The true value of social media to retail: validating the customer!

The potential power to be harnessed by retailers when operating in the social media sphere can only be felt when the conversation begins. But used well, this medium can be a real multi-use tool for retail marketers, claims John Rivers at Moolah.

Twice I took the DVD from the shelf to the counter where one of the staff would then have to run back upstairs only to return five minutes later to tell me that they were “sorry, but we don’t have that DVD”. I tried my best to remain calm though questions like “If you don’t have it, why on earth is it on the shelf?” and “Not only that, but it’s number 1 in your DVD chart, so what gives?” kept forming in my mind.

Aware of the huge queue behind me, I left the store and instead of complaining there decided that I’d ask Smiths’s Twitter instead.

I posted this and began following them. To their credit, Smiths responded to me within 90 minutes.

I was impressed. Through acknowledging my complaint, I’d be validated as a customer. Further to that they wanted to know what the problem was and how they could help. More tweets were exchanged and Smiths said they would look in to the issue for me. Simply by engaging me in conversation, Smiths had restored my faith in them as a company and a retailer I would use again. Because of this conversation I also didn’t mind when this message appeared in my Twitter stream: Smiths were running a competition through Twitter, not only that, it was directly linked to their half price Authors of the Decade on-site promotion. Simply put, I was being marketed to through a channel I’d been using for customer services. This wouldn’t work with a phone call, nor through an email exchange, but because of social media’s openness and relatively passive nature, Smiths were able to deal with an upset customer while running a promotional marketing item. Smiths understand the trade-off of marketing through social media, being that if someone asks you a question, you respond. By getting involved and conversing you understand the medium. It’s not enough to use social media as a ‘push only’ channel because that only does the same job as a press advert or a billboard site. Having the conversation adds an extra dimension to your communications. What is that extra dimension? It’s PR.

The polite tone, the competency in dealing with complaints, the ability to talk on a level platform with the customer - all of these things are doing a PR job. By clicking on to WH Smiths’s page anyone can instantly see that Smiths presents itself as a friendly, professional organisation that values customers. No story was needed to create this impression, no pictures of charity events or details of a new biodegradable plastic bag, simply the day-to-day engagement of a business with its customer base.

And that’s the true value of social media for retail, to understand that once a business begins conversing with its customers it can use the channel for whatever it likes: sales, news, promotions, customer services, insight. Providing it handles all of those aspects correctly, fairly and in a transparent manner the permanency of the internet guarantees that PR collateral for years to come.

A few tweets may not seem like much, but given time they’ll all add up to form an online profile of your business that stands alongside your website, your press releases and all your other marketing. Don’t get left behind, the opportunity is there to chat to your customers right now and open up a whole new marketing channel too.

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