I was invited to speak about best practice in how companies, organisations and brands can use Social Media for Customer Service. It became apparent at each event that a great many brands (and some were global organisations) were freely admitting that they simply “couldn’t cope” because the technology in consumers’ pockets is more efficient at communication than their own legacy systems.
My Grandmother once told me a story of how when she lived in London many years ago, she used to shop for groceries at Fortnum & Mason – the well known department store. Apparently on one occasion she opened a tin of cat food, only to find a mouse inside. Whilst her cat would no doubt have been delighted, it was certainly not what my Grandmother had expected from a store such as Fortnum’s.
A handwritten letter was duly dispatched to the store Manager, to be rewarded a day later by a Fortnum’s van arriving with profuse apologies and a year’s supply of cat food. Now that’s ‘proper’ customer service.
Today, when we have a complaint, we often turn to Social Media – particularly Twitter. These interactions vary from downright hostile on the part of the complainant, through to polite and friendly - however the sheer volume of complaints to organisations through Social Media is on some occasions overwhelming – and it’s no wonder that many brands say that their internal systems aren’t up to the job.
Of course, any of us who complain simply want an explanation, an apology, the problem put right – and all done promptly and in a friendly, professional manner and perhaps with some fair recompense.
About three years ago I ran a day’s Social Media workshop for the marketing department of a household name multinational technology company. At one point I asked them how they used Twitter – largely because they didn’t seem to have much of a presence, despite their name being mentioned every thirty to sixty seconds by customers around the world. Almost every mention of their company was neutral or positive and certainly no customer service complaints.
Specifically I asked them what their policy was on responding to queries and questions that they received through Twitter. I was a little surprised to be told that their policy is to ignore communications through Twitter “…because Twitter was a trivial medium”.
I went on to ask how businesses and customers like me might make a complaint or customer service query direct to them rather than go through a retailer. I was told that I would be directed to a “special form” on their website. In other words, I could only complain or give feedback in the way that the company wanted me to. I certainly couldn’t see my Grandmother standing for that nonsense.
So this organisation had a Twitter account, but was seemingly only using it to communicate in one direction - outwards. If a complaint was to be made it would be made on the company’s terms, not the customer’s.
Without wishing to point the finger at the telecommunications giant BT in particular, anyone who wants to get in touch with them by telephone goes through a filtering process, where with a bit of luck a human won’t need to get involved with the issue. It’s pretty common these days, but if you have been through that filtering process with any company you will know how frustrating it can often be as a consumer, particularly when you just want to talk to someone.
To their credit, BT was one of the first big brands to embrace Twitter as a customer service vehicle and @BTcare was often heralded as the best kept secret to getting a problem sorted out that you might have with the company. I recall my Mother-in-Law having problems getting her BT Broadband order through and set up satisfactorily, yet my one tweet to @BTcare had the issue impressively sorted within a couple of hours. In an instant I became an advocate for @BTcare.
I’ve seen other brands make bold efforts to include Twitter in their Customer Service mix, only to revert back to filtering enquiries. A typical tweet might say:
“Sorry to hear that John, that doesn’t sound good. Please would you complete this form [link to website] and we’ll get right on it”
Whilst on the surface that might sound like a helpful answer, my research suggests it can often make the customer even angrier. When my Grandmother penned her letter to the manager of Fortnum’s, that was it as far as she was concerned – she certainly would not have stood for being told to make the complaint again on a form, by telephone, on a website, in person or any other way.
And for many people today, it’s the same on Social Media. They have made their enquiry/complaint through Twitter and as far as they’re concerned that’s that.
“No I don’t want to visit your website to fill out your form. This tweet is my complaint, and whilst I’m happy to have a conversation with you here and now, I don’t want to repeat myself on your form”.
So how can organisations scale up their Social Customer Service proposition?
Once again, we come back to that thorny question of who within an organisation should be using Social Media to engage with customers. The answer in an ideal world will be ‘everyone’.
In my workshops, many organisations recoil in horror at that thought, but others know in their hearts that if we truly profess to be a ‘social’ organisation then we need to fully embrace the idea that customers will choose how they want to engage with us, when they engage with us and on whatever device or platform that they choose. It’s up to us as brands to meet their needs – not the other way round. The problem is, far too many organisations simply don’t trust their people enough to be let loose chatting with customers online.
There is not yet an ideal solution for every organisation and clearly training is an issue, but a glance at some of the complaints on our Twitter feed @ComplaintLogs suggest that Customer Service is still at the centre of creating great brand advocates.
The old adage that ‘today’s most unhappy customer is potentially tomorrow’s best advocate for your business’ is still true. The problem is, far too many brands don’t yet take Social Media seriously as a means for customers to engage with them. That’s a real problem – and with Facebook now encouraging us to communicate with brands through their Messenger app, customer service teams will need to be even more on their toes.
BTW, fourteen days on and still no response to this tweet. I’m not expecting one, but a proactive approach to Social Customer Service makes all the difference in the eyes of a customer as to how we perceive a brand.