Sometimes You Only Get One Chance at a First Impression

Have you ever thought about how important your front line employees are?  We all know that everyone pays attention to the C-Suite, but do we pay attention to those people that are actually interacting with customers, or guests, on a regular basis?

A few weeks ago I wrote about a bad customer service experience that was compounded by a bad social media customer experience. Whenever I do this, which hasn’t been too often, I always give an update on the situation regardless if the brand I mentioned takes action or not.

This time it was Outback Steakhouse, and you can read about the details of our visit here. After some support from social media friends, I was contacted by the regional manager through email and was sent a card with some store credit.

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There were a couple of things that stood out. First was that the card was note inside the card was hand written. I think that’s great because it shows that the regional manager actually took the time and effort to write something. It wasn’t some pre-typed and mass produced apology card.

Second, the amount that was given to us as credit covered the amount that we paid. I don’t show all of the credit / voucher cards in the photo, but what was included in the card covered what we paid. That’s also great because it shows that they took the time to actually check our bill and see how much we spent.

It’s very clear that the Outback Steakhouse team is trying their best to make up for the bad experience that we had, and to be fair, I’m appreciating the effort. From what was communicated through email, the team also knows that it is definitely a training issue. And that brings me back to the original question, have you ever thought about how important your front line employees are?

Your front line employees, the ones that interact with your customers the most, are your chance to make a good first impression. And sometimes you only get one shot at it. You won’t be able to prevent all mistakes from happening, but proper training and doing what you can to hire the right people will help.

I’ve been to Outback Steakhouse once in the last 10 years. So for all intents and purposes, this one time can be considered a first time experience. And as you know, it wasn’t a good one. Even though the Outback Steakhouse regional management team has made every effort to try and get me to return, I am still unsure if it’s worth it. I only have this one experience as a reference point, and I’m not sure a free meal is worth the aggravation and frustration of a bad experience. See what I’m getting at?

I applaud the Outback Steakhouse regional management team for trying to make things right. It’s really a good example of customer service done right after something has gone wrong. I just hope they make every effort to improve their service training, and impress on their front line employees the importance of making a good impression.

Feedback is Essential for Community, Even if it is Negative

I recently wrote a blog post about this topic for an internal company community that I manage. Running an internal community is pretty interesting. Contrary to what people might think, it’s not the same as running an external, or public, community. For one thing, I’m finding that internal communities don’t need the “fluff” that an external community needs to attract members. I’m also finding that in the battle of function versus aesthetics, function always wins in the end. But there is one thing that both external and internal communities need to be successful, and that’s feedback.

photo credit: Feedback checklist via photopin (license)
photo credit: Feedback checklist via photopin (license)

Feedback is essential because without it, you can’t be sure if your community is actually adding value or serving its members the way it needs to be. The word “community” applies to your own personal one as well, not just to those official corporate internal or public community forums. When we post things on our social networks, we automatically look for feedback. The feedback can come in the form of likes, retweets, comments, +1’s, etc. Receiving, or in some cases not receiving, that feedback shapes what we share. We view the positive reinforcement as validation for what we are doing and are therefore encouraged to continue down the road we are going.

But sometimes the feedback isn’t positive, and that’s ok too. Not everyone will agree with what you’ve posted or shared. When you receive negative feedback, it’s good to take a step back and think about what was said. If you’re like me, you’re probably itching to respond right away and defend your position, but a knee-jerk defensive reaction isn’t always a good idea. Sometimes the negative comments have validity, and that has to be taken into consideration along with the fact that people are entitled to their own opinions. Negative comments should cause us to pause and think about our position, and either rethink or affirm our original stance.

Feedback is important because it helps evaluate your own thoughts. For example, I thought this was a pretty interesting shot when I took it, but the non responses proved me wrong, and that's totally ok!
Feedback is important because it helps evaluate your own views. For example, I thought this was a pretty interesting shot when I took it, but the non responses proved me wrong, and that’s totally ok because when I started out I thought every shot I took was good.

