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What retail taught me about social media interaction

February 28, 2011

My first job was working as a clerk at a family-owned high-end department store. Such businesses have a unique culture that I think is fading away in this era of big chain stores and online retailers. The owners, employees, and shoppers many connections in a close-knit community. It occurred to me that my job in retail has shaped many of the principles that are now natural to me in my role in customer communications.

A little empathy and tact goes a long way: Let’s face it. The customer is not always right. More appropriately, the saying should be “the customer is always convinced they’re right.” You can’t tell them they’re not right without escalating the problem. Changing conviction is an onerous and often unattainable task. Retailers spend oodles of energy deflecting that conviction into something productive. In today’s world of instant social fame (or infamy), one customer’s disenchantment soon becomes a company’s heartburn. All too often, this right-vs.-wrong battle takes place because a customer was initially made to feel like their situation was misunderstood or unimportant. That misstep happens as soon as the customer voices their displeasure, so you’ve got to address that customer head on with as much empathy and tact as possible. Show them you hear them and that you’re willing to do all that’s in your power to help them.

Customers focus on the negative unless you give them something positive: I think this is a largely human trait—we tend to talk more about the bad than the good. It’s easier to be critical than constructive. Knowing that tendency, I want to provide customers with a really great experience so that’s what they think about when they consider revisiting my store. This doesn’t just apply to your products or your service, this applies to the way you conduct yourself online. Do you respond to customers who mention you? Do you provide helpful information that’s easy to find? Do you take customer privacy seriously? Make as many aspects of your online and social interactions work really well so your followers keep following.

Presentation and perception matters: When you go to a high-end department store, the staff are all well dressed, the floors are clean, and the merchandise is tidy. Why? Because all of that reflects on the company. The same goes for your social presence—it is a reflection of you and the company you represent.  Brand your social channels and ensure they’re all connected.  Make sure your content is relevant, accurate, and error-free.

Offer help, let them choose to accept it: The pushy salesmen are universally avoided on show floors. No one likes to be shadowed by a hovering clerk when you’ve already expressed your desire to browse on your own. The beauty of social networks for consumers is that consumers control the volume and filters. Make yourself available to them, but don’t force your content, connections, or assistance down their throats.

Courtesy and recognition seal the deal: My most loyal customers were the ones I recognized on sight or even over the phone. I knew their habits and preferences and could tailor their experience with that in mind. More importantly, I could genuinely tell them I looked forward to seeing them again. We humans are fundamentally social yet egocentric creatures. Show your followers that you know them and appreciate them.

Have you learned lessons from previous jobs that shape your social media marketing?

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