Last Updated Oct 19, 2010 5:27 PM EDT
When was the last time you were in customer service hell? We've all been there. And we all have our pet horror stories to share.
And thanks to social media, today we can share them instantly, with one click of a mouse.
While that might not bring down the Roman Empire, it can certainly have a negative impact on the perception of a business, making it that much harder to grow one's customer base.
So how do businesses use social media to turn customers -- upon whom their very existence depends -- from disinterested bystanders into enthusiastic evangelizers?
Here are three stories of companies doing just this, as told by their customers.
True Story No. 1
Shaun Dakin, a mobile health professional and privacy rights advocate, tried to purchase a Bissell vacuum cleaner via the company's website.
Calling it "an exercise in frustration," he says, "I decided to complain to @WeMeanClean [Bissell's official Twitter handle] and the Bissell Facebook page.
"Pretty quickly the team behind these social media accounts were communicating with me, finding out what went wrong, and then, offering me a free 'steam and sweep' machine to clean my hardwood floors.
"I got the free ($150) machine last week and it is perfect!"
What worked: Bissell's social media team made sure to respond to Dakin, thus ensuring he felt he was being heard... which is the first step in disarming or converting customers, especially those with something negative to say.
Everyone wants to be heard.
What you can do: make sure your social media efforts don't just include "talking," but listening. Respond to those who try to engage with you. Remember, no one wants to be simply shouted at.
True Story No. 2
Kelly Misevich, a public affairs professional for Coca-Cola Enterprises, wanted to create some branded materials to update her portfolio.
She mentioned this on Twitter. Jeff Esposito, public relations manager for Vistaprint -- and with whom Kelly had previously had primarily PR-related conversations -- recommended she check out his company's services.
"Jeff also made sure that I was aware of deals that were posted on their Twitter and Facebook accounts. He was never pushy and didn't use our relationship to sell more products."
Misevich continues, "I have since recommended Vistaprint to other people and continue to purchase from them."
What worked: Esposito understood the value of the relationship he had built up online with Misevich. Instead of hitting her over the head about his employer's products, he made sure she had as much information as she needed... and kept her up to date on the company's offerings, just as one shares deals with friends.
No one wants to be bulldozed into a sale.
What you can do: Understand that relationships are the bedrock of your business. Nurture them, just as you do in your personal life. Yes, it will take time. But you are far more likely to convert prospects into customers if they feel you're genuinely interested in their wellbeing, rather than making a quick buck.
True Story No. 3
Lauren Cox, a fashion aficionado, has become an evangelist for DKNY products -- a brand she had never been particularly interested in before -- because of her Twitter interactions with "DKNY PR Girl."
"Holy cow, I just love her [use of] Twitter," says Cox. "She's hilarious and while you know that she's repping DKNY, she doesn't force it.
"I have no idea who she really is, but her tweets make her feel like a friend. She tweets about her day, always responds when you @ her, and also talks about the happenings of the DKNY PR room as well as different DKNY products."
As a result, Cox continues, "She's turned me into a DKNY convert and I think word-of-mouth recommendations are priceless."
What worked: "DKNY PR Girl," while she might remain nameless, does not lack personality. And even though she represents one of fashion's most iconic brands, she keeps it down to earth.
Keeping it real is what customers like.
What you can do: Your customers don't have to live in Oz to want to know there's a human being behind the curtain. Personality is your secret weapon. Be human, especially to those for whom your company is little more than an avatar or URL.
Remember: People like to do business with people. If you make that principle the foundation of your social media efforts, your business will go a long way.
Image courtesy Flickr user Valery Rybchenko, CC 2.0