How can your business avoid a social media storm? By being more human

MT EXPERT: To get customer service right, companies need to be both real and realistic, says Nick Peart.

by Nick Peart
Last Updated: 25 Mar 2015

The voice of the customer on social media is a force to be reckoned with. But, if harnessed in the right way, you can be a customer service hero and make customers into a champion of your company.

Take Next for example. After a Mother’s Day mess-up, some quick thinking and a little empathy turned a complaint into a public commendation.

— Next (@NextHelp) March 31, 2014

But if you get it wrong, your customers will let you know. And if they can they’ll make sure plenty of other people hear, too - like Hasan Syed, who used paid-for promoted tweets to complain about British Airways. The airline had lost his bags and was not responding in a timely manner to his seemingly simple request about getting them back. His tweets went viral and he also made it into newspapers and news sites across the world.

More than anything, this tells us that while individual customer interactions were once a private matter, they can no longer be viewed in isolation. Any customer conversation your business has is now a potential PR win or blunder – depending on how you handle it.

Customer-centric companies are winning, while ‘traditional’ customer service is losing ground. The Mirror recently investigated the ‘Big Six’ UK energy companies and found a new customer calling the sales line could see their call answered up to 40 minutes faster than existing customers. This caused an uproar. It may have been ‘the way of the world’ even a decade ago, but today’s consumers know they can move to a business that will prioritise their current customers’ happiness and loyalty. They aren’t willing to put up with bad service anymore.

But how can companies embrace this new model and say goodbye to the bad old days of leaving customers on hold for hours on end?

Be proactive and transparent

One of the big ‘myths’ of customer service is that it’s about responding to customers’ questions and issues. Being a little bit proactive can make the customer feel much more valued. If there is a known issue then sending information to affected customers, including details of what's being done to fix it, can make a big difference in how they perceive your priorities. And that can go a long way to stopping a potential storm in its tracks.

Show common sense

As Hasan Syed said, ‘How does a billion dollar corp only have 9-5 social media support for a business that operates 24/7?’ Businesses really need to pay attention to how and when their customers are trying to make contact with them and set up systems to respond accordingly. Most small companies and business-to-business firms will be fine working ‘normal’ office hours. But for consumers those are on the way out.

Online shoppers browse and buy whenever it suits them, most people don’t want to take time off work to interact with businesses and, yes, trains and flights operate from the wee hours of the morning right into the long sleepless watches of the night.

Businesses that are getting customer service right have spotted that not-too-subtle change in attitudes and are adapting accordingly. Many global businesses are starting a ‘follow the sun’ method of customer service, where the same channels are monitored and responded to by teams in other parts of the world during their daytime to support out-of-hours customers.

Be honest and deliver

Again, it’s a simple premise: don’t promise customers the earth if all you can actually achieve is a bag of soil. Make sure your customer service teams and sales teams understand both what the customer wants and what your business can reasonably deliver. That way they can offer solutions to meet their expectations, without setting them up for disappointment.

Think about the banks and the PPI scandal. They were concentrating about incentivising staff and making money rather than about the customer’s real requirements. A good salesman only sells what they knows the customer already needs; a good customer service department offers a manageable solution in a reasonable time frame and calls when they say they’ll ring back.

Empower your employees

If your employees speak honestly, openly and solve problems person-to-person, then most of the time they will do what is best for the customer, cementing relationships in the process. Give your customer service teams the space they need to be amazing advocates of your business.

Customers increasingly share their experiences via word-of-mouth and on social media, while 82% of shoppers say they will shop with a brand again if they receive excellent customer service. That means every interaction with a consumer has the potential to create a community of influential and loyal brand ambassadors. By being a bit more human – both real and realistic - companies can keep pace with increasing customer expectations.

Nick Peart is Zendesk’s marketing director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

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