Little lies we tell our customers

I’m flying home from Ragan Communications’ excellent Social Media Summit, held at Cisco’s HQ in San Jose. It was my first trip to Silicon Valley, and it was both impressive and a little disorienting to see all the well-known company names. Of course I knew that eBay must have a physical presence, but there’s still something slightly odd about seeing the physical manifestation of something that has such a large presence on the Web.

It was a bit like the time recently that I saw Elizabeth Edwards in the snack bar of our local Target. Yes, she’s famous and presumably still wealthy, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t shop, or eat.

Even I’m a little confused by that simile.

As I always do immediately after a conference, I’m running nearly everything through my newly-energized social media filter. So my ears perked up when I heard the flight attendant say, “We’ll do everything we can to make your flight as enjoyable as possible.”

Really? How about a foot massage?

What would happen if they said, “Folks, there’s a whole lot of you and only two of us. If you need something special, feel free to ask, but we probably won’t be able to get to it right away, if at all. Also, it’s really tight up here, so we’d appreciate it if you’d stay out of our way as much as possible.”

Wouldn’t that blow your mind? But why not? We all know that’s what they mean.

Lots of companies say they put customer satisfaction first. Do they really? If companies truly put customer satisfaction first, they’d give their stuff away for free for as long as the money held out, then go out of business.

“Our top priority at XYZ Corporation is to make as much money as possible so that our owners, shareholders and, to a lesser extent, our employees can buy more and/or better stuff, travel to nicer places, find more attractive mates and drink higher-grade booze. We can only do that if you keep buying our stuff, so we’ll do what we can within reason to keep a lot of you happy.”

I would be a customer for life.

We all tell well-intentioned lies every day, of course. When the woman in the terminal who sold me a bottle of aspirin asked me how I was, I said, “Fine.” Should I have said, “Obviously I have a headache. Did you think this was a souvenir?”

But we need to be careful not to carry these empty platitudes over to our social media communications. It’s one thing to have them in the boilerplate on our websites. But if you respond to someone on Twitter and say, “We’ll do everything we can to fix your problem,” you’d better mean it.

Look at the Twitter streams of companies that do a good job of social media customer service, like Comcast or Zappos. They are responsive and helpful, but they’re also realistic.

(Guy Kawasaki told a great story at the Ragan Cisco conference about testing Virgin Airlines’ responsiveness by tweeting, “I’m in seat 2A. Can someone get me a Coke?” Virgin responded, “Why don’t you ask the flight attendant?”)

Social media is forever changing our customer interactions. It’s making them more immediate and, in many cases, more raw – on both sides. Between the expectation of an instant response and the brevity required by platforms like Twitter, every word must count.

Don’t waste them on things you don’t mean.

::UPDATE:: I was paraphrasing Guy’s Virgin story. I found it in Guy’s own words on the WebEx blog.

Integrating social media into your overall strategy: my presentation at the Ragan event at Cisco

This week I’ll be heading to Cisco in San Jose for the Social Media Summit, put on by Ragan Communications. I’m excited to be attending and even more so to be presenting. I attended a Ragan event at SAS about two years ago, before I took on the Social Media Manager role, and met a lot of smart and inspiring folks, including Shel Holtz and Lee Aase.

The title of my presentation is, “Can 11,000 employees speak with one voice? How SAS is taking social media from grassroots to an integrated strategy.” (SPOILER ALERT: 11,000 employees cannot speak with one voice, and I wouldn’t want them to even if they could.)

I’ll be talking about what we’ve learned in developing our social media guidelines and recommendations for SAS employees and how to effectively create your own. More than that, we’ll discuss how a comprehensive and practical social media policy can form the basis for your social media strategy as a whole.

Whether you’re talking policy or strategy, it all starts with some basics: knowing what your goals are and how you define success, and getting all the right people together in the same room.

If you’re attending the conference, let me know what you most want to talk about. Let me know even if you aren’t attending the conference. We’ll be using the hashtag #RaganCisco. Expect some great content.

Oh, and am I a little nervous that I’ll be onstage immediately before Guy Kawasaki? Yes, but not as much as if I were following him.