Do you care what your customers think? Do you actively seek out their opinions on the product or service you provide? If you answered no to either or both of these questions, you’re running a big risk. In the era of real-time mass communication, companies should never pass up an opportunity for customer interaction. As author David Meerman Scott reminds readers in his book “Real-Time Marketing & PR,” the moment to capitalize on engaging one’s customer arrives and disappears in an instant.
In this interview with Smart Business, Scott discusses the best ways to answer one’s critics, the impact of a viral video and the advantages of connecting with your customers in real time.
You kick off the book with the ‘United Breaks Guitars’ story. Tell us why this is the ultimate cautionary tale for businesses.
What happened is Dave Carroll, who is a singer/songwriter for a band called Sons of Maxwell, was traveling from his home in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to a gig in Nebraska, and he had to change planes in Chicago’s O’Hare airport. He was traveling on United Airlines and they broke his guitar. He spent a full year trying to get compensation, [but] United refused. Since he’s a singer/songwriter, he told them, ‘I’m going to write three songs and post them on YouTube,’ which he did.
One of the songs has more than 10 million views to date on YouTube, and in just the first week, it generated 2 million views. Now the whole world is talking about and watching this video about how United Airlines breaks guitars. When something like this happens, your organization needs to respond. You need to be a part of what’s going on. You need to act like a human and not like a corporate drone.
Can you offer any advice for businesses that find themselves getting swept away in a wave of online criticism? Should they use the same Web methods to answer their critics?
I’m glad you used that word ‘criticism’ because I think the person who is worthy of a response is a thoughtful critic. In this case, Dave Carroll was a thoughtful critic. However, it doesn’t mean that you have to respond to every single thing that happens on the Web. There are cases, and in some industries there could be frequent cases, where people are just trying to be bullies. They’re trying to beat you up for the sake of trying to beat you up. In that case, that behavior does not necessarily deserve a response. But let’s assume it’s a thoughtful critic; you should be responding in the same media.
The ‘United Breaks Guitars’ story was a YouTube video. If I were United Airlines, what I would have done is post a YouTube video in response. What I would have done is have the chief baggage handler from United Airlines in Chicago where the incident occurred talk about what it’s like to process hundreds of thousands of bags every day. He wouldn’t even have to mention ‘United Breaks Guitars.’ Everyone would make that connection, and then all of a sudden, [United] is humanizing their organization. They’re seen as an organization who is paying attention and who cares.
Some companies believe real-time interaction with customers exposes a company to unnecessary risk. How can individuals in a traditional organization prove that it’s safe to connect with one’s customers?
I actually did a little research to find out the percentage of companies that do engage in real time. I measured the Fortune 100 and it turns out that 28 percent of the Fortune 100 are engaging in the ways that we just talked about and the ways that are in the book. Those 28 companies stock prices were up 3 percent during the period that I measured. The companies that did not engage had stock prices that went down 2 percent. So that 5 percent swing is the ROI of doing this kind of engagement.
Real-Time Marketing & PR: How to Instantly Engage Your Market, Connect with Customers and Create Products That Grow Your Business Now
>> By David Meerman Scott
>> Wiley, 244 pages, $24.95
About the book: “Real-Time Marketing & PR” puts to pasture traditional marketing plans that were worked out months in advance. In the era of instant communication, your customers can make an interaction with your company, and whether it’s good or bad, it can go viral in a matter of moments. This book helps companies leave behind old marketing and public relations models and seize the sudden opportunities that define this era of business.
The author: David Meerman Scott is the author of the best-seller “The New Rules of Marketing & PR” and “Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead.” He served as marketing director for Knight-Ridder in Asia. He is a popular blogger and speaker, focusing on how businesses implement new strategies to reach buyers.
Why you should read it: Scott makes one of the most valid arguments to date for the positive business impact of engaging one’s customers in real time. As he points out, organizations are letting incredible opportunities pass them by for reasons that are not entirely justified. A good experience should be promoted and a bad experience should be addressed. The longer a company waits to do either, the more it decreases the benefits. Scott’s examples highlight a variety of ways in which companies have successfully implemented real-time strategies.
Why it’s different: Scott doesn’t spend much time on the various methods of communication. Instead, he dives directly into situations and case studies. Readers will also appreciate the fact that he uses himself as an example of someone who lost an opportunity for failing to follow his own strategy.
Can’t miss: “Too Big to Succeed?” In this chapter, Scott gives a vote of confidence to small companies who wonder if their size limits their ability to compete in real time. He details a study that he conducted with the Fortune 100. Scott contacted each business in an attempt to see how it engaged its customers in real time. The results are shocking, particularly when readers discover how the proactive companies performed on Wall Street in the aftermath of Scott’s study.
To share or not to share: This book should be given to anyone in an executive’s marketing department. It should then be shared with readers in various executive positions throughout the company. As Scott points out, everyone has a role to play in engaging customers in real time.
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