Last night I completed a twelve hour round trip to Manchester after speaking at a conference, and finished my journey at Guildford station around 8.30pm.
I popped into M&S (Marks & Spencer) Food at the station, and along with about ten other people, tried to quickly grab something to eat for dinner. As we queued to pay, I noticed that there were only two people on duty, despite there being six check-out points. The two members of staff were positioned next to each other at adjacent positions.
Furthest away from me there was a polite, friendly, courteous and helpful young lady serving a customer, and next to her was a tall and confident young man who was inviting only customers who were paying with a card to come forward because he had no change. People called out to enquire what the minimum payment was that he could take on a card, but out of everyone queuing up, nobody was paying with plastic. So he just stood there.
So we all had to wait for the young lady – who seemed to have plenty of cash in the drawer of her till. Now, I know what you’re thinking… because I was thinking the same.
When it was my turn, my items came to a total of £10.11. I handed over a twenty pound note, apologised that I had nothing smaller and asked if she was able to spare the change. “Yes thank you” she assured me with a smile.
“Could your colleague possibly borrow some change so that these other customers can be served?” I enquired.
“Oh, we’re not allowed to do that. There are lots of rules.”
“It sounds like simple common-sense to me” I added helpfully.
“We’re not allowed that either” came her reply with a friendly wink.
I smiled back, thanked her and went on my way as she added a cheery “Have a nice evening Sir.”
In the great scheme of things, this isn't a particularly remarkable story, but a simple demonstration of how some businesses put rules before common-sense solutions to help customers. But what is remarkable and exciting, is that in this day and age, through Social Media and blogging we can share folly like this with other people and hopefully prompt a change in a company’s approach to customer service.
I work with both large and small businesses to help them to increase sales through LinkedIn and other Social Media. Some industries really struggle with Social Media, and are literally terrified of what might happen when they start using it to truly engage with today’s Internet-savvy consumers. Some industries have other reasons to be cautious because they also have to consider regulation and compliance.
The common denominator amongst these businesses is that for the most part, they see Social Media as a broadcast tool – to communicate messages, to sell, to promote and to articulate marketing messages. What they often ignore or forget is the massive potential to be gained by using Social Media to listen to customers rather than to talk at them. But often they don’t listen – or won’t as the case may be.
Quite recently, a global corporate client (who wasn't in a regulated industry) told me that whilst they are keen to use Social Media, they consider communications from customers who are using Social Media to be less important or significant than those who communicate with them through traditional communication tools such as the telephone, letters and email. In fact, “we deliberately ignore customers who contact us via Twitter”.
I wanted to be clear on this and checked:
“So you choose to ignore customers who want to engage with you through Twitter, but you respond if they contact you through more traditional means?”
“Yes” was the answer.
Their reasoning turned out to be that they felt Twitter to be a trivial and less serious form of communication. Perhaps I’m biased, but something tells me that this just isn't tenable in this day and age. Am I wrong?
But what these companies are conveniently forgetting is that their customers on Twitter and elsewhere are far more concerned about customer service than the means by which they communicate, and are using Social Media to talk about them, their brand, their products and their service out loud and it would seem behind their backs. And yes, they use Social Media to talk about brands and companies when they do things well too.
So not only are these companies failing to engage with customers at a human level, but they are missing out on hearing feedback, ideas, and valuable pearls of wisdom that might make their business or customer proposition even better. In short, whether people use Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn, Google+ or something else, Social Media is merely software. Behind every communication to a company or brand or organisation – however that communication may be articulated, is a real person – a customer or potential customer who just wants better service. Nothing more.
I tell you this story of an otherwise uninteresting trip to M&S Food, because I can. You may have experienced something similar and I’d be interested in hearing about it. But the question has to be, does M&S and other big brands want to hear about it, so that they can do something about it, or is Social Media just an irritant that they wish would go away?
Social Media works both ways. Yes, there are fantastic and exciting tools to broadcast information to customers, but the price to pay for having powerful broadcast tools is that customers will also use them to tell you their feelings about your product or service. And they can shout a lot louder than you can online.
If brands say they are serious about using Social Media to talk to customers, then they also have to be serious about using it to listen to customers too.
By Philip Calvert
LinkedIn Skills Endorsements
The launch of skills endorsements is one of the most simple, but exciting developments that LinkedIn has announced in recent times, and continues to cement their position as the foremost business focused social networking site. It also gives profile pages some long overdue interactivity.
Until now, LinkedIn profiles have been little more than a shop window for an individual’s expertise, with testimonials being the only way that contacts can publicly acknowledge that expertise. Often though, testimonials on a profile page can be long and well, rather tedious, with many people simply scrolling past them unread – somewhat defeating the object of having them on your profile in the first place.
LinkedIn needed something a little shorter and with more focus which could acknowledge specific skills of an individual – but without resorting to the simple Facebook-style ‘Like’ button. And skill endorsements seem to do just the job.
Here are a few tips on how to make the most of the new feature as a valuable personal branding tool. Look closely at your skills list
Firstly, on your own LinkedIn profile page, revisit your skills list and remove any that might just be ‘padding’. Whilst it’s nice to potentially receive endorsements for a wide range of skills, few of us want to be seen as a ‘Jack of all trades’.
Expertise in specific niches will become increasingly valuable, so don’t include skills which are only there to fuel your ego. And if you are using LinkedIn to look for a job, you can bet your bottom dollar that potential employers and recruiters will ask you to account for the skills listed on your profile, so edit your skills list ruthlessly.
