealing their real identity–that’s a no no) but how far can one go before it becomes, for lack of a better word, just plain trolling?

Source: Facebook

In customer service or any service industry for that matter, it always helps to put oneself in the other person’s shoes. What happened? Why is he complaining? What is he really asking for? What can we do to help? Essential questions to really get to the bottom of the customer’s initial intent.

Empathy goes a long way, and in most cases wins you a more placated and level-headed customer.

Next, Handle With Care

Once you’ve managed to get all of that information, go about discussing the issue with the customer with a calm and reassuring tone. Be as forthright as possible while avoiding sounding scripted, patronizing or worse, condescending. 

As you may surmise, words like ‘Sir, please calm down’ don’t have the desired effect depending on the level of anxiety customer already has, so instead start with a quick acknowledgement of customer’s problem and then focus on the next step directly. ‘Sir thank you for your clarification, I understand now what your issue is, how can I help?’

Direct, concise, professional. Might not be your brand tone, but to a customer on the brink of losing it, he won’t care. 

So when is it cool to be sassy?

More often than not you get a customer that, regardless of how well you treat them or respond to their needs, they still go off in an unreasonable manner. There are even times that a person will throw his entitlement your way and claim to be a ‘paying customer’ i.e. ‘do you know how much I’ve spent on you already? More than you make in a year!’; loyal, ‘I’ve been using you for years! I deserve more!’; capitalist, ‘I would never get this kind of treatment from the same business across the street’, and so on.  

While a reply like ‘Sir we truly appreciate all the business you have brought our way, but I cannot help you if you continue to be that way’ is not sassy, but definitely stern, a brand that goes ‘Sir, while we truly appreciate all the business you have brought our way, your money could have been well spent on learning some manners. Now tell me how I can help’ will be in for a real chafing from the customer. 

Sure, you get the hoorahs of fellow service industry friends from all over the world, but if word gets out that you treat just on customer this way–no matter how entitled they may be–that could ruin your reputation and cause a PR crisis overnight. 

The Customer Is Always Right-ish

There’s always been two schools of thought when it comes to the old adage of ‘The Customer is Always Right’–one in total agreement, the other, obviously not. The real answer is: it isn’t always the same. 

The best way to handle any one situation is to again go back to the basic details and then address them quickly. When you approach any customer with the intent of trying to better understand their issues, you are already on the right track to addressing their problem. 

There’s this one recent case in the country where a budding coffee shop owned and operated by foreigners came under fire because of the way they treated their ‘freeloaders’. One such story that became viral on social media was of a few students who were just looking for a place to chill while having refreshments. They went in to the coffee shop and looked at the menu. Immediately, they were met with a snarky attitude by the owner slash barista who asked quite sarcastically so are you here just for the free wifi?

Insulted, the students immediately went on the defensive, saying they were still deciding where to stay that was cool and out of the heat. The barista just went on ignoring them and continued to say ok whatever. Naturally, the students felt even more unwelcome and just decided to leave, prompting the owner to add insult to injury by remarking: thanks for not wasting my time. 

Here’s the deal: the operators of the small business are fed up with all the freeloaders–folks who just hang out at their coffee shop, order the cheapest drink and use the wifi and take up an entire table the whole day. But they should have known better–they set up shop in a populated university area. Naturally there would be dozens of students passing by daily trying to save on costs and escape the heat. 

The owner however, while he was in a position to be wary of any customers dropping by, should have been more patient and taken at least a tiny extra step to understand what the kids needed. Instead of expecting the worst of the students and thereby already engaging with them sarcastically, he should have been more welcoming and appreciative. The students even said on their viral rant–we were already ready to order, but the guy’s attitude was just a huge turn off. 

Of course there are cases where the customer isn’t always in the right–and I’m sure you’ve seen one or more examples of it online–the bottomline is, to expect that ALL your customers are going to be terrible, is a sure way to set yourself up for failure from the get go. Had he not been so  hotheaded or assumed the worst of the students, he may have gotten business.

Lost in Translation

The same can be said about handling responses on social media and digital channels. More often than not, especially in developing countries like the Philippines or areas where English isn’t the natural first language like Thailand, when a customer tries to share his issue or complaint with you or your page, more often than not because of the poor command of English, it just comes off as rude or inappropriate. 

I’ve seen it  happen more than once that a website or social media page responds badly to a poorly constructed message from a returning customer, ending up losing the customer in the process and causing a bit of harm to the brand. 

Make no mistake, while English may be the natural first language for many an affluent markets in developing nations, majority of your users and fans will still most likely struggle with proper grammar and constructing sentences that make sense. 

