We’re excited to introduce Spotlights, a new video series. In our first Spotlight, Conversocial CMO Paul Johns discusses how Social Customer Care brings humanity, comedy and even a little drama to your customer relationships.

Read on for a transcript, or watch the video below.

Recognizing Humanity in Service: A Personal Story

I fly Virgin Atlantic quite a lot. I remember walking into the lounge about ten years ago, and there was a lady who worked there who took care of me. I wasn’t feeling great. Went over and above, got me a blanket, got me some headache tablets, made sure I got on the plane okay. A decade later, I was in the lounge, and she’s still there, remembers me, knows where I’m siting, knows what drink I like to have. There’s a very, very human, very personal connection there.

I ended up writing about it. I ended up taking to Twitter, as you do, and writing a blog and really reflecting on the importance of that. For all of the values of the brand, the thing that really stood out about the brand was this person. They responded. They responded don Twitter. They were so grateful that one of their passengers had taken the time. They rewarded me. It wasn’t what I’d wanted or expected, but they’d rewarded me with lifetime Gold Membership.

I felt it was a bit unfair. I’d felt like they had done something even more over and above for me thanking them for being over and above in the first place. Look, the blog really talked a little bit about how the airline, for all of the great work that they do, the brand was really personified through this one individual.

The Channel Your Customers Own

As I like to remind our customers, what’s unique about social, the social channels or the social signals perhaps more accurately, is that they don’t own them. The customer owns them. Let’s kind of a take a step back and think on why did that happen. I think brands, and I’ve been working in this industry for over twelve years.

I think brands have offered up a wall of technology as a way to confront the customer. It’s not very warm. It’s not very emotionally charged. It is really a very efficient way to, in a very repeatable fashion, to just have the most direct, simple, cold conversations.

What social has done is it’s given customers a voice for the first time. It said, “Look, you know, you’re being listened to. Not just by the brand, but by other customers.” They kind of set the tone. They set not just the channel, but they kind of decided the fashion with which they wanted to converse. They decided how emotional it should be. They’ve injected their humor. They’ve injected their personalities.

To a large extent, I think the worst thing that brands could have done is replied in this very synthetic way. I think that if your customers determine what that tone starts to look and feel like, it is the responsibility of the brand to figure out how to reflect on that, and how to hold a mirror up to it and say, “We’re ready to have that conversation.” I think that’s where the opportunity is.

Social: A Spectator and Contact Sport

Today’s customers have a higher expectations. Of course, one of the things about the social channels is given that they’re public and amplified, you know it’s a spectator sport, certainly a contact sport. One of the things I think first is that if you were to engage with a brand over email or perhaps private chat or voice, only you and the brand knows how that conversation went.

When you’re doing it through social, of course, there’s an exponential effect to it. Every other customer has the option to see that engagement, to witness it, to reflect upon it, and decide if they want to deal with that brand as a result of it.

What tends to happen is that as an airline or a hotel chain or a retail franchise changes the tenor, changes the dialogue, and resolves an issue through social in a very positive way, of course suddenly every other customer sees that happen. Now they’re thinking, “Well, hold on a second. Why am I, why I’m on hold on a phone when I can go to Twitter and get an instant response?”

Now, if your brand isn’t immediately offering the same service that a competitor is, well then you’re dealing with the exact issue here, which is the barriers of change have come right down. Loyalty is situational. The days of having one banking customer for the rest of your life, that’s not how we’re wired today. We test brands with every interaction. Expectations have shifted, loyalties have been dropped to this notion that I will test the brand and be loyal to that brand whilst that brand continues to demonstrate value.

Disconnected from the Matrix

I think we all get that we’ve disconnected ourselves form ourselves. I lost my cellphone. I left it on a train, and I come into Grand Central Station in the morning. I had to walk all the way to the office without a phone to stare into. I was suddenly disconnected from the matrix. I was suddenly looking around me and realizing how wired in everyone else was. No one was paying attention to anyone. It was kind of quite scary.

How do you then kind of frame that in the world of customer service? Well, look. We’re detached. We’re detached from each other. We’re detached from brands, which goes back to the earlier point about loyalty, right? How do you reattach your brand to a customer?

I think you do that by first of all understanding that a brand should be somewhat porous. They should offer up not the logo on the top of the building, but the personalities, the diversity of the people that you employ. If you can create very authentic, very real connections between the people that love your business, that want to be in your business, that reflect on that with the customer, I think that’s how you reignite those very dormant relationships that have just slipped into apathy over the last three to five years, maybe even longer.

I would challenge any company that’s thinking about how to portray their brand through above the line advertising, through glossy magazine ads, that that’s not the answer. The answer is figure out how to make your customers fall in love with your business. Get your employees to be in love with the business, and get them connected to each other, and have social be a megaphone for those connections.

Sometimes it Takes Social To Give You a Voice

My wife, our two year old, and I were on vacation. I’m not an easy person. When you work in customer service, your expectations shift as well. We went to this hotel, and it was beautiful. It was really, really beautiful. They had this personal concierge, who gave me a mobile phone and says, “If you need anything, just call me. I’m at, you know, at your beck and call.” You know, a very nice touch.

Anyway, we checked in at about 3pm. There was a reception for people that just checked in at 6pm. We were ready to unpack. There were no hangers, no hangers anywhere, right? I’m thinking, “This shouldn’t be difficult, right? There should be hangers.” Dial the phone. There’s no response. Having set my exception that there was a concierge service, immediately I’m thinking, “Well this, you know. This is the number to call.”

I call the housekeeping, no response. I called housekeeping a second time. There was a response. No one came to the door. Eventually, I did what all of us are doing. I went to Twitter. I tweeted the hashtag and the at handle of the hotel, “I’m in the hotel. I’ve got no hangers. I can’t hang my clothes. If I can’t hang my clothes, I can’t get out of the hotel. I can’t join the reception. Not a great way to start.”

Within five minutes, I get a call from the manager. “I hear you’re not happy. I hear we don’t have any hangers. We’re very sorry. Someone’s on their way.” Up walked this poor lady, just completely exasperated, just out of breath, clinging onto dear life and about fifteen hangers.

I thought to myself, “That’s social for you, right?” Somebody can hand-deliver you a mobile phone to your glorious hotel room in the Caribbean, and for all of that direct connection, sometimes it takes social to give you a voice. My wife, I think for the first time, understood what I did for a living. We made the reception.

Animate and Humanize, Don’t Automate and Synthesize

How does social bring comedy, humor, humanity, all that diversity to the experience? Well, I think there’s something very profound about this that I want to share, which is when you create a model for a business where you’ve, and I’ve used this word before, you’ve synthesize the discussion. You’ve got heavily scripted agents aren’t really empowered. You’ve got knowledge basis, you’ve got Incredible technology. You’ve got a 1-800 number. Congratulations. Hidden behind this wall of technology, you’ve got people, personalities who have a deep understanding of the business, sure, but actually maybe they have more than that. They have real compassion and empathy and humor.

I think part of this is kind of lifting the veil and saying, “You know the business kind of needs to get out of the way and allow these connections to happen, happen at scale, and allow humor to permeate those discussions.” It takes courage and boldness. It’s the thing. It’s the thing that will begin to distinguish your business.

I think that you have a choice. The choices for me are simple. You can continue to go the way you’ve gone for the lat twelve years. You can automate and synthesize, or you can animate and humanize. I think that if you decide to lift that veil, and to make these conversations human, then we’re the partner for that.