Note to Consumers, Operators are Standing By

A growing number of consumers are posting comments about a product or experience they’ve had with a brand on a blog or Twitter and expecting the company to come right back that same day with a personalized message and solution. I’ve seen isolated incidents where some consumers return to the network within hours and remark that they have fired that brand for being ignored between lunch and dinner.

grungy-social-media-icons

I’m concerned that the speed of social will cause consumers to think traditional communication channels are obsolete and have been disconnected from the grid. Big brands have spent millions of dollars staffing call centers and maintaining web sites to provide customer service. They won’t be chucking those investments any time soon. Folks… folks… Let’s get real. A single consumer will always be more agile than a large organization on almost everything. Companies have not promised, nor can they right now, monitor hundreds of millions of conversations and respond as part of their service contract.

As a consumer, if you have a problem with a product or service, there is nothing wrong with expressing your perspective using social media technology. I have done so numerous times in this very space. But you need to ask yourself why are you doing it? What’s your objective when you post out? Is it a test to see how quickly they will find you? Are you informing/warning the community about your experience? Unless you are a key influencer with a big following, posting on a blog is a little like shouting out in a crowded stadium. Almost no one will hear you. Certainly not the pitcher who just gave up that home run.

phoneI’ll bet you can find a web address or 800 number on the packaging coupled with an open invitation to call anytime you have a problem or question. So click on www or pick up the phone. After all you spent time and probably money on the product. What if your issue could be remedied with a 1 minute conversation or e-mail response? Isn’t that a better use of time?

Once you have gone through the channels a company has established to help you and still the issue isn’t resolved, then by all means, have at it in the community. The company deserves it. Firms will get better at monitoring the social graph. It’s a completely new concept and the velocity is overwhelming. It will take some more time.

8 Responses to “Note to Consumers, Operators are Standing By”

  1. Hello,

    I’d appreciate if you can give me some feedback on our iphone app iLightFarts

    http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=317429824&mt=8

    I realize that you are iphone app guru :) It’d be swell if you can place an honest review of our app.

    Thank you,
    Pam

  2. Hi Pam,

    Appreciate the offer and always looking for new things to test. But I have to admit that this application is not exactly in my sweet spot. Are there possibly any other apps I could try? Thanks.

    Steve

  3. Hi Steve,

    Sorry I have to respectfully disagree with you on this one. While, I do think people have to give companies a chance to respond in a reasonable amount of time. With the advent of Customer Service 2.0, and companies like Dell, Comcast & Ford leading the way, there’s a new standard in large company triage and response.

    And whether you like it or not, consumers can make their own decisions about who to purchase from. Though, here’s another thought, maybe some companies don’t want those customers who have high expectations with service levels. Perhaps they can be more profitable by not obtaining the type of service levels certain customers expect?

    However, to me if a company builds the right infrastructure for social media engagement the company should be able to triage and respond to most customers within a timely manner.

  4. Hi Steve,
    My perspective is that if customers are expected to call the phone # (and that is painful because it usually isn’t an 800 # and/or you get someone in India or the Phillipines) or use the www, then why can’t the customer support people learn the 3rd way of responding to customers in social networks?

    As a consumer I prefer to go online & find peer support. It’s so much easier and less painful. If a brand offers their customers a community it allows their advocates a place to answer questions, a place to gather product feedback and a central clearinghouse for info.

    In full disclosure I work with Techrigy SM2 and we have many brands that understand the value of monitoring conversations, responding and providing support that way. In addition the textual analysis surfaces market research info and SEO information (direct from the consumer).

    Connie
    Chief Community Officer, Techrigy
    @cbensen

  5. Steve,

    I think that there’s a major shift not only in attitude about customer service but also in the way consumers expect to communicate, in general.

    For most companies, call center customer service is considered a cost center, something they wish would go away (your company excepted, of course), something where the best thing that can happen is a reduction in call volume and call handling time.

    It is in this context that people simply give up on calling a toll free line – because it is so very annoying and frustrating to have the company value company time more than their customers. Not many companies have a 60 second response time for their USA based call centers – the place where you work is an exception, not at all the rule.