Again, go back to the thought process behind customer service and replying–what can I do to  help? 

In summary, a lot of issues can be avoided if–even if we tackle a client who is rude, irate and entitled, we decide to listen and understand rather than be closed and respond or react. Trust me a little extra patience goes a very long way. 

4 Steps to Achieve a More Successful Content Marketing Campaign

You really cannot discount the power of good content. It can move you, inspire you, give you the #feels, and yes even motivate you to become a fan, to buy, to become invested. Content comes in all shapes and sizes too–from a long, lengthy series of #hugot videos to a single tweet. Even fake news and memes–these pieces of content tell stories, which give us, the audience, something of value. 

What is Meaningful Content and Why should I care?

But before I really get into Content Marketing, here’s a little something you need to know:

According to the Meaningful Brands study in 2017, majority of the people in the study (a whopping 300,000 respondents across 33 countries in 15 different industries), would not care if 74% of the brands just disappeared! In fact, 60% of the content produced by brands online is describes as “poor”, “irrelevant” or “failing to deliver”. 

60% of content is CLUTTER. (1)

And as stated in Hootsuite’s We Are Social SEA Digital Snapshot of 2018, 40% of Filipino internet users have already installed an ad blocker of one kind or another. (2)

But fret not: there is a “71% correlation between content effectiveness and the the impact a brand has on our personal wellbeing and quality of life”, which simply means, the better your content, the higher the likelihood is that someone will find value in your brand. 

I mean, 84% of the respondents expect brands to create content–so the ball is really in your court! (1)

4 Steps to Better Content

So, how do we make content that is meaningful and adds value to your audience? What do we do? How do we do it? To whom do we say it to? 

Below I’ll detail some of the steps we’ve take in creating effective content marketing campaigns. And by effective, it means they generated the desired results, specifically: engagement, conversion and yes, even loyalty.

Step 1: Know Your Audience

Asking questions like, who are they? What do they like to do online? Are they younger or older? What are they passionate about? These are key questions you have to help you better plan the type of content you will produce.

Target Demographics are fine, but they are an archaic measurement tool for finding your audience in today’s digital landscape. Now, you don’t target an audience by going after age groups–there are audiences now that cross classification boundaries, and are usually led by their passion points.

Some examples of ‘tribes’ or audiences / groups of people with similar passions through differing demographic groups: Hardcore toy collectors, Star Wars geeks, nail art afficcionados, partyphiles, yes even your famed Spice Girls fans–all of them are different types of audiences that you can actually target.

If you go to a publisher today, that’s what they’ll give you: our audience is blah blah blah, between 20 to 39 years old, AB upper C, mostly from Metro Manila, blah blah blah. That’s fine… if you just want as many eyeballs as you can. But if you want meaningful engagement, do what Facebook does: it takes the audience targeting a step further and builds up on your demographic screening, asking, what else are these target people interested in?

So again, a demographic is fine, but how can you profile beyond demographics? GET UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL! Engage! Ask questions! Observe them while they are in your store, shopping. 

Find out how they act and why they act that way. What motivates them. What excites them. What makes them click that like button, hit the share button. ‘Mema’ lang ba sila? Or do they actually have something valuable to contribute?

Once you identify that tribe, you find that suddenly, demographics are not as important. 

Step 2: Plan Your Content (Don’t ‘Hard Sell’ Yourself)

Put content FIRST. NEVER put PRODUCT or BRAND in front of the user, because they will not see your content as value if there is nothing for you to offer. 

I’m not saying that for every little thing you do on the internet, you should offer monetary rewards or something tangible to your audience (though that can work sometimes), I’m more referring to something of VALUE, which can be other forms.

“Only 5 to 10% of the content you share should be self-promotional; the rest should be compelling information and resources. This is generous, yes, but it also makes you look more authoritative and trustworthy.” The point of content marketing is NOT to swamp people with ads or pitches; it’s to give useful, relevant information. You actually don’t want to be caught in your audience’s “THEY’RE SELLING’ radar… so you should actually avoid putting a call to action that asks them to buy. (3)

You can brand the content. You can put your logo or your website or whatever on your content. But the moment you are asking someone to ‘BUY NOW’ or ‘SIGN UP HERE’ or ‘REGISTER TODAY’, you’re in danger of being irrelevant. 

Like putting the words ‘Buy Now’ on a Banana. AVOID.

Step 3: Come Up with an Execution Strategy

There’s a TON of social media services and community platforms and publisher websites that when you start considering it EVERYTHING seems like a good choice and would be a good fit for showing your content onto it. Do I make a Facebook page? Do I engage daily on Twitter? Do I Instagram? Blog on Tumblr? Comment and answer on Reddit? Flood Pinterest with ideas? ETC. ETC. There are so many of them out there that it’s hard to keep track or to point out what best to use!

