I've decided to start with something that has made me smile. As fine an example as you will ever find of how to engage with customers in the digital age. It comes from a colleague of mine. Mike noticed that a customer had posted a (perfectly understandable) moan on a forum called Urban75 about a delayed delivery. Another forum user had posted about a more positive experience from our company. Mike simply joined the conversation and offered to help. But he did so with both humility and humour.
The result was both impressive and funny. A dozen or more regular forum members joined the conversation. One of them created an animation of Mike as Apology Man. The original problem was resolved and it served as a perfect illustration of what customer service in the social space looks like.
I was reminded of a seminal book about how the internet fundamentally changes the way businesses must operate in the digital age: The Cluetrain Manifesto. If you haven't read it, you really should. If you have my copy, can I have it back please?
The central theme is that markets are really conversations; in the days before mass-media communications, markets were local and were places where people met and talked. The internet is connecting people and allowing those conversations to happen again, but without the restrictions of geography. Businesses must join the discussion in an open and honest way. You can't control the conversation, but by joining in you might just be able to influence the participants.
Thanks Mike. You've reminded of just how true this is.