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Sunday, July 19, 2009

My Flip Flop on Services & Social Media

This week I posted on the connections service companies have with their customer bases as relates to social media, suggesting that Ritz-Carlton, desiring a perception of exclusivity of their services, may not even need social media, or at least not in the way that Southwest Airlines, Starbucks, Whole Foods and others use it.

When I woke up the next morning, the first thing I read was a cnn.com article on the politically motivated bombing of a Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriot in Jakarta.

Here I go back on my earlier opinion.

Brand holds a critical place in service encounters. It reflects the expectations a consumer will hold about a service, even if they have never experienced it first hand. This is truer yet with global service brands. In Fort Myers, Florida, the search costs for safe accommodations is low enough that a customer can select from any number of brands. In Jakarta, this cost is higher, bringing Ritz into the consideration set even for those that would never pick them domestically. Simply, in Jakarta, the Ritz-Carlton brand represents a safe choice of accommodations – both physically and because it represents a set of service expectations that are familiar.

Because of this, the incident in Jakarta poses an even greater significance.

Ritz now finds itself faced with the immediate specter of a disaster response scenario, likely followed by a very public global initiative on ensuring the security of the entire global network of hotels, as well as other communications executions all aimed at restoring the confidence in the Ritz-Carlton brand as a safe destination for high-end global travelers.

Ritz started by issuing press releases, becoming more visible in media. They also used Twitter in the hours and days following the bombing, to the 200+ that follow the company socially. If the time investment in their social network was stronger, they could have done much more, more quickly, to create a dialogue with scared & concerned guests on why they can feel every bit as assured of the safety / security of the brand.

No longer do I hold the opinion that social media is relevant for some service brands and not others. Simply put, it is a critical company-customer dialogue tool for all service businesses. If you don’t see the use for it yet, hope that it won’t require a week like this week at the Ritz to make it clear.

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