In my last post: Customer Service, Twitter and Why They Fail, I stated that the use ofTwitter for customer service communications may not be delivering businesses what it can or should.
I argued that current customer engagement practices are filling up social media streams with public apologies and mea cuplas, which certainly demonstrate empathy, caring and listening in the short term but fails to convey competency in the long term. And without competence, trust cannot be established and so a re-think of the online customer service playbook must be considered.
Let’s take the “3 Examples of Stellar Social Media Customer Service” presented on Mashable Business this past November. Zappos, Pottery Barn and Boingo were announced as nominees for their annual Mashable Awards.
They listed how each company’s customer service teams demonstrated active listening, “authentic” engagement with customers and how they used these opportunity to satisfy customer issues, avoiding the up-sell. Great right? Notice that in none of the write ups do they list how their efforts are designed to illustrate the competency of their respective businesses.
Customer Service is a Long-Term Strategy
I question whether they have a long term strategy for customer service. The reality is that many enterprise organizations – online or offline – look at customer service as a short term tactic vs. long-term strategy. Customer complains…we make it right…case closed…next.
What thought is given or tactic executed to ensure that the engagement will create a long-term impact on the business’ brand, customer value or profit? Is it even possible to create or measure long-term impact from immediate, short-term engagements?
Let’s use one of Mashable’s customer service award-nominated case studies as an example. A side table’s glass top, purchased by Pottery Barn customer shattered during an Arizona heat wave. The customer posted photos of the table on Pottery Barn’s Facebook fan page and within 30 minutes she had a call from a customer relations representative who worked with her to find a new tabletop and reimbursed her for it.
Excellent customer service delivered. Check.
What did Pottery Barn accomplish with this award-nominated experience? It demonstrated:
- They’re listening
- They’re quick to respond to complaints
- They care about their customers
- They stand behind their products
The engagement impacted the perception of that specific customer and all those who witnessed the immediacy of the response and any positive comments made post-transaction by the customer. It had a great short-term impact on the retailer’s brand. However, what would the impact be when 50 customers post pictures of products that failed to meet their expectations during the course of, for example, a month?
Even if their customer service reps respond to each within 30 minutes with a “we’re sorry, contact us and we’ll make it right” message, all they’ve managed to do is demonstrate customer care – not competency. Anyone following their Facebook page or Twitter feeds will have an impression formed in their mind that Pottery Barn is responsive but their products are fraught with issues.
You can argue that they demonstrated competency in their customer service but in our social era, we can’t think in silos. We must consider the impact of every online action on the business’ bottom line.
Consider the airline or phone/cable industries who have embraced the social media channel for customer service like no other, especially through Twitter. Hindered by a 140 character limit, their customer service streams read like Step 8 in the Alcoholics Anonymous handbook: “make a list of all persons we have harmed…” What’s the long-term impact of that?
Demonstrating great customer service online is only half the required transaction
How does a business demonstrate competency through online customer service? In the Pottery Barn example above, one might consider:
- Post a picture of the customer with their new product, that did not shatter
- Write a blog post that provides customers with information about what glass table tops are best in what climates
- Share 3rd party or manufacturer statistics about how infrequently such occurrences happen in the selected product range
- Seek out other customers who have not had problems and incentivize them to share their stories and pictures
- Where products are being discontinued because of poor customer experiences, share the rationale with the public along with the specs of the new product
Of course this list will change depending on the industry (E.G. retail, insurance, hospitality, etc.) or business type (E.G. B2B, B2C, Non-Profit, Government, etc.) but the premise would remain the same: extend your customer service tactics beyond the demonstration of customer care to include brand competence.
Taking issues offline is a sound tactic but not circling back to showcase that such issues are rare or only a small percentage of the overall customer experience is short sided and fails your brand.
In fact, your customer service tweets are more than customer service; they’re advertising, they’re branding, and they’re sales initiatives and ultimately, with the right long-term strategy they’re profit generators.
In many cases this will require collaboration with other departments but as with every other function in the enterprise, social media activity and measurement cannot be maximized or measured effectively if only operated within a silo.
You must move beyond public displays of affection and consider public displays of competence.
What are your thoughts on customer service as a long-term strategy? Are the current customer service tactics being deployed by top businesses only half the transaction? Share your thoughts below.
Sam Fiorella – Sensei
Feed Your Community, Not Your Ego