I had the honor to sit down with Charlie Meyerson on WBEZ’s The Afternoon Shift (NPR) last week, on my birthday nonetheless, and we talked about customer service in the digital age. Charlie had a recent story to share about how he started getting emails from Match.com as if he had an account and his difficult experience trying to free up his email address. Listen to the show to hear the full story.
Social Media is Customer Service
People are increasingly turning to social media expecting customer service support, and a place to freely vent about their bad experiences. So, for brands, using Facebook and Twitter for customer service is becoming a necessity. Using Facebook and Twitter for customer service is just that – good, smart customer service.
If you google “social media PR disaster,” or “social media fail,” you will be entertained by countless examples of social media customer service done poorly. Ask Aaron Lee gave a Social Media Epic Fail Award last year. Charter (cable company) made the list for quitting Twitter. Aaron commented, “customers will continue to WANT customer support on any social networking sites they choose.”
And that’s the reality these days. You should expect to get questions on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest etc. You can’t control where the questions will go. But you can control where you are, so be where your customers are.
How I Chose Between Verizon and AT&T
On the show I mentioned my own “test.” And here’s the full story. I was shopping around for a new wireless plan, not just for the best plan but for the best customer service.
I had called Verizon first. After wading through the prompts, I selected “I’m not a customer,” and within a few seconds I was talking to a Verizon sales representative. All went well. At the end of the call I was honest and said I was shopping around and I’d call back. The rep said, “I’m sure you’ll find we have the best service.” I laughed, and said I appreciated the confidence.
I then called AT&T and went through twice as many prompts, finally selecting, “I’m not a customer.” Then I waited, and waited… and about 10 minutes later the call disconnected. So I don’t quite know how AT&T’s customer service would be, but I wondered, “Don’t they want new customers? Why put a potential customer on hold?”
That’s when I turned to Twitter. I wanted to put their customer service skills to the digital test this time. What response will I get? Will the competition pay attention and try to win me over? So I tweeted about my experience…
One hour later, almost simultaneously I heard back from Verizon and ATT.
Notice how the ATT tweet says “DM me your acct & contact info.” Wait, didn’t I just say I was NOT a customer?
So, here’s my guess (just a guess, but darn I’m feeling confident about it) – the Verizon social media rep customized the answer based on my tweet (although I’m sure the last sentence was scripted) while the ATT protocol is probably to just plug in the script. I do give props to ATT for having a personalized set-up (image, name and bio), but that may not be enough to create a real connection with their audiences, when what matters most, “listening to the request” is missing.
Of Context, Influencers and Budgets
Social media conversations, just like in-person conversations are constructed of words that have meaning within the context of the exchange. Robots and scripts won’t get context. ATT’s response didn’t consider the context so it could have been an automated response for all I know…
Paying attention to context is critical in building credibility with customers and leads. If the customer asks a question on Facebook, answer on Facebook. Show you are truly listening, by responding with a specific answer and add value by giving extra information. And don’t have the customer jump over extra hurdles. The best answer is to give someone’s direct line and phone number and tell them they’re right there and will help asap.
A very good friend of mine, who is a digital marketing pro at a large company and wishes to remain anonymous, mentioned that large companies get too many complaints to handle. So they are force to prioritize and may choose to only respond to influencers. I can see how this can happen. We work with a few large clients where we get more than we can handle. But there are two other sides to this:
1. “What we can handle” is actually a matter of the budget allocated to respond to online chatter.
2. Responding to influencers has its own challenges. For one we found that many influencers are not “buyers.” They amplify messages (if they so choose) but they don’t directly impact results. And while I believe in the power of influence marketing, it is very hard to measure results and thus very hard to sell to decision-makers.
Deliver Customer Service Not Scripts
Long story short the word we’ve done and data we have shows that context, budget and influencer-approach matter. So, for best customer service, we still need to determine, by circumstance, the best approach. So ditch the scripts, pause the robots – think, listen, empathise and present solutions. Fight for more budget, pay attention to influence, and most of all, respect the context. Deliver customer service, not scripts.