Customer service: the friend, foe or future of social media?

It’s an old adage that a customer who has a negative experience with a business is more likely to share it than a customer who is happy or satisfied. And while once a disgruntled customer may have just told a few friends or wrote a letter, there are now myriad ways of sharing these experiences in very visible places.

As Chairman and CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos once said, “If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell 6 friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends.”

Brand pages on Facebook, Twitter accounts, YouTube channels et al were not set up to field customer service complaints initially, but it has increasingly become the case that customers choose this medium, and, like it or not, businesses should ignore it at their peril.

In a 2011 survey of worldwide online consumers, Oracle found that 46% of those polled expected companies to provide customer support through Facebook, while 43% connected with companies on social media in order to get a direct response to their questions. However, research by A.T. Kearney’s annual social media survey found that 70% of complaints made by customers on social media are ignored.

Ignoring a direct complaint flies in the very face of having a social media presence, which is centred on community and two-way communication. It shouldn’t be used as a billboard for a business to shout about themselves, while any negative customer comments are removed like graffiti, it is an opportunity to visibly demonstrate your service by addressing and engaging customers, and turning negative situations around.

And, because social media enables word of mouth on such a huge scale, customers are also using it to share their stories, both good and bad. With websites and blogs that specialise in highlighting such cases, examples of poor customer service can spread like wildfire.

For instance, take a YouTube video from a songwriter Dave Carroll. Dave’s guitar was ruined by United Airlines and after they were unhelpful in compensating him, he wrote a song about it. He posted the song, called United Breaks Guitars, to YouTube and it now has over 12 million views.

Compare that with Sainsbury’s, who earlier this year changed the name of their Tiger Bread to Giraffe Bread after a social media campaign was sparked by a suggestion from a 3-year-old girl. Their customer-friendly approach received praise and news coverage worldwide.

Brad Cleveland, author, speaker and Senior Advisor at ICMI, said: “Bad experiences end up on blogs, tweets, video posts and rating sites – all readily found through search. Good experiences also spread quickly, and organisations that consistently deliver great service can build amazing brand loyalty.”

Back that up with a new study from American Express World Service, which found that 80% of respondents used social media to engage with a brand over an issue but ended up never making a purchase because of a lack of quality service, and the picture becomes clear, customer service through social media is already a requirement.

Read more:

The Financial, Social Media Customer Service Faces a High Bar, June 2012

Market Watch, Social Media Raises the Stakes for Customer Service, May 2012

Viral Blog, Don’t Ignore Customer Service In Social Media, May 2012

Econsultancy Digital Marketers,  Social Customer Service: A Best Practice Checklist, March 2012

The Myndset, Is Social Media Right for Customer Service – The Right Fit For You, May 2012

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