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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