Social Media as a Customer Service Tool.

Social media has got­ten a lot of atten­tion over the past year or so. A LOT of atten­tion. It is quite the pow­er­ful tool for com­pa­nies and indi­vid­u­als alike to get mes­sages to mass­es of peo­ple. How­ev­er, when it comes to cus­tomer ser­vice, com­pa­nies need to remem­ber that social media is a tool and if used prop­er­ly can turn what could become cus­tomer adver­saries into cus­tomer advo­cates. Com­pa­nies also need to remem­ber that even a sin­gle voice in social media has immense pow­er to impact their brand. A sin­gle cus­tomer adver­sary can have a phe­nom­e­nal impact on a busi­ness. Just the same, a sin­gle cus­tomer advo­cate can have an equal­ly pos­i­tive impact on a busi­ness.

What are Cus­tomer adver­saries? Cus­tomer adver­saries are those cus­tomers who have had a bad expe­ri­ence either through the use of a company’s prod­ucts or ser­vice or from an inci­dent with a company’s cus­tomer ser­vice or cus­tomer assis­tance divi­sion. Cus­tomer adver­saries can be extreme­ly pow­er­ful and impact your brand in neg­a­tive ways that are not often tak­en into con­sid­er­a­tion. This is the “after the sale” mar­ket­ing and sat­is­fac­tion that some com­pa­nies excel at and oth­ers fail mis­er­ably. It often takes very lit­tle effort and very lit­tle cost to turn cus­tomer adver­saries around and make them cus­tomer advo­cates. Often the assets and resources required to do so are already present in your orga­ni­za­tion and sim­ply need to be reuti­lized in an inno­v­a­tive man­ner.

Con­sid­er this senario for instance. Your com­pa­ny has a not so grand inter­ac­tion with a sin­gle cus­tomer, call it an FCI or “Failed Cus­tomer Inter­ac­tion”. (I know, throw­back acronym from my bank­ing days.) That cus­tomer by them­selves may not mean much in the grand scheme of things. (Les­son-1: ALL of your cus­tomers should be impor­tant to you.) Hav­ing said that you decide that it’s not nec­es­sary to address and rec­ti­fy the sit­u­a­tion around that failed inter­ac­tion. (Les­son-2: Nev­er leave a failed cus­tomer inter­ac­tion alone until you make it right.) Now, let’s say that cus­tomer com­plains about the inter­ac­tion on Twit­ter to their fol­low­ers. Regard­less of how many fol­low­ers that cus­tomer has, it only takes one. That one fol­low­er may have thou­sands of fol­low­ers to which they re-tweet the orig­i­nal tweet about your customer’s inter­ac­tion. This com­mu­ni­ca­tion then has the poten­tial of grow­ing and being re-tweet­ed on a geo­met­ric scale. See where this is going? The poten­tial for neg­a­tive impact to your busi­ness is grow­ing like can­cer on a grand scale and at this point, there is not a whole lot of dam­age con­trol you can do.

Now, tak­ing the above exam­ple as a basis. Sup­pose that instead of dis­card­ing that failed cus­tomer inter­ac­tion, you do what is nec­es­sary to make that failed inter­ac­tion right. It often doesn’t take much. Depend­ing on what your busi­ness is and how your busi­ness mod­el oper­ates it may be a zero cost fix for you but the key is mak­ing that cus­tomer hap­py. Now, imag­ine that the same tweet by that cus­tomer about their neg­a­tive inter­ac­tion is instead a tweet about how your com­pa­ny did such a great job of fix­ing that customer’s prob­lem. Com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent mes­sage, same poten­tial for expo­sure but instead of a neg­a­tive impact to your brand, you now have an addi­tion­al, pos­si­bly even more, advo­cates of your brand.

Grant­ed, the above sce­nar­ios are over sim­pli­fied and there are so many vari­ables to take into con­sid­er­a­tion but you get the idea. A lit­tle bit of effort goes a long way to sav­ing you time and pos­si­bly mon­ey lat­er. Con­sid­er it cost avoid­ance.

Tak­ing it a step fur­ther is inter­act­ing with the cus­tomer on their own terms via their social media land­scape. Imag­ine being able to con­nect with your cus­tomers through the var­i­ous social media out­lets and tools that your cus­tomers use dai­ly. Now, using those same tools and out­lets you can know imme­di­ate­ly about poten­tial FCI sit­u­a­tions (cus­tomer adver­saries) and not only address your cus­tomers’ con­cerns on their terms but also know about sit­u­a­tions that your com­pa­ny han­dled well (cus­tomer advo­cates). Learn­ing as much as pos­si­ble from both. (Les­son-3: Con­stant improve­ment will help set you apart from your com­peti­tors.)

