In A Cautionary Tale of Customers in the “Red Zone” Part 1, we discussed that customer service today means serving customers “in the red zone.” Social media has been a saviour to serving consumers in-the-moment with their mobile phones in hand. Here in Part 2, the focus will be on the powerful combination that is the social, mobile consumer.

The social mobile consumer

Consumers live out loud. They engage on social as a constant, rhythmic series of captured moments, cataloging their lives for some kind of semi-personal prosperity (I’m guilty as charged of posting a picture from one of my favorite hotels in London, which I stayed in on my last trip but had not visited in over 10 years). Consumers are on the go armed with a smartphone connected to others through browsers, apps and SMS. And those lives that are captured are filled with precious moments—less private but still oddly personal and of course, they are filled with the many brands that we invariably engage with throughout the day. This is our world.

For brands this represents enormous opportunities for engagement.

A customer can easily blast out a moment of dissatisfaction with your brand. Say he just arrived to the airport, is running fairly late, and is upset when he sees there are only two counters open at check in. He holds up his phone, takes a picture of the crowded departure area and in sarcastic tones lets the world know how disgruntled he is. Or he tweets at your brand with a colorful display of language and hashtags that convey his annoyance. Now iIn the past, your business may have collected and collated this insight and worked on new workforce management in the airport for peak times, but the fact is, every brand faces unusual and uncertain dynamics—that’s the nature of running a business.

In today’s world, it is imperative that your social teams are connected to operational teams so they can coordinate efforts and work together to resolve the issue—in this instance opening up a couple more check in counters. They can tweet back instantly and in that single moment, the brand moves from engaging with that customer in a couple of days on a terrible past experience to fixing the experience they are in now, today. Social business has become part of organizational business operations. Some of our customers are mandating SLA’s of responding within 5 minutes. A year ago, the bar was set at an hour!

Along the customer journey from initial evaluation to purchase, use and advocacy, a guest touches a brand in some way at least once and likely many times if you are in hospitality or travel. In that full cycle the guest has a number of experiences, with each one being a potential point of failure, as well as a possible moment to reinforce the brand. Add to the mix that these ‘always on’ guests are accompanied with a mobile device together with a social footprint and you have a stunning recipe for success or failure depending on how well you are making social engagement effortless for your consumers.

In the recent study conducted by Twitter, they reported that when airlines respond to a customer’s Tweet in less than six minutes, for example, that customer is willing to pay almost $20 more for that airline in the future. Therefore, higher customer satisfaction and ease of use leads to a higher propensity to pay.

In the channel

As we approach the busy holiday season, I recall a moment a last year when I was doing some holiday shopping of my own. I walked into a bustling electronics store in New York City to pick out some gifts for the Adopt-a-Family program I’ve done for several years, and had an out-of-body experience that highlights a central tenet of today’s customer service: Customers choose a channel for a reason—fail to serve them in their channel of choice at your own peril.

Given that it was getting close to Christmas and I had to have the gifts ready that week, I was in a rush to get a gift for each member of this family by the drop off deadline. In particular I was looking for an electronic sports game for one of the children that had just come out and wasn’t sure which version was the best/right one. I strolled into the enormous electronic retail space to make a purchase and needed some help to make my buying experience more effortless.

Searching for assistance, I eventually saw a staff member tapping away on his cell phone seemingly unaware that customers needed help. I finally managed to make eye contact with him and explained I was there to make a purchase but needed help making my decision. I was directed to the game section in electronics and then the sales associate walked away.

Think about that… He just walked off.

Instead of embarking on another frustrating in-store experience of finding a manager, I tweeted at the department store’s brand handle and was pleasantly surprised to get a quick response from an empathetic and helpful social support agent. She acknowledged that this experience was ‘not okay’ and asked if I was still in the store.

By that time I was already on my way home, where I planned on getting cozy with a cup of tea and logging into Amazon to shop around for the game and use the reviews to select something similar. Thankful for my Prime membership, I made the deadline.

Redirecting customers away from their chosen support channel is one of the worst customer service experiences possible, forcing customers to interact on a channel they did not choose. Customers care about resolution, not your choice of channel. Many brands are still moving customers from the channel of their choice to the choice channel of the brand. Not wise.

Now you know what the modern social-mobile customer feels like. A recent compelling stat reported that one third of Millennials said they would rather clean the toilet than call customer service, which says a lot.

Social media offers a different and more effortless customer experience to traditional channels. It’s more immediate for problems that need immediacy. It’s more human and it may be the channel of last resort for a customer who has jumped through every other hoop you have put in their path, including in-person humans who are not prepared to help.

In the mood

Look, customers today are a bit unhinged. Or at the least they seem a bit unreal—not all the time, but it seems like it when they consume your product or service. To illustrate the point, read these actual complaints received by Thomas Cook vacations:

  • “No-one told us there would be fish in the water. The children were scared.”
  • “It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England. It took the Americans only three hours to get home. This seems unfair.”
  • “It is your duty as a tour operator to advise us of noisy or unruly guests before we travel.”

And then there is this:

“We went on holiday to Spain and had a problem with the taxi drivers as they were all Spanish.”

How do you serve this customer? The modern social mobile customer is a breed apart but they’re your customers. They’re emotional. They’re you. They’re your brand. And listening to them and serving them will make your business better. Even the ones who are surprised by Spanish taxis drivers in Spain. After understanding this new social, mobile customer, it’s important to know how many companies are ill-prepared to meet the social, mobile customer.