Utility Week

Utility Week 1st November 2013

Utility Week - authoritative, impartial and essential reading for senior people within utilities, regulators and government

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Customers Market view Ask a stupid question… British Gas invited the good folk of the Twittersphere to participate in a Q&A to gauge public reaction to its announcement of a 10% price hike – it turned out to be a bad idea, says Kate Cooper. W hen British Gas decided to get its customer services director to conduct a Twitter Q&A on the same morning as announcing a 9.2 per cent price hike, the UK's number one gas supplier was clearly unaware of the car crash that was set to occur. The situation was made much worse by its ill-fated decision to use the hashtag #AskBG, which was quickly hijacked by angry customers, receiving over 11,500 mostly negative comments in just 24 hours. What's more, the response from British Gas was wholly seen as lame, with a highly impersonal message included on its Twitter profile. So where did British Gas go wrong? Problems often occurs when social media is the domain of only one or two departments. Silos prevent true cross-department collaboration, which is vital to make social media work, especially with customer-facing departments like customer services. Unfortunately, it often takes a well publicised blunder like this to give organisations the wake-up call required to spur them to radically overhaul both their internal structures and external communications strategies to be better equipped to manage online PR in the future. There's no doubt that the #AskBG Twitter furore will have left other utility companies wondering how they can prevent the same fate befallling them. In essence, it's not just about doing social but actually about being social throughout the organisation. Here are five ways British Gas could more effectively manage its online reputation, especially at a time of crisis: 1. Embed a listening culture Many businesses now use social media to listen to what customers are saying about their brand or products online. How many utilities have embedded a listening culture throughout their organisation? It's important that an entire organisation connects with its consumers in a meaningful and effective way. This can be achieved by giving key employees (if not all employees) direct access to a live feed of customer com- 28 | 1st - 7th November 2013 | UTILITY WEEK #AskBG… Lee Vincent @LeeJamesVincent #AskBG Hi Bert, which items of furniture do you, in your opinion, think people should burn first this winter? Kaiser Farrell @KatFarrell #AskBG My bedroom has a window where the sun comes in that makes one side of my room really hot, how much do I owe you? Alan Gibbs @alan_gibbs #AskBG Can you reinstate my paper bills please, or send anything else that will burn? James Ball @jamesrbuk #AskBG Will you pass on the cost savings from firing your social media team to customers? ments through social media or setting up a tweetwall on a plasma screen in the canteen. 2. Adopt a multi-department strategy Successful management of social media requires more than just marketing or PR being involved. You need to connect sales, customer service, product planning and development to truly leverage the benefits while also be well prepared to mitigate the risks. 3. Have a crisis management plan in place One way to start connecting departments is by proactively planning for a crisis scenario by having a crisis management plan in place. This should include: • A definition of different levels of social media crisis. In your industry, what constitutes a high enough volume of mentions to be cause for concern? • Threshold alerts that alert stakeholders from multiple departments when volume or sentiment of mentions reach a certain critical point. This can be set up via your listening tool in the form of email alerts. • A plan for how to manage an escalation in the situation from an amber warning, which may simply require monitoring, to a red alert, which requires a response. 4. Use social technology to manage customer comments There are a variety of tools that can be used to connect stakeholders across departments (and geographical locations) to instantaneously activate an appropriate and predefined response to an escalating online crisis situation. Engagement tools like Spredfast have a workflow functionality, which means tasks can be delegated to the most appropriate person within the business to deal with a consumer question or query. 5. Encourage your c-level executives to speak on behalf of your the company If a crisis escalates to become a red alert, the senior management team should be prepared to play their role in the company response. It is always powerful to see a fast and "in-touch" response from a senior business leader to an evolving crisis. It shows the company is in touch with what is happening in the consumer base and is able to respond sensitively and with agility. So, whether it's a video message posted on YouTube or a Tweet from their personal Twitter account, a response from your chief executive can go a long way to dampening the heat from an online crisis. By adopting a social business approach and implementing these five practices, energy companies will be better equipped to handle a social media crisis, manage online reputation and not fall foul of the same mistakes that British Gas made. Kate Cooper, managing director of social media agency Bloom Worldwide

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