Customer service in the age of the social media

I can’t claim I was early social media adopter, but I have been on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn for a while now and built a following.  I have met the majority of my followers in person. I am also not shy about reviewing businesses on Yelp and other sites, because I believe both positive and (especially) constructive negative feedback can improve businesses.

We have seen some massive changes in the last decade as the impact of word of mouth has grown exponentially as each new communication platform became mainstream. While a story of poor customer service experience used to rarely travel beyond a close circle of family and friends, everything has changed now that we have entered the age of social media. The tables have turned and the transparency and the accountability levels of the businesses are way up (intended or unintended). If you screw up, there will be video parodies of your business on YouTube and Yelp reviews containing the gory details – your (now former) customers will freely share their displeasure with thousands of their friends and followers before the dust has settled. Talk about a ripple effect!

But, as many companies are discovering, these are great times to turn customers into brand evangelists/promoters. The positive ripple effect aided by social media can be massive! Just look at Zappos, Amazon, Jet Blue, Virgin America, Apple, and etc,

So what can we, as business leaders, do to take advantage of this change?

  1. Customer service should be the first place we invest in.  No more outsourcing! No more poorly trained and poorly paid script-reading robots!
  2. Listen listen listen! Social media monitoring tools are available in every complexity and price range. Use them!
  3. No, it is not fair, but the reality is that you need to take care of the “squeaky wheels” on public channels (like Twitter, blogs, etc.) first. Turn angry customers into rabid fans with a proverbial bullhorn. If it takes a CEO’s apology to satisfy an angry customer, then so be it.
  4. All feedback channeled to your sales and product teams should be unfiltered! We tend to think our stuff does not stink, which is why I always advocate that sales people should also be doing collection on their accounts and developers, engineers, product managers should be answering customer support calls. Our dislike for unpleasant interactions makes us sell and develop products better.

Photo credit: Tom Blackwell

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