One of the fears of executives is that if they begin to engage in social media, customers will use it to try to take advantage of the company. While that fear is not unfounded, there are things a brand should consider in this new social media customer interaction world.
Customers Are Talking About Your Brand Whether You Are Listening / Interacting Or Not In working with clients, sometimes they are worried that if they have a presence in social media channels, customers will circumvent the normal channels, i.e., phone or email, and go straight to Twitter or Facebook with a horrible and damaging post. What I've seen over the years that I've been covering Customer Service, Marketing, PR, etc... and social media is that some customers do use social channels to complain. Whether that becomes a problem has to do with several things:
- Products & Service Issues: Is there something wrong with the products or services you provide that would make customers so frustrated that they'd go to any length to say bad things about your brand? If so, that information has to be provided to the departments within a company that can fix it. Often times we don't think of Customer Service as an information/feedback distribution center. But what we've learned is that customer service and especially social media customer service does provide real-time, often genuine and valuable feedback to a company that they can't get any other way. A brand needs a way to collect, analyze and distribute that data - and then take the right action to fix the issues so they don't create brand crisis situations.
- Poor Customer Service Experiences: Is there something wrong with the service that Customer Service is providing? If so, that needs to be fixed. Often times it can be a combination of strategy, technology and execution... Is it that the agents don't have helpful answers? Address knowledge management, training, cross-channel communication capabilities, etc... Is it that the agents don't know enough about the customer's other tries to solve the issue and the experience of trying to get help is blastic-inducing. It could be that the IVR, the website, chat, or that social media interactions aren't connected to one another so the customer has to restate the problem to each person they interact with.
As customers, we've experienced that and we know it doesn't feel good. If that's the case, then a company needs to create unified customer interactions, business rules, policies, knowledge bases, workflow and analytics in a common cross-channel platform. Having insight to what a customer has done and experienced across customer touch points dramatically improves the customer's experience. (And it can drive down costs!)
- Manage Customer Expectations: If there something misleading about the promise the brand is making? Is the marketing not truthful or creating a situation that is a set-up for customer disappointment? Reviewing products and matching brand promises to create realistic expectations is key. When branding or marketing, don't over promise and under deliver. It will result in Customer Service nightmare. Often times Marketing, PR and Customer Service groups don't collaborate. But if they do, you can see where making sure that all departments are aligned - will in the end - not only serve the customer, but also the company.
Get the Basics Right: If you can say that you are providing the best products/services you can, your PR/Marketing is delivering an accurate promise and Customer Service is deployed in a way that creates great experiences - from the customer's point of view- then you will be in pretty good shape. Often companies need to address the basics of business. What I've found is that when sincere customers go blastic, its because the company is misfiring in one or more of these basic areas. Lesson learned? Get the basics right.
Beyond the Basics: So if you are one of the exceptional companies that is getting the basics consistently right, then you want to think about how you are going to handle customers who either start or migrate to social media channels to air their frustration. Just like anything in life, there are always the "bullies" who think they can trash a brand in social media to get free stuff, better service, etc.. Unfortunately part of what's happened is that when customer's do use social media to complain, companies are providing better service than if the customer used traditional channels of phone, email or chat. Reward behaviors you want repeated.
The Witness Factor: What companies need to realize is that customers are very smart. They figure out very quickly where they can get the quickiest and best results and answers. If your company consistently provides poor customer service in traditional channels, consider that you are setting the company up for bullies to take advantage of the "publicness" of social media.
What I mean by that is what I've called the Witness Factor. The Witness Factor is the idea that because something is public - i.e., everyone can see it - that THAT changes how companies treat customers. There can't be one way to treat customers who call on the phone or email - i.e., poorly - and then a different way to treat customers who use social channels- better and faster. It's a clear set-up for bullies to use social media to try to take advantage of the company. They'll figure that out and use it to their advantage - because they know you don't want them to go blastic in public.
Know Your Customers: If you have a good system for identifying and really knowing your customers - i.e., contact center solutions, CRM, etc... then you are able to identify who you are dealing with. In researching this topic, I interviewed many clients. I asked them how they deal with these situations. The collective wisdom is that when a company can tell the difference between a real issue and a customer who is using social to take advantage of the situation, they make the better decisions on how to deal with the customer.
Often times companies don't have good contact center/CRM systems, so they don't know much about their customers. And they don't have that integrated with social channels so they can't connect who the person tweeting is to their contact center or CRM database. So lesson learned here is to update systems and processes so that you can know and track customers and their interactions for all interaction channels.
Fire Your Bully Customers: One client told me that when they get a customer who consistently complains, they mark that person's account. They set a limit on how many times they will allow that customer to try to get more out of the company than they deserve. And in some cases, they fire the customer. While that may seem extreme, what they find is that what those type of customer's want is to take advantage. So rather than trying to please them- reality is you can't - they decide on criteria that warrants firing a customer. Once these type of "bully" clients realize your firing them, they either leave or they change their behavior.
(Note- I'm not talking about customer's who really have a problem they need solving. I'm talking about customers who consistently complain to take advantage of a company.) It's important to identify theses conversations early - so social monitoring your brand is essential. And the second necessity is the ability to take the interaction offline and out of social channels into channels that are less visible to the public. Once you take it to other channels, then discern if the customer's concern is real or if you have a "professional complainer" on your hands.
Gratefulness is Repaid in Spades: Often times, when customers who do have real issues are helped, they are so appreciative and sometimes even flabbergasted that a company was helpful, that they will return to social channels and will unprompted, they say how amazed they are with your company. There's nothing like sincere, authentic and genuine compliments about your company in social spheres. You can't pay for PR like that, especially in a world where Customer Service has now become PR. And especially in a world where social customer bullies are trying to take advantage of the company using social.
Brand Advocacy Matters: The other tip that the companies consistently mentioned was that if you have worked hard to create strong brand advocates, then when a bully starts to go off on a brand, the crowd will do one of several things. If they think its a frustrated customer, they may offer solutions and help to that customer. That's great because often advocates or SuperUsers do actually know more that your own agents - they've made your brand, products and knowing about them their personal hobby. And if they think its a social customer bully, the crowd will police it's own social sphere. Often these social customer bullies get a reputation as a brand basher and neither the brand or current/potential clients pay much attention to them - or better yet the crowd calls the bully on their bullying. Creating brand advocates is key.
Let me know if this post has been helpful and please share how you have handled social customer bullies!
Learn. Share. Grow! @drnatalie