Why customer service excellence takes more than 140 characters

Friday, 12 February 2016

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Have you noticed how we have become a world of prolific “sharers”, creating content on the fly with smartphone apps, and broadcasting our ideas and opinions instantly to a global audience, thanks to the power of social media? We can comment on, review and engage with all our online connections instantaneously, sharing our opinions on everything from a video of a cat “singing” to any aspect of the cultural zeitgeist.

In the commercial world, social media is a godsend, allowing multi-national conglomerates to present their human face by creating a personal touch for brands that previously appeared distant or irrelevant. Consumers appetite for social media shows no sign of abating, and has heralded a stampede of social activity by organisations promoting their services and charitable actions.

Brands operating on social platforms are acutely aware that they are being watched by the wider public - after all, it is a broadcast platform at heart. Equally, consumers can air their grievances publicly with a view to making it as visible as possible. So it’s not too great a mental leap to realise that many organisations are highly motivated to mediate those same problems in a public forum for the same reason – widespread visibility on a global scale.

As a marketing activity, it’s incredibly powerful; take a problem and turn it into column inches and goodwill for a fraction of the cost of advertising. In itself, this isn’t an issue. Of greater concern is that the reality of the customer experience - and the behaviours and business processes which led to dissatisfaction - become of secondary importance to public perception. Let me explain.

Usually, customers only complain when they have a real problem that has damaged their experience and their motivation for complaining is to seek some acknowledgement or reparation. Customers will tend to take the path of least resistance to complain, particularly when faced with the choice between a 30-minute flute solo on a call centre telephone line or a 140-character post on Twitter. Unsurprisingly, many choose the latter.

As the consumer takes their grievance to a public and instantly amplified social channel, the business goes into overdrive to manage their image and reputation, rather than unearthing the underlying imperfections in their service operation.

While that may not seem an issue – the problems are getting sorted, after all – there is a very real risk of creating a double-standard for customer service. Whose problem do you resolve first - the complainant with 25,000 Twitter followers or the one with just 250?

There is strong evidence to support the argument that customer complaints lodged through channels such as email, phone or even webchat, are done so more equitably and the emphasis for both the customer and the organisation is issue resolution and service improvement. And while research continues to support the ongoing trend towards multichannel service delivery, voice remains the channel of choice for the vast majority of customers.

Customer service is all about ensuring a high quality experience - an experience which is hard to control, starts long before anything has been bought, and which plays a significant role in customer loyalty. Today’s digital-savvy customers decide which supplier will receive their business, based on a wider number of factors than ever before, giving consideration to peer reviews, personalised offers and value-added advice before making their purchasing choice.

Predicting and understanding the customer journey has become the new holy grail of marketers, as brands seek to define what the perfect customer experience is and how to personalise the experience for each individual customer.

Consumer demand for omnichannel service means that handling complaints and issues via social media channels is important, but should be viewed with equal importance to email, webchat and good old-fashioned direct dialogue via the telephone or face-to-face.

Winning customers who will recommend you and stay loyal means your brand must deliver its promise and live up to the expectations you’ve promoted about the customer experience. Social media is an important channel of communication, enabling service agents to be responsiveness and manage expectations about issue resolution. However, in the age of the customer, executives don't decide how customer-centric their companies are – but their customers do.

Just don’t imagine that 140 characters will always the best way to deliver customer service excellence.

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