If you do disagree with something though, do it in a constructive way. Sure you’re free to comment how you’d like, but disagreeing constructively leads to conversation, which is much better than the alternative. I recently wrote a blog post, Are You a Social Media Jack of all Trades, But Master of None?, and a friend of mine, Vitus Feldmann, commented but didn’t quite agree with everything that I said. I was quite impressed with the way he did it, and it should be used as an example on how to disagree. He spoke his mind, but gave reasons as to why he disagreed, and he chose his tone carefully so that it didn’t come across as abrasive. The result? Continued the conversation with Vitus on Facebook, and I respect him for now for it.

Negative feedback is often viewed negatively, but it shouldn’t always be see that way. How you choose to comment is just as important as the comment itself, so choose your words and tone carefully, and always think before responding. How do you deal with negative feedback? How do you communicate negative feedback to others?

Are You a Social Media Jack of All Trades, but Master of None?

Sometimes I read blog posts that compel me to say something, or write, and a recent blog post by Ann Tran did just that. If you haven’t read. “Five Ways to Find Out If Your Instagram is Boring”, you should. And if you’re on Instagram it will make you think about your feed and what you share. Whether you agree with it or not is up to you, but it is very good food for thought.

I remember when I first started with social media that I shared everything and anything to every single network that I was on. If it was of any remote interest to me, I shared it. I was sort of the same way with photography. If I took a photo, any photo, I shared it. Now I won’t go and tell you how you should post on your social accounts or what photos are good enough for you to share, there are plenty of other people out there that are more than happy to do that. But what I will share with you is what happened when I started to focus my sharing more. And I feel those results are positive.

Being selective of the photos that I chose to share has paid off.  Let's face it, not every picture we take is good.
Being selective of the photos that I chose to share has paid off. Let’s face it, not every picture we take is good.

My first hesitancy to focus my sharing was that I wanted everyone everywhere to read what I found and know that I found it. And honestly when I first started out, it worked for what I wanted, it increased my follower count on social media. But as time went on, I started to notice problems.

Let me first preface this by saying that I don’t have a ton of followers. In fact compared to a lot of people, my social media following is rather small. But even with my meager social following, having a conversation with everyone about everything under the sun was very difficult. And to top it off, I wasn’t becoming an authority on any one subject.

Like I mentioned earlier, my photography was the same way. But when I started to be more selective of the photos I posted, they started to become more popular. I believe this happened for two reasons. One, being selective of what photos to share eliminated the bad and marginally good photos, and really made me think about the shots I took before I took them. Each photo became meaningful and intentional. Two, being selective meant that I didn’t share as much which meant that I wasn’t constantly filling my followers feeds with uselessness. I subscribed to the “quality over quantity” theory and it worked. Overall what I’ve chosen to share (whether it be photos or other things) have been more well received than in the past.

I still have a long way to go. I’ve really just started trying to separate what I share per network, and I’ve only been pretty good at it with Instagram. But I’m working on doing the same with all my other networks too. In the end, I’m thinking I’d rather be extremely good or great at one thing, than just ok at lots of things. How about you?

Customer Service: The Reason Why Big Brands Should Be On Social Media

photo credit: the UMF via photopin cc
photo credit: the UMF via photopin cc

For some reason whenever I talk to people from brands about social media it’s all about how to get the right messaging across to the right audience, or how to prove that social media leads to sales. Rarely do I ever meet someone that talks about how social media plays a part of a brand’s customer service.

In my opinion, too many brands are still trying to chase Oreo’s successful “Dunk In The Dark” tweet. Most of them are failing, horribly. Need proof? Check out the Real-Time Marketing Sucks blog, it’s rather entertaining. You know, even with all of the wild success Oreo achieved online with that tweet back in 2013, it still didn’t push me to run out to the store and buy them. I actually think that awareness marketing works better for startups and smaller brands, because the big brands are already well known. And I also think that marketing from big brands doesn’t do much to get people to leave the brands they already like and love. So the area that big brands can really help their cause on social media is customer service.

Very recently I blogged about the experience I had with my son at a Home Depot Kids Workshop at a location near my home. While the idea was great, the execution wasn’t so great. To voice our disappointment and displeasure with the experience I decided to engage the brand on social media, while my wife chose to email the company to explain what happened. While we received responses from both avenues, the messages were entirely different.