Stop! Take a breath! Step back! Now, relaaax… 

Remember: NOT ALL PLATFORMS ARE CREATED EQUAL

When you create a platform strategy to execute your content, keep in mind what these platforms are best known for, and use those to their advantage. Furthermore, you should try to avoid putting up the same kinds of content for the different platforms. 

Each one should have a strategy.

For example, Facebook can be where you share articles, links, blogs and video. Twitter is your Q&A platform or where you converse with your audience. And then Instagram or pinterest, being a highly visual medium, can just be great photographs or short form videos. You can even plan out YouTube content reserved for content creators in your stable or say influencers you work with and even go as ‘old school’ as email newsletters, using them to remind lapsed customers that ‘hey, we’re still here.’ Even working with publishers and influencers will allow you (and them) the freedom to create content that is specific to their audience! 

And if one platform isn’t working well, don’t be afraid to tweak it some more, or to cut it loose right away! It’s important though that once you find something that works, to build around that platform and strategy, refine it some more and keep engaging the audience there.

Step 4: Measure Your Results via Your Intended Goals

And last but not least, have a clear GOAL or OBJECTIVE in mind… and MEASURE your results. 

For Facebook for example, if your goal was to increase awareness, then you can check to see if your Organic reach was doing well, regardless of how much paid reach you spent (and yes, sadly, in this day and age, you need to use paid reach in order for your content on Facebook to get anywhere). 

Or another important metric you should be tracking: engagement. Like for example how many users who have seen your content actually engage with it. i.e. comment, like and share. 

Engagement metrics differ from content to content, too. Like a video that needs to be engaging enough so that people watch it until the end. So part of your metric is, how many people actually complete watching the videos out of the total number of views.

But again, all these metrics wouldn’t make sense if your goals were different: if you wanted more people to buy your product or maybe your goal was to get people to sign up for your page, then you shouldn’t be tracking for reach alone, but also for engagement, click throughs and conversion.

Proper identifying of your goals (and corresponding KPIs) can spell the difference between a successful and unsuccessful campaign.  

Remember: Don’t Rush Success 

Finally, a word of warning: Please don’t think that having a content plan equals an overnight success—it takes time and effort to build up engagement. 

According to Neil Patel, Content Marketing is “a long term strategy, based on building a strong relationship with your target audience by giving them high-quality content that is relevant to them on a consistent basis.” (4) 

Keywords: long-term strategy, strong relationship, high-quality content, relevant, consistent. 

None of the steps I detailed above are quick, single, sit-down sessions. Content Marketing requires a lot of planning and works even better as you tweak it further as you progress. But if you plan it out properly, clearly identify the audience you want to engage with, execute your content and refine your strategy while measuring the performance of your content, then you have a much greater chance of succeeding!

Sources: 

1) Meaningful Brands 2017

2) Hootsuite’s WeAreSocial – South East Asia Digital Snapshot of 2018

3) Forbes Magazine, 2016

4) Neil Patel – Co-Founder of KISSMetrics and Crazy Egg

Investing in Innovation: Thought Piece at BusinessWorld and SparkUp

In today’s fast-paced digital marketing landscape, it’s now more important that ever to invest in innovation and continually stay abreast of trends in digital marketing.

On the last weekend of January, I was invited by Business World and SparkUp to give a talk to students from Far Eastern University on Investing in Innovation. It was a decent-sized event, where about 80 students were in attendance as well as other members of the faculty and media. But more importantly it was an opportunity to inspire young minds to see #OldSchoolCool firsthand, the mantra by which Ywiser as a digital agency lives by.

Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash

Asking Google: Not Very Innovative

So what IS innovation. If you ask Google for a definition, it’s not very helpful (and not really the best place to seek innovation). First, there are over 300 million results with thousands of definitions. Even Google’s own definition is vague: “the action or process of innovating”. Second, the definitions cut across several industries and categories, making it all the more frustrating to define.

But as I delved deeper into the data available I found that there were more than a few words that kept popping up, kept reappearing with every bit of data and every blog and every article I came across. So logically speaking, these common words on innovation must mean something, or to be more specific, contribute to the true definition of innovation.

In fact, according to Nick Skillicorn of Idea to Value, he interviewed 15 “innovation experts” and came up with this conclusion: every one of these experts have their own views on what innovation is and that we shouldn’t be looking for a singular definition.

He did however, say that there are definitely some underlying themes that crop up again and again. So, aside from the importance of investing in innovation and continually staying abreast of trends in digital marketing, what are these recurring themes?

