Before the ubiquitous and virtually unanimous use of social media, online vendors could be lax with their responses to customers’ complaints, questions, and even to filling their orders and shipping in a timely fashion. The nexus of social media and customer service has changed all that.
Now, social media can blow-up those same complaints and questions and make them go viral. It used to be that one unhappy customer would tell 10 people; now, that same dissatisfied person can tell a million. No company wants its brand damaged by a “squeaky wheel” posting on Twitter, such as, “Hey, <BRAND>, where’s my <PRODUCT>?”—that is, after the customer has chatted or talked to the vendor with no result or their email has gone unanswered. Celebrated case study in point:
In 2009, United Airlines damaged singer Dave Carroll’s guitar and refused to compensate Carroll an estimated $1,200 for repairs because he had failed to make the claim within the company’s “standard 24-hour timeframe” [sic]. Carroll immediately wrote, recorded, and posted to youtube the song “United Breaks Guitars.” Four days—and four million youtube views—later United Airlines’ stock plummeted 10 percent. The singer wrote another song describing his experience with a UA customer service employee, with the same social media effect.
Since the incident, Carroll has been in great demand as a speaker on customer service. In 2012, Carroll published the book United Breaks Guitars: The Power of One Voice in the Age of Social Media. In 2013, the success of Carroll’s online protest was used by the German television and news service Tagesschau to exemplify a new kind of threat facing corporations in the internet age.
Needless to say, all businesses, big and small, should take heed. Obviously, the basic challenge for online companies is to put out the fire before it spreads wildly when customers post negative comments on social media. Vendors have to monitor youtube, FaceBook, Twitter, Google+ and the rest, and address these posts immediately and preempt having to launch a damage control campaign—which United Airlines because of its customer disservice to Carroll expended a lot of resources on.
The social media and customer service knife can cut both ways, however.
Social media posts can also benefit a brand if they offer praise for a vendor’s efficient response, low-cost or free expedited shipping, reliability of service or products, etc. In other words, if companies are smart they are listening to what people are saying on social media. This is where there can be synergy between customer service and marketing.
Social media users’ praises can multiply into hundreds or even thousands of users now feeling very positive about a brand overnight—all from one good word posted by a user who has a lot of friends and followers, who all have their own followers, and so on. All of sudden, the brand has gained a bunch of new customers.
Prior to the advent of employing social media to handle customer service, it was a no-brainer for online commerce to capitalize on social media as a premier marketing tool.
Just as the static FAQ feature has gone the way of the fax (once the greatest thing since sliced bread), online customer service has had to quantum-leap away from the inefficiencies of the automated telephone labyrinth, automatically-generated “no reply” emails, and the submission of a contact form. Next to outsourcing labor, the greatest lament of the rise of cyberspace commerce is the disappearance of the human customer service representative. Companies which afford this now luxury to their customers have a leg up on their peers and competitors. Check out Patagonia for a grand exemplar of this once absolutely necessary communication channel.
The perception is almost ironic that customers today reap the benefit of a personal interaction with a vendor if the latter responds via electrons and pixels of social media. Yet this dislocated correspondence is considered to be one of the advantages that businesses gain by such communiqués.
Where the rubber hits the road, also, is that customers want to be responded to in kind when they post to social media. If customers tweet their complaints, for instance, vendors have to serve those customers by tweeting their responses.
Other advantages, when an online business monitors social media 24×7, is the immediate response, for both customer and vendor. Consider that customer service begins the very moment a web surfer comes to rest upon the sands of a site. They might want to buy something the vendor sells, but first they might need to ask a question about it. If the site doesn’t have a way to answer immediately, the prospective customer may know or at least hope the business has a social media command center as alive and present as Gatorade Command Central, for example, and they will immediately post their concern on social media.
People want answers now—not when a chat feature is live again tomorrow. This is especially true when people are on the road, planning to travel, or having technical difficulties—it may be now or never for your business: people will spend their time looking for another brand.
Most especially with social media, companies must be aware of the high visibility of the quintessential digital public space. Past, current, and potential customers; competitors: “everybody” is watching. This is where the edge of the social-media-customer-service blade can cut for the vendor, though, if it handles things excellently. In order to do that, again, continuous monitoring is a sine qua non.
Fortunately for those online brands just getting their feet wet in the social-media-customer-service command center waters, they don’t have to start from the original models of 24×7 Armed Forces readiness, law enforcement 911 centers, or FEMA. They need to look no further, Cayzu Help Desk simplifies the potentially infinite amount of confusion surrounding the marriage of social media and customer service.