After the Saturday workshop was over, I tweeted both the @HomeDepot and @HomeDepot_Care accounts telling them of the failure of the store location to have any kid’s aprons for the children that attended the workshop. I received a response on Monday from @HomeDepot, but not @HomeDepot_Care, asking me to email them my mailing address so that they could send my son an apron. I found it a little funny that the response didn’t come from @HomeDepot_Care because clearly it’s the customer service account for The Home Depot, but I was just happy to receive any response. And I was happy to see that the social team was going to make up for the store’s mistake.

Since the response came to me on Monday, my assumption is that there isn’t anyone monitoring the accounts over the weekend for mentions. Now I don’t know if that’s true for The Home Depot, but in my opinion, whether or not your brand chooses to provide customer service on social media on the weekends should really be determined by the audience. If you run programs over the weekend, chances are people are going to engage with your brand over the weekend. If you’re a retail shop, chances are the activity will be higher over the weekend because that’s when most people have to time to visit your store.

My wife also received a response from the email she sent to customer service, and that response was in the form of a phone call, which I happened to pick up. The rep from customer service told me something entirely different. While he apologized for the store’s failure to provide kids aprons, he told me that I should go back to the store and ask the manager when the next shipment would come in. I didn’t really like this solution and I asked him if he could just send my son an apron instead. He then told me no, and that the total quantity of aprons is allocated to each store at the beginning of the year, and that only the store would be able to give me the apron. And then I told him that I had be conversing with The Home Depot social team and that they asked for my mailing address so they could send me one. When he heard this he didn’t know what to say because he paused, looking for the right response, and then told me that he would look into it and still recommended that I go back to the store and check for myself.

Now I have to say that this is not what I expect from any customer service department. The mistake wasn’t mine, it was theirs. The customer service team was expecting me, the customer, to go the extra mile because of a mistake by them, the brand. That doesn’t fly. The other thing to note here was the huge disconnect between the customer service team and the social team. For a big brand to connect the two seamlessly is a huge challenge. I recognize that and understand it. But it’s something that big brands need to do if they’re going to provide customer service on social media which I think they all should do.

A kids apron, sunglasses, some DIY projects, and a handwritten note for Derek from The Home Depot Social Team.
A kids apron, sunglasses, some DIY projects, and a handwritten note for Derek from The Home Depot Social Team.

In any event, The Home Depot social team came through, apologizing for the confusion with customer service, and sent Derek a package that included an apron and some other things too. All we wanted was the apron so that Derek could have something to bring to future workshops and a place to hang his pin on. The other extra stuff was nice too, and I’m sure it will keep Derek interested in DIY projects. They also included a hand written note saying that they hope Derek enjoyed the goodies and that they hope we will attend the next scheduled workshop. I thought the hand written note was a really nice touch, and personalized the whole customer service experience.

Social media is the outlet that a lot of people use to voice their frustrations and concerns with brands. Using social media as a way to address customer service issues allows brands to keep their existing customer base. While this might not be as sexy or as glamourous as creating the next advertising campaign to go viral, a good social customer service team will ensure that those customers that are already attracted to the brand stay there. I’m not saying that the customer service team should bend backwards to accommodate unrealistic expectations. Each incident needs to be researched and investigated and handled appropriately. There are definitely people out there that are looking to get whatever they can get for free. But if managed correctly, a good customer service social team can easily help build brand advocates. If customer service is being addressed on social and on other avenues, those teams should be synced up and regularly communicate. Mixed signals from two different customer service teams can lead to a frustrating experience for the customer.

In the end, I will most likely try and take Derek to the next scheduled Home Depot Kids Workshop, but we’ll try out a different store location instead. In the meantime, he’s proud and happy to wear the apron he was given. A big thank you to the @HomeDepot social team and Whitney Curtis!

A happy Derek with his Home Depot apron, pin, and project
A happy Derek with his Home Depot apron, pin, and project

Sphere of Influence: Aaron Lee On Staying Engaged With 470,000 Twitter Followers And Curating Content To Share

Sphere of Influence:  Aaron Lee On Staying Engaged With 470,000 Twitter Followers And Curating Content To Share

I’ll never forget my first reaction when I clicked on Aaron Lee’s Twitter profile and saw how many followers he had when I first joined Twitter. I don’t remember the exact number back then, but the number of followers that Aaron has now is over 470,000. That’s impressive.

