CETW12: The power of social media done right

It's a thin line between love and hate — as the old adage goes. And when it comes to technology and customer experience, consumers can land on either side.

The keynote speech on day one at Customer Engagement Technology World in New York City last week touched on the tricky balance retailers and business owners must make in order to satisfy and properly serve their customers — a balance that means using technology in the right places, for the right reasons.

Frank Eliason, the director of global industry at Citibank, gave a spirited talk on the state of customer service. In his view, customer service has been outsourced, impersonalized and generally made worse over the last 20 years. And technology is somewhat to blame.

"Technology has been implemented to shut customers up and to get them to stop talking to you," he said.

While some uses of technology are successful for businesses, others are not, largely because the businesses are not using them correctly, Eliason explained. Social media is culprit number one, with more companies failing at social marketing campaigns than those that succeed.

"Most companies are not thinking through customer experience," Eliason said. "I want things the way I want them, not how you want me to have them. You have to think like the customer, what they want."

Winning in social media cannot be achieved by what your brand has to say, it's done by winning in what your customer has to say. Social media has the power to make stories, to drive positive brand association and to make change happen by sharing upward, Eliason said.

Positive social media messages quickly can go viral. Take Panera Bread for example. Eliason told the story of how one Panera location made a special batch of clam chowder for a dying grandmother at the request of her family. The story went viral and Panera won wide praise for its accommodation. The same can happen in a negative way, if social media is not properly monitored and utilized. The Progressive Insurance example Eliason gave showed how an angry family's Tumblr post that blasted the insurance company for its actions following the death of a client caused a turn-around in the case, and lots of negative press for the company.

In addition, companies need to empower employees to become brand advocates as well, by encouraging their workforces to use tools like social media. Companies are horrible at listening, Eliason said, but can help themselves by thinking through experiences on all levels — both customer and employee. 

Referring to social media, Eliason said, "This is where success or failure really is."

Read more about social media.

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