• January 4, 2011
  • By Koa Beck, Editorial Assistant, CRM magazine

Thundering into Social Media

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For John Parham, social CRM had a different meaning when he started J&P Cycles out of the back of his van 30 years ago. Three decades earlier, being social meant John loaded up his van to attend motorcycle rallies and events so he could  meet customers.

“He started the business in the middle of Iowa. There is just nobody, no population,” says Rich Brecht, senior contact center manager of J&P. “He built his business by being in front of customers, and eventually that grew into direct marketing.”

Today, Parham’s company is the largest motorcycle parts and accessories store in its industry. However, in the small town of Anamosa, Iowa, where J&P is headquartered, the population is only 5,000, according to Brecht. And, while J&P upgraded its van to a mobile showroom semi-truck that travels from coast to coast displaying products, the company wanted to test-drive a more modern social CRM initiative.

Prior to committing to today’s social media, J&P had been using RightNow Technologies hosted email management, customer survey, and online knowledge base solutions. The company had limited IT resources, so an in-house solution was out of the question.
Brecht describes the decision to implement RightNow for Facebook as a “no brainer” because of how well RightNow had been able to meet J&P’s overall needs as a company. Coupled with J&P’s tradition of direct customer interaction, the decision to go full throttle with social media was an easy one for the company.

“When we finally determined that customers were there in the [social media] space, we jumped right in because that is what we have always done.... We made the decision that 2010 was going to be the year that we took social media seriously and made the effort to tie it all together,” Brecht remembers. “We have been committed our entire existence to going where people are who want to buy our parts.”
In November 2009, J&P was sitting with only about 1,500 Facebook fans. The company implemented RightNow for Facebook that same month and was able to launch and sustain performance during its first year with less than 10 IT man-hours per month. In addition, Brecht and his team launched a new blog format that featured 12 blog contributors and started a couple of different Twitter accounts: @JPCycles and @JPCyclesDeals.

Brecht explains the need for two
Twitter handles as a courtesy to customers: “People who you just tweet information to don’t want to be bombarded with sales every day. Social media is just as much about communicating and building relationships as it is about selling, and that’s why businesses are having such a hard time grasping it,” he observes.

J&P posts everything it does to the Facebook fan page, including blog posts and tweets. As a result, J&P has accrued close to 29,000 Facebook fans in less than a year. “And we haven’t done anything like, ‘Tell a friend about us and go into a drawing for $1,000.’ It’s just been organic growth,” Brecht says.

The company also keeps a close watch on its fans and fan page, employing strict rules regarding customer responses through social media. “During our hours of operation, we have a two-hour service-level requirement as an organization to respond to a Facebook post. So if a customer posts a picture out there and says, ‘Hey, here is my new bike,’ within two hours we as J&P post a reply that says ‘Hey, nice bike!’ If a customer posts a complaint, within two hours we do the same,” Brecht explains.

J&P’s initiative to speak to its customers within their preferred medium reflects efforts at the brick and mortar location, as well as the attitude taken to every show across the country.

“When we go to events, we bend over backward to be in front of our customers. We give immediate gratification. If they need something, we jump in and we help them. So we wanted to take that same interactive approach with Facebook. When you post here, this isn’t just some sales site. This is J&P Cycles talking to you about whatever you want to talk about,” Brecht affirms.

J&P also engages with its customers through silly “caption this” pictures—photographs taken at events by J&P employees. Within the J&P blog, customers are invited to add their own captions, which, in turn, the company responds to with praise.

The blog articles that explore such topics as Harley Davidson versus a foreign model “spark a lot of controversy,” Brecht says, adding that customers chime in with facts and opinions to add to the discussion. Since gallantly venturing into the terrain of social media, Brecht says he has discovered all kinds of benefits, including what customers will often post in response to other customers. Brecht re-
marks that it’s now not uncommon to find quite a few customers posting on Facebook in response to others customers’ complaints, often writing messages such as “Oh, they’ll take care of you!” or “They’ll make it right!”

“Those are testimonials you can’t even pay for,” Brecht exclaims. “They’re like our sales force out there—our advocates. We figure the more we stay involved, the more of that we’ll get out of it.”

Brecht believes that with regard to social media, J&P “feel[s] like we’re really ahead of the curve. Once you afford to go there, you really can’t afford to go back.... We’ve set the expectation with our customers that if they want to interact with us and they want to ask their service question on Facebook, they can ask their service question on Facebook. We’ve already set the expectation that that is the way we’re going to service our customers. We’re not going to be able to step away from that any time soon.”

Editorial Assistant Koa Beck can be reached at kbeck@destinationCRM.com.

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