An exam­ple of this is a recent inter­ac­tion I had with my cable inter­net provider, Time Warner/Road Run­ner (TW/RR).

Since mov­ing into my home I have not had any issues with my inter­net con­nec­tion. Because it is so rarely down that when it does go down it makes you take notice. I began hav­ing prob­lems with my con­nec­tion and being an engi­neer type I quick­ly iso­lat­ed the prob­lem to my modem. I called TW/RR sup­port and a few days lat­er they had a tech onsite replac­ing my Net­gear wire­less cable modem with a new Ubee wire­less cable modem. With­in a week I began hav­ing the same issues as before, again, iso­lat­ing the issue to the cable modem. Time to con­tact TW/RR again. This time though, I men­tion the issue on Twit­ter and get an almost imme­di­ate response from TW/RR’s cus­tomer ser­vice Twit­ter account. (I wasn’t aware that they had a Twit­ter account, OR that they were mon­i­tor­ing Twit­ter for key­words or phras­es asso­ci­at­ed with their ser­vice.) A dozen or so mes­sages back and forth revealed that the tech on the oth­er end was see­ing mes­sages in the log file that point­ed to a faulty cable modem, again. I asked that if they were going to replace my cable modem again to please make sure that they bring me a Net­gear modem as that is the one with which I have had the best luck. A few days lat­er anoth­er tech was onsite and I now had anoth­er Net­gear wire­less cable modem in place. This time, not a phone call was placed. It was all han­dled through Twit­ter. Nice huh? It gets bet­ter. Short­ly after hav­ing the new Net­gear modem in place the prob­lems sur­faced again. Anoth­er tweet and TW/RR was back on the case. This time with an esca­la­tion to their Tier-3 sup­port group. This exchange went on for a few weeks while they inves­ti­gat­ed the issue (I’m assum­ing). To make a long sto­ry short the end result was that after a few con­ver­sa­tions with Tier-3 over the phone TW/RR replaced my Net­gear wire­less cable modem with a stand-alone Motoro­la cable modem that is less sen­si­tive to line changes (appar­ent­ly was the root cause of my prob­lems) and pro­vid­ed me with a stand-alone wire­less access point to plug into that Motoro­la cable-modem.

Bot­tom line from my TW/RR expe­ri­ence? Time Warner/Road Run­ner dis­cov­ered what could be a poten­tial cus­tomer adver­sary, me, through a rant tweet on Twit­ter and turned me into a cus­tomer advo­cate for the TW/RR brand sim­ply through doing the right thing and doing it on my terms through the use of my choice of social media out­let. They said what they were going to do to fix my prob­lem. They did what they said they were going to do. And they fol­lowed up with me to insure that I was sat­is­fied with the res­o­lu­tion. All of this fol­low up using tools that they most­ly had in-house already and with a small amount of effort turned a sup­port oppor­tu­ni­ty into a huge suc­cess. I fol­low TW/RR on Twit­ter and I watch their inter­ac­tion with oth­er cus­tomers. In doing so I am quite con­fi­dent that I’m not the only cus­tomer oppor­tu­ni­ty they have cap­i­tal­ized on using this method. Time Warner/Road Run­ner in this instance could not be a more effec­tive exam­ple of how well this could work for your busi­ness and the pos­i­tive poten­tial impacts to your brand.

  • Social media is the best method of “free” adver­tis­ing on steroids. That best method is the tried and true, word of mouth which has always been a very pow­er­ful force and with social media it can have far reach­ing pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive impacts to your brand.
  • It’s all about the fol­low through. Every inter­ac­tion with your cus­tomers is an oppor­tu­ni­ty. How you han­dle the fol­low through and make the oppor­tu­ni­ties a suc­cess are key.
  • Com­mu­ni­ca­tion plays a huge part. Make sure you say what your are going to do and do what you say. Clear com­mu­ni­ca­tion is key. Again, fol­low through is crit­i­cal at avoid­ing the “lip ser­vice” label.
  • Make sure all groups involved in your orga­ni­za­tion are on the same page. Whether or not they are in the cus­tomer ser­vice chain or not. In the case of Time Warner/Road Run­ner you have tele­phone and online cus­tomer ser­vice and then you have field tech­ni­cians and oth­er ancil­lary groups (i.e., Tier-3 sup­port). Make sure your online/telephone cus­tomer ser­vice isn’t promis­ing what the field techs can’t deliv­er. Make sure both groups com­mu­ni­cate clear­ly with each oth­er. To you, these could be dif­fer­ent divi­sions of the com­pa­ny. To the cus­tomer, it’s all one in the same.

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