In today’s social media age, it’s not enough to just build a brand and assume it’ll flourish. More than ever, companies need customers to be emotionally cemented to their brands via superior products and exceptional customer service.
Imagine Mardi Gras on an ultra-luxurious Italian cruise liner, with live music from more than 20 jazz, funk, rock and jam bands playing nearly 24 hours a day. Mix in theme nights with costumes, karaoke contests where all-star musicians back up the contestants, excursions like all-terrain vehicle rides through the jungles of Belize, and workshops that go “behind the music,” and you get the idea.
Now imagine that the customers, many of whom are repeat cruisers who call themselves “repeat offenders,” for the most part drive the experience.
After each cruise, a large survey goes out to the passengers. This year’s contained 58 questions and arrived in my e-mail inbox one week after the cruise. Despite its length, the response rate is regularly 30 percent, according to Annabel Lukins Stelling, the marketing director for Jam Cruise. More importantly, customers answer each question with great detail because they know their answers are going to make the next cruise even better.
Additionally, the company’s staff maintains a strong presence on Jam Cruise’s message boards, Facebook and MySpace pages. The message boards have a very strong community feel and remain highly active throughout the year. By continually monitoring these social sites and communicating back when appropriate, much is learned about jam cruisers and what they like and dislike.
Which is why Jam Cruise, six years later, always sells out. In fact, many people prebook a year in advance and love to spread the word to bring new people on the ship.
But, like any other business, Jam Cruise isn’t perfect. This year, a major computer snafu caused the passenger embarkation process to go awry. Some people waited in excess of six hours to get on the ship.
Almost within minutes of the ship’s arrival back at port, the message boards lit up like a Christmas tree with complaints.
One of the risks of social media is the impact negative comments could have on business. As more people seek out peer reviews via social media, Internet chatter can make or break a business.
To its credit, the Jam Cruise staff posted a number of explanations and apologies for the embarkation problems, along with assurances that the problem was found, addressed and won’t happen again. Those apologies and assertions made a difference, and the message boards settled down.
The Jam Cruise staff plans to send a second survey and additional communications in the near future to allay peoples’ fears about future issues, according to Lukins Stelling.
The moral of the story: Social media can be an enormous benefit to a company — or a major detractor. Listening to your customers is crucial and can provide many rewards, as well as help with customer service and product-related issues.
Jim Gilbert is president and CEO of Gilbert Direct Marketing Inc., a Boca Raton, Fla.-based catalog and direct marketing agency. Reach Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org.