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The Benefits of Always Listening to Consumers on Social Media

Terry Golesworthy
Insurance Experts' Forum, November 21, 2013

Social media channels are, more often than not, touted as a way to connect with younger consumers who otherwise are outside the sphere of influence of traditional sales and marketing channels. That is indeed true. But social media channels are just as much about enabling consumers to talk about brands. For insurers, brand reputation is probably the most compelling reason to embrace social media channels. Corporate messages are being drowned out by the sheer volume of public conversations about organizations of every size and in every industry.

Companies in other industries are far more aggressive in their use of social media channels, especially when it comes to listening and responding. I know that such outlets have far fewer regulatory or privacy constraints, but if consumers are talking about you, it makes business sense to hear what they say. We can demonstrate how prevalent this is becoming with a recent rather comedic example that took place on Twitter in the U.K.

In summary, a customer of Tesco Mobile (a cell phone provider) pointed out that a fellow customer was complaining about the company. Tesco’s representative picked up the tweet and started a casual and very amicable back-and-forth, during which the customer suggested a cup of tea (this is Britain, after all). Into the conversation jumped Yorkshire Tea, a major U.K. brand, with, “You rang?” The thread continued and was joined by Jaffa Cakes, Cadbury’s and snack food company Phileas Fogg. As the exchange moved into the evening, Newcastle Brown Ale joined in. After five days, it was still going on, with many brands and consumers participating, and it reached the attention of major news outlets.

You can see part of this conversation by following this link.

Now, you might have two reactions to this. The first could be that the social media community managers for these brands have way too much time on their hands — that this is a complete waste of time and money and demonstrates just how pointless what is communicated over social media channels has become. A second response could be that this is a problem: Consumers are being trained to expect brands to be monitoring social media channels and jumping in to help when needed. This is a fundamental change in expectations that control the business/customer relationship.

Up until now, good customer service has been to answer the telephone promptly and deal with any problems efficiently. That will change. Consumers expect brands — and that includes insurers — to anticipate an issue and proactively reach out to the consumer, not to wait for the consumer to call them.

Now, before you say this can’t happen in insurance, think again. At least 15 major insurers have dedicated Twitter accounts — they are monitoring social media channels, looking for any brand mention. This list includes USAA, GEICO, Progressive, Allstate, Mutual of Omaha and Travelers.

This proactive-listening approach also threatens to break our neat internal silos. Not every brand mention is necessarily a problem — some are opportunities. And with this in mind, the conversation described above makes more sense. On a rough analysis, Tesco Mobile, during this conversation, has been mentioned in over 40,000 tweets, reaching millions of people, although they were initially just responding to a single customer. This is happening even in insurance, Ameriprise Auto and Home regularly reaches out to people who express the need for a car insurance company or dissatisfaction with an existing insurer. State Farm has a Twitter identity, “Jake from State Farm,” which reaches out to anybody who mentions Jake. The Jake meme reached a crescendo over Halloween, when khaki pants and a name tag made for a remarkably easy costume.

Have a look through the Tesco Twitter feed. It is largely pointless, but consider the strategic implications of having to adapt to how customers expect to connect with you. You will need to follow their rules, rather than expect them to follow yours. This is outside of the industry’s control: Expectations are being set now by brands such as Tesco, Jaffa Cakes and Yorkshire Tea. So have a cup of tea, or a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale, and plan for the future.

This blog was posted with the permission of the Customer Respect Group.

Terry Golesworthy, president of The Customer Respect Group, has covered technology issues and innovations in the insurance industry for many years.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Terry using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He also can be reached at terry@customerrespect.com.

The opinions of bloggers on www.insurancenetworking.com do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News.

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