Skip to content

Framework for Productive Online Customer Conversations

We’re nearing the end of 2010, and I think the buzz around content marketing and social media is starting to get more practical.

It’s not surprising that more  companies are wising up to the opportunities to engage with existing and potential customers on platforms like Twitter, Facebook and across the many facets of LinkedIn.  And, there’s a lot of traction that can come from paying attention to the conversations that happen inside of more niche-focused networks like DailyMile or even FohBoh.

But with all the hype around listening and the need to participate, the question still remains: how exactly do corporate human business teams join in the conversations with customers?

Defining a Productive Customer Conversation

Before understanding how to join conversations, let’s start by defining what kinds of conversations we want to be involved in. At Incept (one of my clients), productive customer conversations are not directly tied to sales or awareness or even increases in website or blog traffic.  Our definition of a productive conversations is simply tied to the relationship that each iCME (internet Conversational Marketing Expert) works to develop with the customer, and it can be summed up in one simple statement:

At the end of of the dialog, did the conversation work to strengthen the relationship between the brand and the customer?

Taking this definition into consideration, the next question is how do you measure each individual conversation? For online conversations, the metric centers around a link that is ultimately shared with the customer that helps to support their current need.

In some cases, this can be a link to a Google map to the nearest retail location where they can find the product or service they are seeking.  In others, it can result in a link to another content object (on one of our sites or even an outside resource) that delivers information that helps the customer make a decision or complete a task.

The Mentality Behind Our Definition

Framing up Productive Customer Conversations in this way is rooted in some basic understanding of human relationships in business.  It’s important to remember that not everyone we converse with will be sales-ready. Pushing a product or service when the customer is not ready to buy only results in a poor brand experience and impression.

Rather, if we focus on strengthening the relationship with the customer and providing a best-in-class customer experience–even if it ultimately leads to a “no”–that experience will be memorable enough that the customer will be delighted and one of two things will hopefully happen:

  1. Our brand stays top of mind until the customer is ready to buy.
  2. The customer tells a few friends who might be sales-ready, thus igniting a referral base.

Incept-Productive-Customer-Conversations5 Types of Productive Customer Conversations

As you can see from the graphic, Incept considers five types of conversations productive.

Appreciation: Opens Doors to Conversation


Appreciation is the most common type of online customer conversations.  By monitoring mentions of your company’s brand name, you can see where conversations are happening and respond directly to anyone who is commenting. These conversations can account for up to 50% to 60% of all online customer conversations and serve to open the door to deeper engagement opportunities for remaining conversation types.

Examples might be simply thanking customers for retweets of your content, location-based check-ins at your locations or even unsolicited comments on your Facebook page.

Retention: Starts with Customer Service

Retention conversations usually take place between your customer service team and your existing customers. Opportunities to engage in this conversation type is usually indicated by customer complaints that can happen on Twitter, Facebook pages, or customer review sites like Yelp, and serve to answer the customer on a medium where productive two-way dialog can take place.  Often, it’s best to take the conversation to a one-to-one medium like email, chat or a phone call. It’s important to remember that your customer service folks will need to be empowered to actually address the issue at hand and provide a solution.

Conversion: Helps Customers Fill New Needs

Similar to how well-placed conversion points on a website convert visitors into leads and customers, conversion conversations work to convert customers who are mentioning your competitor’s brand names online into sales-ready interest for your brand for similar products and services that make up your offering.  By designing listening posts to tap into competitor brand name mentions, your company can actually position themselves as part of a competitive set at the time when the customer is making a buying decision.

Re-Activation:  Engages Customers Who Have Moved On

Listening for opportunities to reactivate lost customers can be tricky.  It’s best to start by developing a list from your company’s database and locating individuals who’ve walked away from your company using social media like Twitter and Facebook.  Reaching out to customers who have engaged previously with your brand but may have become distant will often help you to identify the reason they left and what your company can do to win their  business back.

Acquisition:  Finds Customers Who Are Ready to Buy

Acquisition conversations are typically best indicated by listening to category keywords and phrases that align with your audience’s needs and wants.  You should have an idea as to what those are by referencing your audience personas.  For instance, Home Depot is a brand that is driving a ton of business by listening for keywords and phrases related to customers tweeting about the purchase of their first home.  Acquisition conversations serve to create top-of-mind brand awareness when a consumer’s behavior might put them in the buying cycle for what your business has to offer.

Are there any other kinds of productive conversations you are  online?