Building a community

As I discussed in my previous post, I believe companies have been using Twitter in one of three ways: as a PR/Marketing machine, as a customer service platform or to engage their customers and form an online community. While the focus is a little different, each does have a customer services impact. It is the latter of the three that I will be discussing today.

The community approach encourages more than just communication from the company to its customers. It encourages customers to communicate with each other.

It does more than draw attention to the company. It portrays the company as one that cares about its customers. The key to this model’s success is how it responds to the needs of the customers (here’s the customer service angle).

A example of this approach is Panchero’s Mexican Grill, a chain of  made to order burrito restaurants based out of Coralville, Iowa.

If you check out Panchero’s Twitter feed you will see what I mean. Reid Travis, the social media manager for Panchero’s, monitors the feed and actively engages with the community.

Panchero’s even takes the concept of tweetups one step further and hosts “burritoups” at its restaurants.

“Panchero’s basically started the Twitter account with the goal of having a way to intercept and participate in conversations taking place online and also to spark conversation about Panchero’s online,” Travis said.

I would say with more than 3,400 followers and 5,700 tweets, Panchero’s is achieving that goal.

With Panchero’s “burritoups” and community engagement many of the followers have had the opportunity to meet Travis in person and if they haven’t they still communicate with him frequently.

If you go into a restaurant and have a negative experience are you more likely to ignore it, call customer service and complain or simply send a quick tweet to someone you have established a rapport with?

Watching for negative tweets and responding is a key measure of a company’s success at this approach.

While, I had  to go back several days to find a negative tweet, Travis responds to them and requests more details.

“@GeraldHenry That doesn’t sound too good. Something I can help with?:

Reaching out like this shows the customer, who in this case didn’t even mention @pancheros in his original tweet, that Panchero’s wants to rectify the situation. The responses are public and other customers can see that Panchero’s reacts to issues and shines a more positive light on the company.

Panchero’s also hosts Twitter Trivia Fridays. Trivia Fridays incorporates Panchero’s other social media outlets as the winners are announced in a video posted on the company’s YouTube and blog.

“A platform like Twitter is a dream come true for companies who want to focus on customer service and have a drive to connect with their consumers. I think it’s important for companies to keep up with where their consumers are gathering,” Travis said.

I’m sure there are others taking Panchero’s approach, but I have struggled to find them. If you know of any please leave me a comment or contact me at I would love to follow up with additional examples.

In the interest of disclosure: I am a regular customer of Panchero’s and have participated in contests they hosted. I did win one contest. However, I am not receiving anything from Panchero’s for posting this blog. Everything I have written is my own opinion (with the exception of Reid Travis’s quotes of course).


Is Twitter the answer?

In my last post, I questioned the future of customer service and asked if Twitter was the answer. Here are my initial thoughts on Twitter’s role.

I’ve  looked around Twitter for various businesses and looked at how they utilized their Twitter accounts. I also put out a call for assistance and tweeted:

@smithbm12: Anyone have experience with customer service via twitter? I wanna blog about it, but need some more facts. #customerservice #cs

I heard back from Barry Dalton (@bsdalton) about a positive experience he had with @LinkedIn. Derek Homann (@dhomann) also chimed in with some assistance. This prompted me to start doing even more searching of my own.

What I soon saw was a distinct pattern in the way companies utilized Twitter. The accounts were either used as a PR/Marketing outlet with little to no interaction, a customer service outlet dedicated to helping customers or a place to foster interaction and establish a community among it’s customers. A few companies also had a combination of PR/Marketing and customer service, @LinkedIn being one of them.

Over the next few blog posts I will take a more in depth look at each of these methods and my observations of what companies are doing. If you have a story to share please contact me either through a comment on this post or a tweet (@smithbm12).

Customer service in a digital age

A recent encounter with US Cellular customer service got me thinking about the future of customer service. When you call tech support a recorded message says it will be easier to troubleshoot issues with your phone if you are calling from a different phone or a landline.

That recorded message is where I had a dilemma. As a college student, my cell phone is my only phone (and often my main form of communication). How am I supposed to call from another phone if I don’t have one?

So, what is the answer? How can customer service evolve to best serve those of us that are permanently attached to our BlackBerries or iPhones and have left the landlines in the dust? If your department title is customer service, shouldn’t it be easy for your customers to interact with you?

I don’t know the answer. I don’t think anyone fully does, but I do believe the answer is to start experimenting with new technologies.

