Why do so many social media “experts” talk such guff? A couple of weeks ago I was at a conference, where the focus was very much on data and how it could be used to help Telcos prevent their customers paying late (or not paying at all) and/or once in debt, collect the most overdue money, most quickly, at the lowest cost – all the time doing their best to treat their customers fairly. Clearly a challenging combination.
An interesting inclusion in the programme was a chap who came from a social media consultancy. He was asked to talk about how social media could help businesses understand their customers well enough to prevent them from falling behind with their payments, and, in the event that they fell into debt, whether social media data could be used to identify their ability and intent to pay.
I had hoped this presentation would be fascinating and full of insight. To be fair to the guy, his social media generic overview was fine. But when it came down to the nitty-gritty of whether or not, and if so, how social media data could be used in a payment behaviour or collections environment, he frankly floundered, and failed to answer even one of the three questions he had been tasked with.
At the end of his presentation I walked downstairs with a fellow delegate. I didn’t know him, but I asked him what he thought. His answer was a single word: “Irrelevant”.
And that’s the problem. That one poorly targeted, ill-thought out presentation convinced a large group of Telco delegates that social media has no part to play in their business. And my view is that this is simply not true. Whether or not it’s possible, legal or even advisable to use social media data in a collections environment, and whether or not there is anything more than marginal benefit to be gained from doing so, there are certainly opportunities to build two-way, engaging relationships with your customers, and obtain useful data from them in the process.
If nothing else, that approach gives you an opportunity to encourage your customer to feel positive about you and your brand, making it more likely that your bill will be higher in their hierarchy of “must-pays”. Especially in the case of mobile networks and phone providers, where it is highly likely much of their social media interaction will be conducted through mobiles. And these things can be measured – simply compare the payment and spending behaviour of those of your customers who engage with you on, say, Facebook to those who do not.
Use the social media platform to gain information from them, obviously ensuring that your collection and use of such data is compliant. Make it fun for them to tell you which networks or mobiles they’ve previously used, do some research on how they would rank them, how they use their phones, proportion of personal to business, gain further information on how the phone is used in business – the answers may not be entirely honest, but, with caution, you can use that data to identify likely switchers and even, in some circumstances, likely payment or contract defaulters. It is worth noting, however, that the time to build the relationship is BEFORE the payments start to be missed – in other words from the moment the application is approved.
What is crucial, and, I think, not understood, is that social media data, communication and engagement are not ends in themselves. They are simply part of an ongoing communication programme with a brand’s customers and prospects.
It is for each individual company or brand to adopt a strategic approach which identifies its business goals, and develops – and measures – the combination of communication channels appropriate to achieve those goals – which could be telephone, social media platforms and forums, email, websites, mail, blogs, updates (digital and print) on news/technical developments/new product, downloads, apps, face to face and so on.
But I think a core difficulty for many businesses is in identifying so-called social media “experts” who look at the subject strategically. I’ve met both types of animal. The ones who do really are very good indeed – the bad ones do an alarming amount of damage and harm – both to the perception of social media and, in the worst cases, to the customer’s brand and image. To identify the good ones, make sure you talk strategically to them, ask them pertinent questions – if they don’t understand your business, your issues, or can’t answer you, or sidestep, or generalise … find someone else!
We’ll welcome your thoughts or comments on this post – and if you need any help with your communications strategy and/or activity – across channels or through specific channels – please don’t hesitate to give me a call. If I can help, I’ll be happy to. If not, I can at least point you to someone who will provide sensible strategic advice.
Partner, Tuffill Verner Associates
Tel: +44 (0)7967 148398 / +44 (0)1787 277742
Victoria Tuffill is a direct marketing consultant with over 30 years experience. She founded Tuffill Verner Associates consultancy with Alastair Tuffill in 1996. She is also founder and Director of Fraudscreen – a data tool that assists in the prevention of 1st party fraud. Her experience ranges across businesses including publishing, home shopping, insurance, utilities, telcos and collections.
© Victoria Tuffill and Tuffill Verner Associates, September 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Victoria Tuffill and Tuffill Verner Associates with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.