What’s more impressive is that if you scroll through is feed of Tweets and Replies, you’ll see that he has conversations with a lot of different people. And you’ll notice that he doesn’t just talk to other people with massive followings, or people that have been labeled as “influential”, he talks to everyone. And with a following as large as his, “everyone” potentially means a lot of people.

I had a very welcoming social media experience with Aaron. I remember tweeting him when I barely had 100 followers and he tweeted me back and started a conversation. And by conversation I mean a back and forth exchange multiple times, not just some one word response once.

I remember asking him for help on showing how social media can help businesses and brands, and he proceeded to email me a list of links for resources to help me with that. As I think back and remember receiving that email, I was impressed that Aaron was willing to take time out of his busy schedule to help someone across the world that he’s never met in person.

I’m anticipating the day that Aaron is able to make the trip and visit NYC, but until then you’ll see us chatting on Twitter and other social networks. I encourage everyone to jump in an join the conversation and get to know Aaron if you haven’t. Thanks again to Aaron for sharing his insights and taking the time out of his busy schedule to help someone across the world.

Me: When and how did you get started in social media?

Aaron Lee: It’s a long story, so I recommend you grab a cup before we start. We have to start from the beginning.
Back in 2008, before I got into University, I had a conversation with my tutor about life. It later developed into a very long discussion including about how the book Napoleon Hill changed his life. He saw how intrigued I was and he gave that very book to me as a gift.

Sphere of Influence:  Aaron Lee On Staying Engaged With 470,000 Twitter Followers And Curating Content To Share

The book opened my eyes to the world. I went to the bookstore that very same day and found a book about earning a living off the internet. I thought it was a neat idea to be doing that. Why not? I was young and working in the office didn’t appeal to me, I went through the book and it didn’t take me long to purchase that book.

The book taught me the basics on how people could earn a living. You know, the stuff that they didn’t actually teach at school. I searched for more information online and stumbled upon bloggers like Darren Rowse of Problogger and Chris Brogan.

I spent the entire day digesting both of their blogs and reading about life, wealth and the freedom that comes from doing what I love. Both Darren and Chris talked about the power of social media which later encouraged me to blog and experimented with Twitter.

One of the most important things I learned that day was from how Chris demonstrated building a resume by using a blog.

In March 2009, I started Twitter to see if I could build traffic to my blog. A day later, someone from across the globe responded to my tweet and I knew then that he was more than just “traffic”. What I saw was the ability to connect with anyone in any part of the world.

I never stopped focusing on social media after that.

Me: With such a large following on Twitter, how are you able to engage with so many of the people so consistently? What is your secret to keeping up with everyone and what tips can you give people that struggle to do the same?

Aaron Lee: In my honest opinion, it starts with the right mindset. When I started using Twitter, it opened up my world and blew my mind.

With twitter, I was able to quickly network with anyone without any boundaries and I learned so much from amazing the people that I follow.

Learning from the entire experience made me want to make sure I gave back to the community. That is why I try to engage with people and help where I could, to grow the same community that helped me be who I am today.

Me: You’re always sharing content that I happen to find interesting and helpful. How are you able to find content like this on a regular basis, and how do you choose to share what you do on each network?

Aaron Lee: Thanks for the kind words, Jason. I have the people on my Twitter list to thank for that (and you are one of them!).

I am constantly looking through my lists to share interesting news that I find as well as engage with people on a regular basis. This helps me to share important stuff that I find and most importantly continue to build relationship with my friends.

Another secret is I use Post Planner’s viral photos feature, this helps me to pull viral photos that is already on Facebook to be shared on Twitter.

The key to building such a powerful list is understanding the people that are in there. I can create a list of thousands that barely share useful content, or have 10 influential people in there that actively share tips and spread knowledge.

You can connect with Aaron Lee here: askaaronlee.com, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+.

Sphere Of Influence: Ted Nguyen On Growing Your Social Network And Working With Brands

Sphere Of Influence:  Ted Nguyen On Growing Your Social Network And Working With Brands

First impressions are very important; you don’t get a second chance at them. How someone perceives you right from the start can have a big effect on how the relationship moves, or doesn’t move, forward. I had wanted to meet up with Ted Nguyen for a long time. We had connected on social media a while back and we finally had the chance to meet up when I was in Anaheim for a few days.

