The acronym for the day is SOCIAL, or “Suitably Overt Customer Interaction And Loyalty”.

Many of my new clients express frustration at Twitter, decrying it as a shadow play with little substance and no value to their corporate brand needs. In those cases where Twitter conversation would be a useful mechanism in brand building, it doesn’t take long to lay out the many reasons why such engagement has value. It takes more than a few minutes, however, so when a brand demonstrates the value of Twitter engagement in literally a few minutes, I want to celebrate the case study.

This afternoon, in between meetings, I stopped by a Chipotle restaurant, to grab a chicken burrito (one of my occasional not-too-guilty pleasures!). I’ve enjoyed the experience at this restaurant for several years now, with its proven mix of marketable ingredients (organic, sustainable, carefully prepared, etc) and fast friendly service. I was surprised and disappointed, therefore, when I was served today by a somewhat lackluster team of servers with little enthusiasm, who doled out minute portions, and then back-filled my burrito with copious amounts of lettuce, in order to disguise the miniscule mix of “main” ingredients. To make matters worse, they left my burrito sitting open on the counter for a lonnnng time, while they went off in search of the lettuce, such that it was stone cold when I finally bit in to it. I was in a hurry to get to my next meeting, so I hurriedly vented via Twitter, and carried on my day, disappointed, but focusing on other matters. Here below is my tweet:

Within less than a minute I got this reply on Twitter:

Keeping with my shark analogy, I decided to bite, and – while listening to a particularly monotonous Q1 earnings call, I filled out an online customer feedback form. I hadn’t even finished the call, when I received an email from a customer service rep at Chipotle (copying a grand total of 13 other Chipotle employees!) apologizing to me for my experience, and detailing the actions the company intended to take to ensure that the restaurant where I had had my unfortunate experience improve its service with all due haste. That I was also offered a free burrito was a nice “icing on the cake” gesture that I appreciated. I was most struck, however, by the clearly demonstrated urgency and seriousness with which Chipotle’s online customer service team responded to my offhanded “vent”. In a matter of minutes, this individual disenchanted customer was converted in to an admiring partner in their success. I immediately tweeted my reaction:

And was instantly answered:

That short exchange cemented the brand’s humanity and intimacy, which is all too often a casualty in a very noisy retail marketplace, especially in the food services sector. It took Chipotle less than 20 minutes to fix a relatively small problem, but that 20 minutes also served to reestablish and strengthen a relationship with one of their most valuable brand stewards, the customer.

So, when you’re next wondering whether an investment in social engagement is worth it, take a look at the cost of all your ad buys, and the time you spend interfacing with your agencies, and the weeks you spend percolating messaging, and then perhaps you’ll realize that the ability to have quick and direct conversations with your end-user is of far greater value than you previously imagined: 20 minutes, perhaps 8 times daily, exponentially multiplied by the knock-on goodwill generated…there’s real power in doing things right.

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