11/27/2013 09:04 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Four Companies Who Make Customer Engagement a Priority

Imagine being seated at a restaurant. The host takes you down a very long corridor leading to a small dark room -- an off-shoot of the actual restaurant. This is what it feels like to be a customer who wants to engage with a company on social, but isn't given the same attention as one might get through the call center, email or chat. From a social business perspective customers who choose to interact should have the same experience as the other diners. They shouldn't notice that they are "different."

Becoming a social business takes more than one presentation. It demands a shift in perception about what it means to create and keep a customer. The business sees itself as part of a larger ecosystem. Social business takes the collaboration of many groups. It takes hundreds of conversations and a lot of patience. It also takes recognizing the day to day wins and not trying to do everyone at once. A few companies started a few years ago, and as a result have become pillars in the industry.

Here are a four companies I think are doing a fabulous job -- and what I like about their programs.

Cisco certified and proud of it

Just the fact that Cisco calculated its support communities saved the company 200 million dollars annually in case deflection means something for everyone trying to prove the ROI of social. It can be done. Cisco has one of the most powerful super user programs in technology. They don't just blog, they have a thought leadership program complete with Google+ chats, a full Facebook Support Page with more than half a million followers. They're doing really cool stuff with certification groups on LinkedIn. As a result of the hard work they put into their education and recognition program a Cisco certification holds weight. The engagement of Cisco's extensive ecosystem is a priority, but so is focusing on recognizing their super users. Cisco Experts are displayed on the support homepage. They've done a great job of making social customer service a priority -- and it shows.

Microsoft is helpful and uncomplicated

Microsoft started their social media program a few years ago when they were facing severe customer issues. Their partner base had grown to 180,000 and they were facing support and satisfaction issues. Based on an internal survey they conducted, 64 percent of their partners were less than satisfied and another 62 percent wanted better support and information. They started engaging their customers on social media and as a result saw a 15 percent lift in their satisfaction ratings in the first year and a 17 percent lift in the second year. Their website saw a 400 percent increase in traffic. This success resulted in a 30 percent drop in call service volume.

The Microsoft support community is clean and easy to navigate. There's easy to access self-service options, great videos, and a compelling gamification program with a variety of very smart badges driving high levels of engagement. Microsoft's badging and recognition program are driving important behaviors for their social program. The badges include content creator, guardian (reporting abuse), quickest answer badge, most important answer of the week badge, content curator badge and much more.


Zappos spreads joy online and off, unpretentious zany culture

Companies tend to take on the culture and values of the leadership. CEO Tony Hsieh makes it known that weirdness is a good thing -- value #3 on the Zappos Core Family Values. Zappos was back in the news this week with criticism from Kanye West. West said, "I got into this giant argument with the head of Zappos that he's trying to tell me what I need to focus on. Meanwhile, he sells all this s-t product to everybody, his whole thing is based off of selling s-t product."

As a "social" company you put yourself out there, but that can be a good thing when dealing with negativity. Zappos responded to West brilliantly with a post to the site generating thousands of media impressions, comments, responses and shares. People across the web are applauding Hsieh and his team for their sense of humor. Social companies can laugh at themselves.

Not only does the company get social online -- they see the importance of building community offline as well. Zappos is involved in building up downtown Las Vegas with the Downtown Project creating 438 new jobs.

Sephora wants to see your face

I am a Sephora customer -- and it's obvious to me this is a company that focuses on customer experience -- and makes it a priority in every decision. Generally a company will take the same approach to everything they do. If they value social, it will be considered in every decision. Social doesn't just mean twitter, FB and YouTube. It means the company has a desire to create a relationship with the customer so they keep coming back. Sephora customers that are a part of the gamification process spend 10x as much as the average customer. Consumers that engage in social cues from Sephora are so driven by rewards, customer service and quality that they buy more products and discuss their experiences with other possible customers online. This company has an extensive engagement program -- and the online experience matches the enthusiasm and openness you find in the retail stores. On multiple occasions in NYC and the Bay Area I have gone into Sephora -- not much of a make-up aficionado -- and had their employees put make-up on me and provide tips on how to use their products. Both of these times I bought a lot of products from them -- because not only was it good product, good service, but I knew how to make the most of the make-up itself. I would find this service oriented approach on their support communities, on their website, or social media.

In conclusion ask yourself are you providing your community with a supreme experience? Your customers who reach out to you on social shouldn't feel any different than your other customers. Social is an entirely new way of thinking about business. Focus on a more dynamic approach to customer engagement and you too will reap the many benefits.