How to Reach Out and Join a Conversation

One of the many benefits of internet technology is the ability to see and join interact with people who have a demonstrated interest in what you're doing, and to show them that you care. This is especially important to people who have a passion for making themselves and their companies better...those humble enough to know that customers are often smarter about what's right and wrong with their business. Here are four keys to joining the social community...

Tune in- be good at sniffing and snooping to see what's being said, typed, photographed or in some way digitally memorialized. There are a host of companies who will do this on your behalf. Google Alerts is a good first step if you're constrained by budget, boss or both. And, if you have an iPhone, try the Exposure app. It has an option to search for photo's uploaded to Flickr which are near your current position (requires 3g iPhone gps). I stood in the lobby of a hotel today and showed the concierge a photo that had been taken of her giving a prospective guest a tour...scary isn't it.

Reach Out and Ask- Once you've sniffed out something interesting, a rant or rave, make contact and ask for permission to join. Don't leave drive by comments , initiate rebuttal or make sarcastic remarks. Do politely engage and ask if you can help.

Meaningful, genuine dialog-  No form letters or canned responses allowed. Be personal, polite, apologetic (if applicable) and provide whatever information or action is requested. If you don't have the answer, find someone who does. Offer to follow-up. But, don't pester people.

No Control- Don't do anything that gives the impression you want to control the outcome of your exchange. If you do, you lose trust and probably a customer, ten, or maybe a thousand. Remember, you're on a stage, and it's not yours.

Today, I experienced a perfect example of how to reach out and join a conversation. It follows on the heels of my rant earlier this week about a less than stellar experience with the Wilife call center.

It turns out the customer service folks at Logitech (they own Wilife) do a nice job of keeping their ear to the ground for stories like mine. Yesterday, I received an email from Jon Mitchell, Director of Worldwide Customer Support for Logitech. The note was personal, genuinely written, asked for additional details of my encounter and included an offer to follow up by phone. We spoke today, where he and Brad, a call center manager, listened to my story, apologized, told me what happened, offered some recourse and most importantly did not ask me to write a follow-up to my original post. Bravo...nice recovery.