Nowadays, first impressions aren’t always made in person. They can be made on social media, email, or by phone. Ted was a fun person to chat with on Twitter, he always came across as helpful and encouraging. When I met him in person, he ended up being exactly who he was online, which was very refreshing. Ted was very hospitable, introducing me to some great Vietnamese food and we had a great conversation.

What impresses me about Ted is that he’s very adamant about aligning himself with brands that he feels represent his own values, and he won’t compromise that. He’s done some really great work with the brands he’s partnered with. I was also impressed with his story and how hard he worked to build his network and blog. No matter how busy Ted is, he’s always willing to help. When Ted commits to doing something, he always follows through and I appreciate that about him.

Ted was kind enough to share his thoughts and advice on building a strong following on social media and working with brands. I hope you find his words helpful and as insightful as I did.

Me: How and when did you get started on social media?

Ted Nguyen: I got started on social media with MySpace in 2006 and when I heard that universities students were abuzz about Facebook. The social network was exclusively available to them at the time. As soon as it was available outside of universities, I signed up my dog, Maddox.

I didn’t want to risk another wasted attempt after MySpace, so I admit I used my 7-pound Chihuahua as an experiment. But the animal testing was great. I started connecting with other animal lovers and advocates for pet adoption and spaying and neutering. In just a few months, Maddox gained thousands of meaningful friends all around the world. I thought this is really different this time.

As a public relations and marketing communications professional, I can’t help but start with the research and after pouring over the overwhelmingly positive touch points of Maddox’ experiment on Facebook, I decided to join myself with a plan of providing personal, helpful and meaningful content. But my lesson with Maddox also taught me to not only share about professional and personal life but to contribute to the different communities and help others with insights, solutions and encouragement.

Soon after that I jumped on Twitter and began keynoting and speaking at regional, national and even international conferences on social media. And I have to credit the social media prowess of my four-pawed companion for getting me started.

Me: You’ve been able to build an impressive following and network, what advice do you have for people looking to grow their own following and network?

Ted Nguyen: I’ve been really fortunate to have a large network across all the different social media platforms. But it does take work. The first thing I do in the morning and the last thing at night is to check on my network. Once I’m committed to something, I can’t help but to be passionate. And so should you if you want to grow your network and your influence.

For those looking to expand your network, I recommend to first identify your objectives for having social media platforms. The numbers will grow, but you must have a strategy to drive toward your goals and objectives. Make sure your online voice is consistent with who you are in real life. And I cannot stress the power of being positive and motivating others in your network. I also find that it’s important to take a stand on issues that are deeply important to you and show respect to those who share their convictions and beliefs. It’s important for your emerging network to get to know your true authentic self.

I’m also a firm believer in not just saying but doing. I take time to actively participate in real-life events and activities whether it’s meeting someone for coffee, live tweeting at a conference or organizing events – large or small. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy, but it takes a concerted effort to scale appropriately. It will take time, and you must employ a consistent approach to be successful.

Me: You’ve been able to work on some cool social projects with some really great brands. What are your words of wisdom when it comes to working with large brands?

Ted Nguyen: When working with large brands the same applies to small brands or entrepreneurs – develop a deep understanding of their business world and gain insights into what makes them tick. What are their business needs? How do you make their lives better and easier? How will you provide value in helping them do something faster, smarter and cheaper?

I also think you need to possess strategic-thinking skills in helping brands and corporate officers discover how you can help them connect with a dynamic world and deliver on those alliances that move the marketplace of ideas, goods and services. The other component is measuring and evaluating metrics by separating outputs from outcomes. How did your plan impact the process toward the tangible and measurable objective? And how did your tactics and objectives help drive the business goal?

In this hyper-active business world of doing, it’s also critically important to start off correctly with a healthy dose of research and discovery and to book-end it with measurements and evaluations – and most importantly, re-adjusting and refining all along the way. Social media, digital communications, online marketing, etc. are powerful tools but they are not the end all of a strategic approach to solving problems and making life better for you and your loved ones.

You can connect with Ted Nguyen here: TedNguyenUSA.com, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, YouTube, SocialCam