Time was, a disgruntled customer had to beat his head uselessly against the wall of indifference raised by his various service providers. Limited avenues for voicing opinions and lack of viable options meant that one was stuck with a subpar phone company / utilities company / department store / (insert your choice here), with no alternatives in sight. The big companies held all their power and everyone knew it.
Popularity of social media has more than leveled the playing field, with the customers now in the enviable position of being touted for their custom. The explosion of the digital media, the arrival of social media and the abundance of competition has changed the situation. The boot is firmly on the other foot and now, companies are vying with one another in order to attract customers. Popularity of social media has more than levelled the playing field, with the customers now in the enviable position of being touted for their custom – and being approached with caution.
Everyone loves a good story and if the meat of the story contains details of disgruntled customers dishing the dirt, all the better. Rather like the crowds in the medieval days that thronged to witness a public lynching, #customerservicefail is a hashtag that attracts the choicest of the stories that must have every customer support agent wincing at every line.
In this scenario, it is highly imperative that every company nails its customer service at the first go, every single time or will be forever trending on social media for all the wrong reasons.
That brings us around to my question – is Social Media customer service a friend or a foe? Has it tipped the scales unnaturally in favour of the customers, causing them to break out in tweets at every imagined slight, maligning the company in question and its support agents even before they can react to the situation at hand? Or has it made it easy for companies to keep up with the pulse of its current and potential customer base and keep abreast of trends, making it possible for them to pull rabbits out of hats with ease?
“It’s the world in which multinational corporations make pastry-related puns, have “conversations” with each other online and then have those conversations breathlessly covered by BuzzFeed as if they were actual conversations and not just carefully managed branding exercises carried out by social media managers.” — Oscar Ricket, The Guardian.
As ever, there are two factions to this and in the Foe Camp, the feeling is that the customer service accounts of companies on social media do nothing but ‘carefully managed branding exercises’ and are ‘used to whitewash reputations’. As Oscar Rickett, who writes on The Guardian’s Comment Is Free column, “…That big oil company desecrating the Niger Delta? Oh they’re not so bad, they just tweeted a link to Grumpy Cat. This is the unbearably twee new world of customer service as branding exercise. It’s the world in which multinational corporations make pastry-related puns, have “conversations” with each other online and then have those conversations breathlessly covered by BuzzFeed as if they were actual conversations and not just carefully managed branding exercises carried out by social media managers.”
Not exactly a spontaneous show of emotions in 140 characters or less, then?
But there are positives too, surely, wherein the marriage of social media and customer service brings forth a certain degree of censure and dare I say it, a healthy fear of the masses? Take, for instance, Lois Geller’s experience with a fender bender. When the other insurance company let the case drag on, talking about the issue on Twitter and the resultant conversation made it possible for Geller’s claim to get settled promptly. Or how about the traveller on a Virgin train who ran out of TP, tweeted it and had a Virgin executive hurry over with a replacement before the next stop? All wonderful stories, made possible via the power of social media.
That is the biggest plus of social media as a customer service platform. How else can you affect such a massive impact, in so short a time period? What other medium allows you to have such a direct relationship with your customer base? How else can you beat first response times hollow? How else can you shape customer perception?
Like Rickett said, yes, social media does make it possible for things to be all cute kittens and pretty rainbows but that does not negate the fact that it is a medium with immense power and immense potential. As every fan of comic books knows, with great power, comes great responsibility. And it is up to us, to step up and wield that power wisely.
“Social media makes customer service everyone’s responsibility” — Heather Clancy, Fortune.com
That is the biggest positive of the social media – customer service marriage – it makes customer service the responsibility of every player in the game. To quote Geller, “Social Media is a customer service platform” and if every company only grasped that issue sooner, than later, can the power of the medium be harnessed to its truest potential.
Originally published on the HappyFox Blog.