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Are they being served?

Are they being served?

Companies can now close the gap between their brand and customers by taking advantage of one of the most rewarding, but ignored, social media opportunities: good, old-fashioned customer service

Except in one instance. Lenati Consulting estimates that one in five of consumers now interact with a brand post-purchase, often to ensure they get as much ‘value’ out of their goods. Satisfied or not, consumers have adopted their own algorithm and are reaching out to brands via their social networks.

Not being geared up to respond could not only harm your reputation, but diminish loyalty – customer service is now a business’s most powerful competitive advantage.

At the Wharton Social Media Best Practices Conference in December 2013, panellists were adamant that companies should have dedicated teams devoted to responding to customer service queries over social networks. “A year ago, when [consumers] got a social media response from a brand on a customer care issue, they were pleasantly surprised,” said Dennis Stoutenburgh, co-founder of Stratus Contact Solutions, a management and social media consulting firm. “We’re getting to the point now that if companies don’t respond, they will have a black mark against them.”

Worse still is the cardinal sin of publicly passing the buck. For instance, a large UK kitchen appliance manufacturer recently interacted with a disgruntled service customer who had tweeted asking why engineers weren’t available after a recommendation from a Gas Safe Inspector. The buck-passing reply was that the customer should contact the service email address, ending the exchange with “they will be able to help you out!” The exclamation mark was a particularly unfortunate addition considering the customer’s follow up went unanswered.

Silence, shifting blame and not offering practical help is the quickest way to harm your brand’s credibility, far quicker than any complaints that come your way. When British Airways ignored a tweet about its “horrendous” customer service last September, its disgruntled flyer Hassan Syed responded by paying for a Promoted Tweet, which was subsequently seen by more than 76,000 users. An expensive omission set against the estimated third of Britons who regard social media as a suitable forum for complaints.

Feedback is your friend

Traditionally retailers welcomed testimonials from happy customers, pinning thank-you cards to notice boards for new clients to see. Then along came the ubiquitous What They Say About Us section on company websites, that often only contain anonymous praise or a few pictures of a past project or two.

In today’s networked environment, there are two reasons feedback is such a vital tool in your customer service arsenal and why all of your online activities can be an invaluable source. The first is the marketing value in having detailed content to show prospective clients of not only the types of product and services you supply but the large number of satisfied customers you already have. The second is the value of quantifiable data on what went well and what didn’t.

Having already gathered a customer’s email address, with assurances of how their data will be handled, a final message asking how they felt the process had progressed is less invasive than a telephone call. Rather than ask for a generalised comment, why not send a link to a short online survey? SurveyMonkey.com is one of many platforms that allow you to create a branded form at no cost, which can be exported and used within the company in multiple formats.

It is advisable to keep it to between five and ten open-ended questions that require mostly rating scales and multiple choices – the sort of form many are familiar with when leaving feedback on shopping sites such as ebay and Amazon. If the recipient understands your reasons for wanting to measure your performance, they are more likely to respond.

 Don’t feed the trolls

Even if you have planned defensively about what do to when the Internet shows its ugly face, online trolls are be a uncomfortably public hazard that most businesses will experience.

They are motivated not by a genuine need to fix a problem, even if one exists. Their ire is now so great that the original issue is put aside for sniping and abuse. And unlike on the telephone or in person, the usual rules of civility don’t always exist online.

Internally, spare a thought for the members of staff at the coal face. Aggressive, thoughtless exchanges can easily dampen even the most battled hardened.

Once a persistently rude or personal tone has been established, the conversation should be shut down immediately. Provide a postal address for their complaint to be sent to, politely but firmly explain that you take their concerns seriously and believe it best dealt with in more depth. Give them a timescale of how quickly they can expect a reply once the letter is received. Then block them.

High-Profile Fails

Getting it wrong publicly can sting, but getting it wrong and it going viral means the short-lived hurt returns again and again.

YouTube proved a particularly painful arena for FedEx after a customer captured a delivery driver lobbing a clearly marked computer monitor over his garden gate, thus setting the Internet alight with customers sharing their own anecdotes and a new meme was born.

BT scored a spectacular own-goal with the launch of its new channel BT Sport. Not only were customers aggrieved that BT executed a U-turn by promising the product free to subscribers, then encrypting it, regulator Ofcom reported that the telecomms giant had received ten times more complaints than its Pay-TV competitors in a two-month period. The fail worsened when in a live interview with BBC News about BT’s inability to cope with ‘unprecedented demand’ its own spokesman was cut off when BT lost the signal customers sharing their own anecdotes and new meme was born.

2015’s biggest blooper so far came in July, when tech writer Ryan Block posted an audio of a support call with his cable television provider Comcast where he tried in desperation to cancel his subscription. The operative’s oppressively hard-sell clearly fed into consumers’ dislike of call centres and within days had become perhaps the first ever audio viral.

Even bad news is good news

On Facebook, Elica Cooker Hoods demonstrates that social networks are being integrated into its its customer service provision. Customers have posted questions about how to find replacement parts, or clean their hood and also how to fix a technical issues. In each case, Elica’s responses are focused and helpful, and in each instance, been rewarded with a positive comeback. How often does a business get the chance to have “Amazing! Thanks so much! :-))” writ large on its reputation?

High-profile home automation company Nest has had a hard time in the media after the recall of its 440,000 Protect smoke detectors in the US but that hasn’t scared its reps away from tackling technical issues online, which illustrates a concerted and consistent approach on Twitter. Assistance is offered with either a request for a direct message, the correct service number, as well as a promise to get things sorted.

Interestingly, the word “sorry” also appears in almost every reply – a habit Electrolux UK’s Twitter handlers have also adopted. Promises to get things resolved has rewarded the appliance manufacturer with several enthusiastic testimonials in return. A perfect example of turning a negative, a faulty product, into a social media positive.

 This is an article I wrote for the UK’s top trade kitchen and bathroom magazine – Essential Kitchens and Bathrooms Business. You can follow them on Twitter here. If you would like to subscribe, visit EKBBusiness