It’s no secret that social networks are amplifying our messages and giving everyone a voice for their woes. This presents challenges for companies and brands as they manage what can be a barrage of customer messages. Lately, I’ve had two very different customer service experiences:
HUGE phone company — We changed wireless carriers last October after being granted credits for switching. To make a long story short, we didn’t receive what was promised. Each month I called to follow up and each month they promised to research and call back. For four months they did nothing. Until today. An efficient, kind, and thorough customer service agent was the first to request the written proof of the promised credits. She fixed the problem. (I gave her a good evaluation.) Confidence restored in the company. Not my trust, but my confidence.
Small Restaurant — We ordered some pizzas to pick up the other night from a local restaurant. It was a dark and stormy night, and we’d been out all day. When we got home, we were incredibly disappointed. I emailed the restaurant about 11 PM. This morning, I had a response waiting when I first checked email. Before I could follow up as they asked, they found the record of my order and promised a full refund. Confidence and trust restored. We will give them another chance.
Like many, I could give other examples of bad customer service but instead want to focus on how to provide better customer service in an age when we all have access to the Internet and publishing.
Social media means things will happen at any time, whether you want them to or not and whether you’re listening or not. You’ve lost control over the conversation, and there’s not a thing you can do about it, but you can be ready to respond if you have a good plan in place. Using keywords and search tools, you can monitor a number of sites and media channels, so you are aware of problems quickly.
In the case of the restaurant, they obviously have someone monitoring their website’s “contact us” button with the directive to respond while researching and solving the problem. A quick personal response helps mitigate a situation. By contrast, the phone company has an intricate series of approvals their customer service agents are required to work within.
Keep track of the issues customers are having with your brand so you can change course if you’re seeing something you don’t like. There are any number of tools that can help with tracking, or it can be as simple as a spreadsheet. When you do this, keep track of the source (even name and contact information) so you can reach out to people later if needed and also so you can create brand ambassadors.
Always respond to your customers. The more timely the response, the better. Respond in a way your customer understands you care, even if you don’t have the final answers. Honesty and sincerity work very well when responding to customers. If the discussion started in a public space (any social network is public), try to take the conversation offline to a phone call or email. Whatever you do, follow-up to make sure the customer is happy. This is where that tracking system comes in handy.
In today’s world, a customer’s trust is critical and once lost, difficult to regain. As a regular reader of Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer, I know the volatility of this issue. The good news is that this year American businesses are showing signs of regaining some of the trust they recently lost.
At the same time, though, there is an increasing trust gap between college educated adults and other adults. According to Edelman,
“…influence decidedly rests in the hands of the mass population. The net result is a new phenomenon where the most inﬂuential segment of the population (or 85 percent of the population) is at the same time the least trusting.”
This is important because the entire population has as much power to get their message out as the informed public. It will be especially critical for businesses to work hard to regain and retain trust with their customers by providing information freely and in a transparent fashion.
We’re primarily talking in this post about responding to customers but I want to address influence for a moment. Influence, combined with trust, is extremely critical. Data shows we get most of our opinions from those we trust…our friends. This means that just having a presence doesn’t make you influential. Instead, it’s the friends you keep and the accuracy of the data you present. Reputation is becoming an increasingly important metric.
Think Before You Send
If you have an issue with an organization, remember to treat other companies like you want to be treated. It’s rarely, if ever, a good idea to blast a company openly online. It just doesn’t get results. Use email, direct message on social networks or phone to get your answers. And remember the people on the receiving end of the message are people too. Kindness gets you further than rudeness.
Please email me if you need help setting up a system to listen, track and respond. I’m happy to help you.