If there’s anything I took away from another life-giving webinar with Chip Bell and Jamey Lutz, it’s that we live in an exciting, albeit gray time in providing expert customer service online.

That was the topic of our eye-opening webinar, Wired and Dangerous 2, which I moderated and learned so from customer service experts Chip and Jamey in the process. Our first Wired and Dangerous webinar was overflowing with tips and tools to turn the era of social media into your personal companion to create raving fans of your brand. It’s a tough task these days since we’re basically writing the rules as we go, but it sure is an important one.

We had so much material, in fact, that we had to expand it into a sequel. And once again, we had an hour of just game-changing discussion that will reorient the way you look at customer service in the digital age.

I’m excited to share with you my three biggest takeaways.

Money may buy you an audience, but it won’t buy you influence

During the webinar, I mentioned a story about someone who reached out to me about being her client for the product she was selling. I was excited about it, and then she offered an incentive. She gave me the normal price for being a client, and then she offered a discount price in return for five posts about her business on our social media every month.

Take a minute and think about it. What would you do?

It’s kind of a hard question, right? For me, it was an ethical gray area. There’s nothing on the books that says this is wrong, per se, and you can bet things like this happen all the time. But at least for me, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it just felt wrong. I felt off about arranging something like that, which I had to realize at that moment since I’d never been in that situation before.

This happens to us all the time, and the lesson is that money can’t buy an intangible like online influence. We need to look at the intention behind something before jumping in headfirst. So be vigilant about what trips your “this isn’t right” sensor. The tough part is that in a lot of scenarios, we don’t have a handbook to tell us what these things are. We just have to trust our senses.

Live by the Whuffie Factor

As usual, Chip had a deluge of folksy references and book suggestions for me, and the biggest one I took away was a book I’ve definitely added to my reading list: The Whuffie Factor by Tara Hunt.

Here’s a quote from the book, as read by Chip in our webinar, about what exactly the Whuffie Factor is.

“Whuffie is the residual outcome, the currency, of your social media reputation. Influence comes from being nice, being networked and being noble and making a contribution. There’s no room for bullies with a lot of money.”

This is exactly in line what we should be thinking about digital age customer service. Maybe the most enduring lesson I took away from Wired and Dangerous 2 was to be kind, generous, noble and to make a contribution with what I do in the customer service sphere online. And we can’t do that if we aren’t paying attention to the way we deal with our customers on a daily basis. Otherwise it’s all too easy to slip into being a bully instead of treating someone with dignity and respect.

Chip mentioned that the marketplace of social media is a lot like the marketplace of the old-fashioned farmer’s market. We need to apply manners to it and recognize that if we aren’t treating our customers in this way, we’re passing right by our own Whuffie Factor and allowing ourselves to be consumed by a negative feedback loop.

Look at negative feedback online as an opportunity

It can be easy to get defensive in the face of an angry customer online. We have a saying in our hallway in bold letters that frames everything we do: when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. So what if, instead of seeing that angry Facebook comment as a challenge, we saw it as an opportunity.

Jamey said something that really stuck with me during the webinar on this topic: If an unsatisfied customer is reaching out on social media, it means they’re mentally willing to be persuaded and brought back around as a raving, addicted fan. It’s the silent ones who’ve checked out.

And so here are the actionable steps I took away from how to handle a tough customer online.

  1. Have standards written out about what’s acceptable in your social media. This means I don’t get offended or overreact in the moment and it takes out some of the emotional sting

  2. Remove the feedback if it’s outside those standards

  3. Refer back to these standards in the response to let them know why you removed it

  4. Privately message them back to open up a dialogue and let them know there’s a way forward that benefits both of us

How encouraging is this? Our challenge with social media isn’t to recede into a hole when we get bad reviews or angry comments. It should be to view those as chances to grow. When Chip talked about this concept, he slowed down the word “feedback” and emphasized the word “feed.” If we’re willing to look at it this way, online feedback is actually a chance to have awareness around an issue and really grow in that moment. It’s a powerful message we can all use.

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