As and when you receive endorsements for skills, LinkedIn automatically lists them on your profile with those receiving the most endorsements from the top down, so it is better that you are seen to have many endorsements for a few skills rather than watering down the ‘votes’ across multiple skills. In short, the list with its endorsements needs to very clearly show that you are an expert in specific areas.
When someone visits your profile, at the top of the page LinkedIn displays a limited selection of skills from your list for people to endorse. The selection displayed is random, so without looking at your full list of skills, some people may ‘accidentally’ choose to endorse you for skills which are near the bottom of your list and miss the skills for which you would prefer to have endorsements. So again, it’s important that the skills you list really are the ones which you want to be known for most of all. Set your expertise level
A little-known feature of the Skills section on your LinkedIn profile is that you can set your proficiency level for each skill from Beginner to Expert with Intermediate and Advanced as other options. You can also show how many years you have had that skill. Simply visit your Skills section, click on the skill concerned and set proficiency and time accordingly. Do it now, it might make all the difference to whether you win a new contract or new job. Endorsing other people and being endorsed raises your profile
The news skills endorsements will also help to promote you and the person endorsing you. This is because when someone highlights a skill you have, it appears in their activity timeline and on your own – thus your contacts and their contacts potentially get to see the endorsement, so increasing the likelihood of a visit to your profile.
So take some time to visit some of your top contacts’ profile pages and endorse their skills. This is not only something that they will appreciate, but will make you more visible on LinkedIn. Interact with skills updates on the LinkedIn home page
When someone adds skills to their profile page, it appears on the LinkedIn home page timeline. Not only could you endorse those skills, you can also ‘Like’ or Comment on that addition on the home page timeline – again making you more visible and also making the other person feel good.
On the LinkedIn home page, from time to time you will see that people have been endorsed for their skills; again you could ‘Like’ the endorsement publicly. Give to get
Like all good networkers, give before you take, so use the skills endorsement feature to show other people that you acknowledge their skills. We all like to be acknowledged, and you will find that some people reciprocate after you have endorsed one or more of their skills. Be polite and acknowledge endorsements
And finally a small but important point. When someone endorses your skills, take a moment to thank them with a brief note – either through the LinkedIn message system or by email. Alternatively a public way to thank someone for an endorsement is to click the ‘Like’ button under the endorsement when it shows up in your Activity box on your profile page. They will appreciate your thanks and may well spark a conversation which could lead somewhere useful.
LinkedIn have done a great job with the news skills endorsements feature. Use it to both acknowledge your contacts’ skills and also to raise your own profile on the site.
For even more proven tips on how to attract new customers and to leverage LinkedIn, take a look at our special 300 Tips
The last two days has seen LinkedIn taking further steps to put their site at the heart of your online business networking activities, with the launch of features which, in their own words “bring you new ways to access the most relevant professional information and insights to help you be even better at your job, everyday.”
Firstly, it’s important to remember that LinkedIn is no longer just a fancy job site. In many industries, it seems that very high percentages of people (often as high as 90+%) have no idea at all exactly why they are on the site in the first place or how to make the most of LinkedIn
When questioned more closely, most think they joined LinkedIn because they were at some point either looking for a job, or had heard that posting your CV or information about yourself might, in due course lead to a better job. Several people have told me that they joined LinkedIn because they had heard that that’s where all the headhunters hang out.
Whilst LinkedIn is indeed very much a ‘fancy job site’ with their revenue growth very much linked to their recruitment services, on the surface LinkedIn is in fact now a key business resource and should form part of your sales, marketing, communication and reputation building strategy – whether you are an employee or a business owner.
I would also go so far as to suggest that your LinkedIn Company page (you have got a Company page haven’t you?) should be viewed as a business asset (we’ll go into detail as to why this is in a future blog), it’s that important.
Because LinkedIn has become such a valuable and powerful business tool, they are doing everything they can to keep you on their site for as long as possible every day, and to make the features business tools in their own right. In short, they want to try and make sure everything you will ever need is available on just their site. Don’t forget, LinkedIn is a huge mine full of data about people and companies, and all the features the site provides are there to help you leverage that data
You would be forgiven for thinking that there’s not much that you can do on Facebook now, which you can’t also do on LinkedIn, and slowly but surely LinkedIn is transforming itself into a real-time business resource.
The latest evidence of this is yesterday’s launch of real-time updates on your home page, which will show you updates from your contacts, and when someone has liked or shared something that you have posted on LinkedIn, viewed your profile, accepts your invitation and more.
What’s more, LinkedIn tell us that 23% of unique visitors interact with the site through a mobile device, so they’ve also extended the new features to the iPhone, iPad and Android.
Even better, is that they have now added Company pages to the online experience, enabling you to keep up to date on companies that you are following.
And on the horizon, you’ll soon be able to edit your LinkedIn profile direct from their apps.
There still remains a robust discussion about the future of LinkedIn – or to be precise the future of online business networking. Some still feel that Google+ will eventually dominate. We’ll see, that’s for another day.
In the meantime, we could all take a leaf out of LinkedIn’s approach, and think seriously about ways that we can make our own websites more invaluable to our customers and visitors.
Is your site just an online brochure - or is it a valuable resource that people want
to return to time and time again?Looking for ways to leverage LinkedIn in your business?
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