In our increasingly digital age, technology is constantly improving and changing.  However, how customers interact with customer service professionals hasn’t changed much. It has almost always been telephone based.

A few companies have utilized instant messaging platforms, but they are not heavily advertised and often difficult. I have used instant message platforms from NEW, Pearson and HP. I have yet to have a good experience.

What about Twitter? In the last year,  Twitter has grown more than 575 percent. Has customer service adapted and followed us to Twitter?

What are your thoughts? Have you had positive (or negative) experiences using an alternative form of customer service? Leave a comment and I will use your input to help guide a series of posts about the how to evolve.

Refreshing attitude

As the new semester began at Iowa State today, I sat through two classes and two separate discussions of class expectations.

It was the second class, Jl MC 342: Visual Principles for Mass Communicators, that surprised and delighted me. The instructor, Dr. Jacob Groshek has taken notice of the increased usage of laptops and smartphones. Unlike the majority of professors that ban these technologies, Groshek’s policy is “If you feel you can not pay attention for 50 minutes and must do things like text your friends, update your facebook status, or read the newspaper during class, I kindly ask that you do these activities discreetly and in a way that does not distract me or your classmates from our course material.”

While this isn’t an endorsement of using technology during class, not restricting it is an important first step. While I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always use my BlackBerry for constructive purposes during class, it’s nice to know that I’m not risking repercussion. Especially if I am actually looking up something for class or adding test dates and assignments to my calendar.

Groshek even informed the class that he setup a Twitter hashtag (#jlmc342) for the class. It’s important for a communications class to explore all forms of communication.

Hopefully other professors will take note and take it one step further and utlize social media to connect with their students. How helpful would it be to get tweets with test studying tips the night before an exam?

Creating transparency beyond journalism

Transparency. In the journalism world we are hearing more and more about being transparent.

A lot of the talk surrounding transparency has been how it can make journalism more credible and open. Does the reporter have a bias? Is the reporter somehow connected to the topic? What sources were used?  Can the community provide feedback? Is the reporter’s contact information available? Do we interact with our community?

But does transparency also have ramifications outside of the journalism world? I think the answer is yes.

This whole post is sparked by a mailing I received from my bank on Saturday. On the outside it says, “Your relationship with Quad City Bank & Trust just got more rewarding.” QCBT made some strong choices with this wording and it certainly got me to open the mailer. Who doesn’t want a more rewarding relationship with a bank?

What was on the inside is what really surprised me. The message from the president and CEO was your typical here is why we think we’re better than other banks and thank you for being our customer. However, the last sentence was what really caught my attention. “Please keep my phone number on file and let me know if there is ever anything Quad City Bank & Trust can do to make your banking experience more rewarding.” Underneath his signature is the telephone number for his direct line.

How often do you see any CEO hand out his direct phone line to all of his customers, yet alone the CEO of a bank? I think this level of transparency highlights a dedication to his clients. I applaud John Anderson and Quad City Bank and Trust and challenge others in the business world to ask themselves, are we accessible when our customers need help?

Note: In the interest of transparency, my only connection to Quad City Bank & Trust is the checking account I have with them. As part of the mailer, a $25 referral card was also enclosed.

An Introduction

I finally did it. I made the decision to start a blog. While I am unsure of what direction to go in, I think the best place to start is with an introduction, so here it goes.

I’m Brian Smith and I am currently a sophomore at Iowa State University and in the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication. I work for the Iowa State Daily, the independent student newspaper of Iowa State, as a design chief and copy editor. My passion is design, but I’m learning to enjoy the copy editing.

I found my way to journalism in middle school and spent 6th-8th grades on the staff of my school paper. I quickly let the idea fade and didn’t give it much more thought, as I had my heart set on becoming a lawyer. During high school, I began to realize that law wasn’t for me, but didn’t really know what else to do. As senior year approached, I had an opening in my schedule. I decided to add the publications class and give it another try.

When I joined the publications class, I was asked about becoming an editor. As quickly as I decided to join, I was now the center spread editor for the newspaper and a design editor for the yearbook. I feel in love. The thrill of starting with a blank page and in the end producing something useful for the readers got me hooked.

As the world of journalism changes around me I often wonder if I’m on the right path. I know what I want to spend the rest of my life doing, but will there be any jobs left in newspapers? I’m taking steps to make sure that I am as diversified as possible and hopefully the answer will be yes. Hopefully my experiences blogging, learning the various social media platforms, designing, copy editing and even writing an occasional article will help secure me a place in the journalism community.