A CEO (of a company in the UK) put out a circular to his staff last week asking them how they could use social networking to “improve customer service” or “reduce potential complaints“. I find the question itself interesting (and revealing) – customer service is the experience the buyer has when they interact with your service. It’s totally in their mind. It’s how the phone is answered, it’s how reception looks, it’s every little thing… These days everyone expects good customer service, even great, so the objective now for businesses is to ‘wow‘. Only by ‘wowing’ can you set yourself apart. It’s the new normal. And that’s got to be good for customers.
A few years ago, as we started our small online business, I remember reminding my staff that we had to wow our customers every day, at every opportunity. Considering we had pesky real estate agents as customers, that was going to be a challenge (!) We did not use social networks to “improve customer service” or “reduce potential complaints”. We used good old fashioned manners and courtesy. I employed people (irrespective of their IT background) who could learn fast but had a deep seated desire to help people. These two aspects were all we needed.
Roll on ten years and we’re in an era of social connectivity. The water cooler conversation of old is twitter today. Organisations in 2014 can use social media to actively watch what people are saying (using # and @ discussions on their name), they can engage with their customers, answer questions, post ideas, ask things, forward good thoughts, thank people for their points, etc. even turn around complainers. Most companies have a full time person on this, or a team of people.
Example – I was giving a “Twitter for real estate agents” course a few years ago, and an agent I will call Barry (for that was his name, bless him) did a search on his own company and was alarmed to find this one tweet had been put up only a few hours earlier: “Property —— <name deleted> are the worst real estate agent – stay away! ” Barry was distraught. What should he do? Could he sue the person? Delete it? After he calmed down a bit, I asked him to call his office and see what this person was talking about and why. He came back and said it was already sorted, the person had been a tenant and had not got her bond back, so had vented on Twitter. OK, so what now? Barry tweeted her back saying he’d sorted out the issue, and to call him in the office if things were not all fine. A few hours later, the tweet was removed (only the person who tweets can remove the message). Problem removed, and I bet that lady had a high opinion of the company as a result, and told her friends about it, as I am telling you now.
Ignoring twitter does not stop people talking about you anyway. Better to be ON there and (at least) surveying the conversation, then maybe taking part, engaging, adding, contributing …
My favourite example of customer service and social media is one I use a lot in my talks – that of Peter Shankman in 2011 and his fantastic true story of Mortons streakhouse. This actually happened, and was not a set up! Peter’s story of how a steakhouse got a meal to him after a long business day and a flight back to New York provided so much free press and positive attention for Mortons over the next few days and months, worth in the multi millions, and all for a simple act of being awake, involved and having the wherewithal to act.
By contrast, I posted 2 Aussie companies and their comparative use of social media around customer service.
Can social media be used to “improve customer service” or “reduce potential complaints”? Sure, but not with that attitude. You’re asking the question the wrong way round. But if you want to leave your customers (current, former and prospective) to be picked up by your competitors, carry on as before.
Infographic above: from Clicksoftware 2012