    Also, when it comes to web sites, not all companies obsess over the user experience and hire the right partners to create a web site that is actually functional and can solve the vast majority of the customer’s service issues in a single session :)

    So again, you have the advantage of coming from a position where call centers are seen as a critical infrastructure for customer satisfaction, as is the web site.

    But when we see the cries of anguish and anger about this or that company on Twitter, Consumerist, Blogs and Boards, it’s because as a group, consumers have been so beaten down by so many other companies unable or unwilling to invest a little in the service side of the business that they react like a wounded animal to the cumulative effects of IVR gone mad, dropped calls,undertrained & disempowered CSR’s and all the rest.

    So they turn to the web and peers. The fact that sites like http://www.gethuman.com exist at all is a sad marker for the state of customer service in general.

    The reality is that people are using near-synchronous communications in multiple channels concurrently to create an atmosphere of continual ambient awareness of news, issues, ideas and events – and this concept does not provide much room for the time and focus needed to follow prompts and enter account numbers and wander through a script with a CSR.

    So they throw the problem out into a “Wave” as Google calls it now, and they expect the response to show up. I do this all the time via my own Facebook Status or Tweets or Blog Posts.

    I connect the idea of “if the news is that important, it will find me” to this new consumer attitude – “if I matter as a customer with a problem, the company will meet me where I complain about it”. We see this with Comcast and Famous Fred and his Twitter Team, and we are seeing this in other contexts. Yes, the multi-zillion dollar support systems of the call center are incredible and work really well as do well run web sites. But I’m wondering if these support infrastructures are a bit like a fishing pole waiting for a fish to show up when what is really needed now is a large net to catch the fish where they are.

  6. I think the answer lies somewhere in between. I work on helping large brands on this issue all the time and the concept of “Disciplined Participation” is starting to talk hold. What I mean by that is brands are learning when and where they need to be in social networks. We have more than 200 million analyzed conversations running across over servers now and dozens of clients involved in day-to-day online customer outreach and the percentage of social discussions that most companies need to be involved in average around 5% of all discussions about their brand. Trust me, there is a lot more thinking and strategy that is going on in corporate America today around online customer outreach, engagement criteria and the analysis of outcome resolution than most people know, and none of it is negatively impacting the offline channels that customers use today to speak to a company. It’s enhancing the entire customer service strategy.

    Mike Spataro
    Visible Technologies

  7. Steve,

    I understand where you’re coming from. But I, too, must respectfully disagree.

    Like John said, I get it that companies should have a chance to respond in a reasonable amount of time. But to dismiss the idea that customer service is not going to change and that it’s going to be “same old same old” seems a little backward. It may be unfair, but the perception persists that calling the 800 number is an invitation to an experience that is abysmal at best, infuriating at worst.

    After all, the genie is out of the bottle. People have seen, read, and heard of examples where friends posted, blogged, videod, or tweeted their problem and it was resolved. Whatever the tool, individuals now have the ability to reach a bigger audience than the typical evening news broadcast.

    Corporate social media is fundamentally about two things:

    1> Solving customer problems now.

    and

    2> Solving customer problems so there is a permanent record in Google that shows up for all to see when another individual searches the product/brand/service six months from now.

    I guess I’m just confused. Why would you NOT want to respond to an issue quickly? It’s like you’re deliberately going out of your way to miss a chance to delight a customer with a fantastic experience that inspires loyalty. After all, the customer is going to spread word of mouth based on his/her experience.

    And then six months from now, when a much bigger potential customer runs your company’s product/brand/service through their favorite search engine, they’ll see that you went the extra mile to solve the customer’s problems (or not). By not resolving the issue, it’s very possible you’re jeopardizing future sales.

    “Marketing = customer service = marketing.” More than a mantra, it’s a way of life.

    …Michael


    Michael E. Rubin
    847-370-3421 // merubin@gmail.com // twitter: merubin

  8. Lots of great, thoughtful comments. Really pushed the conversation. Thanks. Wonder how brands who won’t deliver a great customer experience on the phone have any chance out here.

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