Voices of CRM

Oct 5 2011   7:15PM GMT

Customer engagement tips from Twitter, Macy’s, Mastercard

Rosemary Cafasso Profile: Rosecafasso


I happened upon a 2009 podcast my editor did with an industry analyst in which they discussed social media and listening to what customer are saying to help create an engagement strategy.

And now, two years later, we are still talking about listening to customers? Apparently so.

As companies continue to wrestle with social engagement strategies and wonder what it is their customers want to hear, how about this for a suggestion:

Why not just ask them?

That tip comes courtesy of Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, Inc., who shared his thoughts about customer engagement during a keynote presentation at the Direct Marketing Association annual conference in Boston this week.

Stone recounted the early days of Twitter, way back in 2006, when even some of his friends called the micro blogging service “an irrelevant toy.” He told a story about JetBlue, one of the first corporate adopters. As Stone tells it, the airline was not sure what to do with Twitter, so it used the channel to push press releases.

 “No one seemed to care,” Stone said.

 In frustration, a JetBlue staffer finally tweeted, “What do you want us to tweet?”

 Sure enough, customers responded with suggestions on what kinds of information they wanted, like weather and travel tips. 

 The customers essentially told the airline, “We want you to drop the PR shield and talk to us,” Stone said. “So, they changed their strategy and started talking to people.”

 “They occasionally throw in press releases, but now they are more well-received,” he added.

 But chances are customers will not be interested in small talk and certainly not a low-value press release, even if it is on an only occasional basis.  The Twitter co-founder also said customers are looking for “deeper relationships” with companies and are “looking beyond the basics.”

Stone’s suggestions were echoed at a DMA panel discussion that focused on customer interaction. Several marketing chiefs noted the importance of finding out how customers want to engage before making outreach.

“Proceed with caution,” said Gregg Aamoth, vice president of customer marketing systems and privacy at Macy’s Inc.  “You may think you know your customer, but we don’t know everything.”

Aamoth said Macy’s sends out surveys to customers asking them to identify the information they want and how they prefer to receive it. The goal is to avoid using a promotion or sales pitch as a first-time contact because that can irritate customers.

“Find a way for them to tell you how they want to communicate,” Aamoth said

Margot Vaughan, a senior vice president and global practice leader of Mastercard Advisors Services group, recommended a simple shift in thinking so companies look at the customer as someone “you are speaking with, not to.” The subtle change could help make for richer engagement.

“If you don’t give them value, they will know,” Vaughan added.

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