At your own risk

February 2, 2015 11:49 AM

When a guest complains about a Hyatt Hotels Corp. property on Twitter—be it a lack of hot water, missing towels, or a faulty TV—the global hotelier pledges to respond to the issue within 10 minutes.

It offers that guarantee thanks to its 24/7 in-house social media monitoring service called @HyattConcierge. Launched in 2009, @Hyatt Concierge is an “always listening” watchdog staffed by 35 employees across centers in Omaha, Neb., Melbourne, Australia, and Mainz, Germany. Having three centers spread across the world’s time zones ensures at least one center is operating on business hours at all times. The staff “engage with guests around-the-clock when prompted by any social mention of a Hyatt brand,” says Karen Dawson, Hyatt’s vice president of digital strategy.

@HyattConcierge is one piece of a broader Hyatt social media customer engagement strategy known as the Hyatt Control Room. It keeps an eye on social media mentions of Hyatt across Twitter, Facebook, WeChat, TripAdvisor and Instagram. “Just as we welcome guests when they walk through our hotel doors, the Hyatt Control Room welcomes guests and offers assistance when guests check in on social channels,” Dawson says, adding “guests’ response to the social strategy built on care has been overwhelmingly positive.”

Hyatt is hardly alone in deciding that responding effectively to consumers via social media is essential to its future success. There’s a good reason for that; nearly 64% of customers say they will spend more with companies that offer great social customer service, according to a survey conducted by social customer service solution provider Conversocial. Conversely, 77% of customers are less likely to buy a product if they read complaints about it on social media, according to another Conversocial report.

Further, many businesses feel they have no choice but to participate. Consumers will air their complaints on social media where other consumers will see them regardless of whether the retailer provides their own venue on social media. But by giving consumers a forum to pose their questions directly to a brand and monitoring it, a brand can help mitigate the potential damage by responding. That’s why a number of retailers and other businesses are increasingly using a variety of tools to respond to comments on social networks.

While @HyattConcierge fielded 50,000-plus Twitter conversations in the first half of 2014, the volume of contacts isn’t why Hyatt and other businesses devote time and resources to social-focused customer service. After all, social media lags behind other forms of customer communication in terms of both usage and volume.<

For instance, L.L. Bean had about 70,000 Twitter and Facebook customer service interactions in 2014, compared to the more than 100,000 phone calls it fields in a typical day, says an L.L. Bean spokesman. The same low level of social media interaction is also true for French Toast, where social media contacts account for about 1% of all customer contacts, according to the school uniform manufacturer’s  president Michael Arking.

So why are some companies devoting major resources to managing social media? Social media gives consumers a unique ability to embarrass and degrade a brand’s hard-won reputation with a single tweet or post going viral–especially if a complainant is really, really angry.

To keep this kind of damage from happening to them, companies are investing in social media monitoring.

Here’s how social media neglect can cost a business: When British Airways lost Hasan Syed’s father’s luggage, Syed got so mad that he spent $1,000 to post the following sponsored tweet: “Don’t fly @BritishAirways. Their customer service is horrendous.”

Roughly 76,000 consumers saw this brand-damning tweet. Then British Airways made matters worse by taking eight hours to respond on Twitter.

To further stoke the fire, the airline excused its neglect by saying that it only monitors Twitter during business hours. An infuriated Syed tweeted back, “How does a billion dollar corp only have 9-5 social media support for a business that operates 24/7?”

It was at this point that Syed’s Twitter-war with British Airways caught the U.K. media’s attention. His story turned up on the BBC, the Huffington Post and in the Guardian and Telegraph newspapers, generating untold bad press for the airline. In a further twist of the knife, the interchange was retweeted by JetBlue Airways.

Asked about this incident, a British Airways spokesman explained the airline’s actions by telling Internet Retailer, “We were in contact with the customer throughout, and apologized for the delay.” He had no comment about Syed’s Twitter campaign, or the company’s business hours-only social media monitoring.<

The moral to the story is that businesses have no choice but to stay on top of social media at all times, and make sure that the answers they provide will pass public muster, because everyone could be watching.

“If something is great, you’ll hear about it on social,” says Soren Mills, Inc.’s chief marketing officer. “The same is true if something isn’t so great.”   

That’s the reason that Dell Inc. built two Social Media Listening Command Centers (SMLCC), which run on the Sprinklr social media management platform. One is located at its Round Rock, Texas, headquarters; the other in Porto Alegre, Brazil. 

“We can’t pinpoint one particular case as being the sole reason we decided to invest in social media,” says a company spokesman. “Instead, it was us collectively recognizing four years ago that there was a significant number of Dell-related comments in social media and that many of them were from customers with negative experiences.”<

Since Dell deployed the SMLCCs, the number of negative comments about Dell products and services posted on social networks has dropped 30%, says a spokesman. “Further, as a result of our engagement efforts, we’ve seen our social media reach grow to 20-40 million on any given week,” he says.

Similarly, L.L. Bean monitors social media from its headquarters in Freeport, Maine, where all of the company’s major operations are located. When the company detects a complaint on social media, it responds quickly and in full public view, to show shoppers it is fixing the issue.

“The customer service team will respond to all issues publicly and will only switch to a direct message or suggest e-mailing if we require the customer’s contact information,” says Laurie Brooks, L.L. Bean’s social media public relations program manager. “These reps also handle customer live chat, e-mails and online question-and- answer forums via an internal management system.” L.L. Bean uses monitoring and marketing platforms such as Hootsuite, TweetDeck, Social Engage, Iconosquare, Napkin Labs and eGain.

Of course, staffing centers to ensure consumers receive a quick response can be costly; the average contract size for the 11 large vendors examined in Forrester Research Inc.’s “The Forrester Wave: Enterprise Listening Platforms, Q1 2014” report was more than $30,000. And that doesn’t factor in staffing requirements. Despite the costs, each retailer Internet Retailer spoke to was clear about the necessity of monitoring social media closely.<

This describes how Target Corp. views its social media monitoring and responses, pointing to how consumers responded to holiday promotions in 2014 as evidence as to why and how social media monitoring benefits the retailer.

“When we announced Black Friday door buster deals, we knew that our guests and team members would go to social media to share their excitement,” a company spokesman says. “We received more than 12,000 social media mentions in the first 24 hours after the announcement. We were able to provide more information, clarify questions from our guests, and be present during important guest conversations. We also identified the deals that were most-talked about in social media and fed those insights back to our business teams.”

Hyatt also believes that its social media investment is paying off even though the company doesn’t look at its social customer service through the lens of return on investment, Dawson says. Instead, Hyatt considers effective social media monitoring and response an essential part of its business.

“Ignoring our guests on social media would be the same as ignoring their phone call or not acknowledging them when they walked into our hotels,” she says. “Our guests are telling us what’s important to them each and every day.”

James Careless is a freelance journalist based in Ottawa, Canada.




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