Why First Contact is So Important

First contact is so important. No, not that First Contact, this isn’t a story about aliens coming to Earth peaceably or otherwise. This is a story about first contact with your brand.

Still from Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Close Encounters of the Third Kind – meeting a brand for the first time shouldn’t be this daunting

We’d like to think otherwise, but the majority of people make assumptions. and they make those assumptions within the first few seconds of encountering something new. That’s why it’s important to make the right impression straight away; even more so when first contact is made through social media channels. Go back five years and the majority of contact between consumers and brands was at arms length and through traditional media channels. This one-way communication meant that there was a lower expectation from the consumer as to the level of the relationship – there was an acceptance that you (the brand) spoke to them and not the other way around (the only exception to this was through customer support channels, but by that time you’re already a customer). The advent of social media changed this paradigm forever. Now there is an expectation that brands will respond to consumers on their terms, and if they don’t consumers will feel ignored. It’s like going on a first date and having your date sitting in silence looking at the guy on the next table – a real slap in the face.

A slap in the face – the case study

Not me I hasten to add; I’ve never been slapped in the face, although I have had a drink thrown at me (I was innocent-ish). No, this was my first contact with Dollar Shave Club.

Dollar Shave Club is a US-based company that is taking a fresh look at the business of shaving. For a small amount of money each month, they’ll send you a new, simple razor. It’s a refreshing step away from the big brand name razors with all their 7-blade, vibrating, cut-repairing, super shielded, built-in shaving gel monstrosities. I first encountered them through an article online and from there, the Facebook page and their website. Dollar Shave Club have really embraced these platforms as a way to do business, relying on the viral nature of their marketing to spread the word. And, for me, it’s really effective. You can see their video below, complete with swearing, bears and machetes.

As a result of this I was keen to find out more about when the service would be available in the UK, so I tweeted them at @DollarShaveClub. Not just any tweet, but one with a vaguely amusing picture attached (that played up to British stereotypes), I was quite pleased with the result of my efforts. The picture is, of course, the wonderful Terry Thomas (IMDB).

I sat back and waited for a reply, sure that I would get at the very least an acknowledgement or a canned reply. Nothing was forthcoming, so I left it a couple more days, still nothing. In Twitterland, two days is a massive amount of time, so by this time I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get a reply at all. I was disappointed. It had shaken my faith in the brand. If it had been Nestle or Unilever, I wouldn’t have expected anything, but for a company like this – that lives online –  I did.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think it’s a great idea, and if they do set up in the UK, I’ll be on the list straight away (I’m terrible at buying new blades, mainly because they are so damn expensive). But they lost the chance to create an real advocate.

There’s a lesson here

Yes, there is a lesson here. Any business that goes online in this way, looking to generate sales through their online presence (and that’s just about everybody these days), has to understand that they’ve opened a communication channel. Facebook pages, websites, Twitter feeds; they’re all part of your relationship with customers and potential customers. As such they have to be given the same level of attention as a any other customer support channel. If I phoned my bank and they just decided not to answer my phone, or worse, answered it and then just didn’t say anything, they would be held up as an example of bad customer service; so why is it okay to do this online? The simple answer – it’s not.

If you’re moving your business online and taking advantage of all that social media has to offer (as 90% of US small business are), make sure you don’t make the mistake of  leaving your offline experience behind. Your existing customer support processes are just as valuable now as they ever were. Social Media is just one more channel to add into the mix.

Have you had a similar experience? If you’re selling online, how have you adapted your customer support processes to cope? Has it been a smooth transition, or a 24/7 nightmare? I’d be interested in your comments.

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