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Scenario Planning: Social Response Strategy

by Randall Craig on May 3, 2013

Filed in: Blog, Communication, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Social Media

Tagged as: , , , ,

What do you do when you are disappointed with a product or service that you have purchased?  Most people turn to the web: a quick check on Google solves many problems.  And a few choice words on Twitter or Facebook can let everyone know about the experience.

From an organization’s perspective however, those “choice” words can be terribly damaging to the brand, if not addressed immediately.  One powerful response strategy is scenario planning.  It works like this:

1) The top ten likely scenarios are identified, and then responses scripted. These scenarios should cover 80-90% of the  likely queries that come in.

2) Customer service representatives are trained to identify the scenarios and the responses, but are empowered to personalize the scripted response.

3) Queries that are beyond the identified scenarios are addressed (sometimes by a more senior person), but then flagged for review and possibly added to the list of scripted scenarios.

Here are a few scenario examples:

Irate Customer

  • Empathize:  “I’m sorry that this happened” (Goal is to defuse the emotion)
  • Be transparent:  “This shouldn’t have happened – our standard is _______” (Goal is to acknowledge the issue – and set expectations)
  • Take it direct:  “Please DM (Direct Message) me with your details” (Goal is to remove the issue from the public eye – and respect confidentiality)
  • Be in the moment:  “…and I’ll look into it right away.” (Goal is to acknowledge urgency, and to demonstrate responsiveness)
  • Empathize:  “Again, I’m sorry that we let you down” (Goal is to show personal responsibility, and leave the user with a better feeling about the organization)

Confused Customer

  • Empathize:  “Sorry about the confusion.  I can help” (Goal is to defuse the emotion)
  • Solve Problem:  “You just need to _______” (Goal is to quickly provide the conceptual key to solving the problem)
  • Exceed expectations:  “Here is the complete how-to [link to document].  And a YouTube video [link to video]. (Goal is to provide multiple ways to solve the problem, so that there is no need for additional interactions.)
  • Empathize and ask: “Hope this helps.  Could I also ask you to fill in our 3 question survey?”  (Goal is to collect testimonials and marketing feedback on neutral or positive interactions.)

This week’s action plan:  Whether you run a large customer service center, or just respond to social media questions on an ad hoc basis, the underlying genius of scenario planning is that the thinking is done beforehand.  This week, consider your top ten queries, but instead of developing after-the-fact response strategies, feed these back into the business: what can be changed within the product or service to prevent the queries from being made in the first place? (Some hints: change the sales process, marketing materials, service delivery process, training, product packaging, instruction manuals, etc.)

Marketing Insight:  Research (Berry, Zeimanthal, Parasuraman) indicates that the key determinants of service quality are Responsiveness, Reliability, Assurance, Empathy, and Tangibles, with Responsiveness and Reliability being paramount.  There is a critical connection between a successful online customer service strategy, and these five dimensions.  Developing scenarios and process allows you to ensure that these connections exist.

Back to the past:  The first scenario-based response strategy I developed was for accounting-consulting firm KPMG in the mid-1990’s.  Same concepts, but the challenge then was dealing with another “new” technology:  email and a web site.

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

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Randall has been advising on Digital Strategy since 1994 when he put the Toronto Star online, the Globe and Mail's GlobeInvestor/Globefund, several financial institutions, and about 100+ other major organizations. He is the author of eight books, including Digital Transformation for Associations, the Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business, and Social Media for Business. He speaks and advises on Digital Transformation, Digital Trust, and Social Media. More at

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