Recurring Themes that Define Innovation

First and foremost, Innovation is about having an idea. It can be as simple as a way to do the routine things you do differently, or as far-flung and over-reaching as a plan to save the entire world from global warming. Whatever its size and scale, chief characteristic of Innovation is the idea.

But more than just having an idea, the idea itself should be borne out of the need to address a challenge or problem. So therein lies the next characteristic of Innovation: that the idea should try to solve a problem. 

Could be that every morning you can’t bend over to tie your shoelaces anymore, or that daily traffic on the way to work is getting worse, or you read on the news about more and more sea creatures washing up on shore with tons of plastic stuck in its stomach. The more you can clearly identify a problem the easier it is to generate an idea that can address it–self tying shoelaces, flying cars or instant teleportation, making plastic biodegradable. 

But what good is having an idea if you can’t execute it. So the next trait of Innovation is executing the idea. Or, at the very least, having a roll out plan or trying to figure out how to get your idea off the ground. 

Most innovative ideas remain as intangible solutions because they couldn’t take off, or worse got stuck in the early ideation and prototyping phase and were left in limbo. For example, you can probably imagine how long it took Seth Wheeler–the father of modern toilet paper–to decide which way the roll should go on the dispenser, until he said “PAPER ROLLS TOWARD THE USER” and therefore, ‘the over position’ in the patent diagram. (Of course that never stops anyone from using the UNDER position, that is an entirely different debate altogether). Regardless of how you decide to put your TP on a roll, the fact remains, Mr. Wheeler had an idea to solve bathroom woes, and provided a proper execution.

Next–and possibly the most important common denominator for innovation–the idea itself must add value to the intended audience and stakeholders. It makes no sense to invent a glass of water that automatically refills itself when the water you put into it is still and unhealthy. Sure it refills itself, but I wouldn’t be able to drink it. But then again, using the same logic, it becomes useful for something else, like watering plants instead. 

How This Translates to the Digital Space AKA ‘Disruptive Tech’

I’d rather actually not call it disruptive technology, rather, ‘human-centric problem-solving’. What do I mean by this?

Just take note of the situation in the Philippines now: rising costs of commodities, overpopulation and congested streets. It’s great to own a car, sure, but if the traffic was this bad and gas so expensive, recent consumer data found that we’d all rather just leave the car at home or not go out at all. 

Enter Uber. 

On a snowy Paris evening in 2008, Uber founders Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp had trouble hailing a cab. So they came up with a simple idea—tap a button, get a ride. 

Problem, Idea, Execution, Problem solved? In a fashion.

How many times have we, in the years past, had to line up for hours on end for a taxi or a tricycle, jeep and bus? And when successful in hailing a cab, only to be turned down for many an excuse such as “too far”, “too traffic”, “I need to eat”? Or had a chance to finally get into the MRT only to have it breakdown midway? Or worse, how many stories have we heard of people getting mugged or assaulted while in a public utility vehicle or taxi? 

All of these problems plus the congested streets of Metro Manila became the perfect storm for startups Uber, Grab and yes even Angkas to suddenly flourish. Why? They addressed all of those problems and gave the country’s commuting, working class a better option. The only reason these apps became so disruptive was because they addressed the problems the current status quo could not.

App Developer Beware

However, in today’s cluttered digital landscape, where there are over 3M apps on the Android store alone, you can just imagine how difficult it must be to get your app noticed, let alone downloaded and installed onto a user’s mobile device. Grab, Uber and even Angkas were lucky to have such great exposure because their apps became very relevant to the issues at the time, making their growth more organic / fueled by word-of-mouth. 

But remember, Grab and Uber had been around for a while already (Grab and Uber were already available in Metro Manila as far back as 2014 IIRC) and it took them quite a while to build up a decent base AND become the disruptor that they are today. Imagine how much faster they would have grown had they additional funding to bolster their user acquisition. Or worse, imagine if they didn’t have enough funding to continue operating before they became a hit…

Sadly that’s the last bit that innovators should be on the lookout for–even if you fulfill all the characteristics of innovation listed above, it won’t matter as much if you can’t get a decent amount of users involved. I’ve seen it happen so many times already–great app ideas, executed well onto a mobile device, hoping for lightning to strike… but it never does. Investing in user acquisition is just as important as the innovation itself.

After a short photo op session, I left the auditorium wondering, actually hoping that at least a handful of those kids in the room already great ideas brewing. For the rest of us, I hope that when the time comes that we’re presented with these great ideas, we find the means to invest in them. 

After all, that’s the root of investment–to build a better future. Now go out there and get to innovating! And good luck!

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