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Reasons for retailers to engage through social media

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Ignoring customers who get in touch via social media will, in just a couple of years’ time, be as harmful to a business as ignoring emails and phone calls would be today.

Analysts from research organisation Gartner say that expectations about how organisations use social media are evolving. By 2014, companies who fail to respond to enquiries and comments made through these fast-growing channels will face the same anger that customers feel when their emails and telephone calls currently go unanswered. For those who use social media to promote their products, such as retailers, responding to inquiries made via social media will be the new minimum level of response expected, says Gartner.

“The dissatisfaction stemming from failure to respond via social channels can lead to up to a 15 percent increase in churn rate for existing customers,” said Gartner vice president and analyst Carol Rozwell. “It’s crucial that organisations implement approaches to handling social media now. The effort involved in addressing social media commentary is not good cause to ignore relevant comments or solvable issues.”

Gartner recommends that organisations develop a framework to deal with social media commentary on relevant topics. That includes putting someone in charge of drawing up a set of rules for dealing with social media enquiries, including defining the circumstances in which the organisation will respond to them. While it will be impracticable and counterproductive to respond to all comments, existing customers who lodge harsh comments should be acknowledged publicly and within the medium that they have made their comment. “Generally the best practice is to acknowledge the issue on social media, but to move attempts to resolve the issue offline,” said Rozwell, who says there are three key things that organisations should do.

“Firstly, participate — it’s important that organizations don’t let a fear of someone saying something bad about them stop them from participating in social media. Secondly, don’t assume all comments require the same level of attention — develop an appropriate response for the different types of interaction your business faces. Thirdly, plan for an increase in social commentary and adapt communications practices to cope — this will require changes to job descriptions, performance metrics and business processes.”

Pete McGarr, managing director at Tempero, concurs. “Businesses that ignore customers on social media will begin to become less common,” he said. “Either they will adopt a customer service strategy on social media themselves or be left behind. No business with a future ignores its customers.”

He added: “Social media can be daunting because of its unruly and public nature, it can also be difficult to implement and prove return on investment (ROI). Unfortunately, customers don’t care about either of these points and will continue to adopt and use it to contact businesses in ever increasing numbers. There aren’t many businesses that would question the ROI of the telephone for customer service, and that is exactly how they now need to think about social media.”

Carol Rozwell will present on the risks and benefits of social engagement, and debut a social maturity model, at the Gartner Portals, Content & Collaboration Summit 2012, taking place in London this September.

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