Monthly Archives: April 2013

Social Media: The Superhero in Real-Time Customer Support

Several weeks ago, #CMGRclass learned about the importance of understanding and listening to the audience of an online community.  Olivier Blanchard, in chapter 12 of Social Media ROI (“Real-Time Digital Support – Fixing Customer Service Once and for All”), stresses the importance of customer service to a business or organization.  He emphasizes that customer service isn’t just a department on a company’s organization chart, but is a product inextricably linked to its brand identity.  While good customer service is the result of careful planning and execution, bad customer service can result in negative experiences, sentiment, publicity, and even impact a company’s bottom line.

Blanchard asks, “Now what does this have to do with social media?  Everything.”  Social media has balanced the scales of influence: anyone with a Facebook or Twitter account can immediately spread their experience with a business – good or bad – through their own networks.  If a message resonates enough with its audience, it will be shared (perhaps again and again).  Blanchard recommends the practice of social media monitoring as a triage approach to identify positive, neutral, and negative mentions and determine which require a response.  He goes on to classify online mentions into six categories depending on the context of what the individual is trying to accomplish.  Is the person simply informing their network of a positive or negative experience, or does he or she need information or assistance a “customer service superhero”?

“Sometimes, people just want to fight.”

Of course, not all online mentions are positive; sometimes, even the superpowers of a customer service hero can’t easily remedy a customer complaint.  In the last section of chapter 12, “Digital Conflict Resolution,” Blanchard discusses online conflict resolution, outlining nine rules of online conflict resolution and offering tips on how to defuse escalating situations.  The rules are listed below, but can be summarized into seven short words: “Don’t try to win.  Don’t even fight.”

  1. The Customer Is Always RightThe customer is always right.
  2. You will treat every customer like royalty, regardless of how she behaves.
  3. Unreasonable customers are not the enemy.
  4. The most effective weapon against an angry customer is a calm, generous demeanor.
  5. The most effective weapon against a rude customer is politeness.
  6. Recruit your customer info helping you craft a solution.
  7. Never, ever, ever, under any circumstances get sucked into an argument with a customer, especially online.
  8. Don’t be afraid to apologize, even if you have nothing to apologize for.
  9. If the customer’s request for a resolution is unreasonable, apologize and say that you can’t do that but offer a solution.

Online news sources have been littered with recent tales about how businesses are disobeying one or more of these rules, with many of these stories being shared in our own #CMGRclass community.

  • For instance, several weeks ago, #CMGRclass student Steve shared a story of how Famous Dave’s participated in an Twitter exchange about barbecue origins with Jason Dominy, a fellow coffee roaster – clearly in violation of rule numbers 1 and 7.  (I would have added numbers 4 and 5, but I didn’t find Mr. Dominy’s comments to be angry or rude.)  Fortunately, Famous Dave’s later apologized online to Mr. Dominy, observing rule number 8.
  • More notoriously, six weeks ago Applebee’s got drawn into backlash on Facebook following the firing of a waitress over posting the receipt of a non-tipping patron online.  If you extend the definition of “customer” into “potential customers,” Applebee’s was violating nearly all of Blanchard’s rules.  (Not to mention proving to be rather inept at social media and community management.)

What about you?  As a provider of customer service, have you ever been frustrated with resolving conflicts online?   Or perhaps as a recipient of customer service, have you ever concluded an exchange and was still left wanting?

(Featured image created by author.  Embedded image by Flickr user LonelyBob.)

With Customers/Community, It’s Never Right to Fight

 

Tambako the Jaguar / Flicker - CC

Tambako the Jaguar / Flicker – CC

Rarely have so few pages of text carried so many straightforward and applicable messages as  Olivier Blanchard’s writings on resolving conflict in the digital space.

The author pulls no punches and offers very sage advice.

Sometimes, people just want to fight, he says. (How true, I’ve experienced.)

Regardless, the person on the receiving end of the customer service transaction should never, ever engage in a grudge match­­­–especially if you are a community manager or otherwise serve as the voice of a company, Blanchard advises.  (A great recommendation, I can attest as a former corporate spokesperson.)

In the customer service space, the author advises, “Don’t try to win. Don’t even fight.” He explains how it’s a no-win and a no-brainer.

jade.deakin/Flickr-CC

jade.deakin/Flickr-CC

This is a particularly important consideration today because of the ever-ongoing life of digital communications. Social networks are the medium where customer service communications are most likely to occur now, Blanchard says, so CS interactions are much less private and much more share-able now than in the past. (Before, they might have been restricted to a grumpy-one-one phone call, a haughty letter to a customer service office, or a nastygram e-mail to the CEO.)

Today’s customer service outcome reach is vast because of its social networking dimension­­­­­­. But the good news, Banchard reminds, is that positive interactions are just as broadcast-able, as well.

Both negative and positive words publicly exchanged and positioned “will be archived by Google forever,” Blanchard reminds, so losing your cool on a customer service interaction means it will be set in social media stone (and perhaps transmitted instantaneously to thousands).   That’s a real reputation builder (or not)­­­ if you’re the community manager, spokesperson, relationship outreach person, or other formal representative of an organization. (I’ve come to acknowledge that reality through difficult tribulations.)

That brings Blanchard to his rules for social media customer service interaction. (I’ve abbreviated and interpreted them here.) He points out succinctly that there are real costs to both positive and negative implementation. The chapter is a true wake-up call and guide to today’s online interactions.

Clive Andrews / Flickr - CC

Clive Andrews / Flickr – CC

#1   The customer is always right (Still. And especially in today’s delicate economy.)

#2  Treat customers like royalty. (This is actually a favor to your mindset.)

#3  Regard testy customers as tests of your coolness and professionalism. (Really!)

#4   Your “calm, generous demeanor” is the mindset that helps you diffuse conflict; and time is on your side.

#5   Politeness diffuses anger. (Simple. Tested. True.)

Ashley Wang/Flickr-CC

Ashley Wang/Flickr-CC

#6   The customer can help you    turnaround his/her dissatisfaction. (Ask how you can help, show  understanding of the situation, recruit the customer in solutions to diffuse problems.)

#7   Don’t ever argue. (Don’t’ get sucked into a fight.)

#8   Apologize; it doesn’t hurt. (It will help the situation and impress everyone.)

#9  Offer alternatives if you’re asked for an unreasonable resolution. (If you must offer variants of solutions, take that conversation offline.)

Blanchard’s recommendations are good ones, as I can affirm from personal experiences.

I’ve lived through some very difficult yet very interesting “customer service” situations, as Imight characterize my role of community relations point-person and media spokesperson during several years of very public land claims litigation. The organization I worked for was pushing its legal rights through a volatile litigation strategy. That left many area residents and homeowners (many of whom were also the organization’s buyers, consumers and employees) unsure of their own legal status and unclear of the too-subtle differences between an aggressive litigation strategy and real-life threats.

VBC17/Flickr-CC

VBC17/Flickr-CC

Many people ended up being understandably concerned and upset that their homes and properties were being talked about in legal terms (and as some thought, physical ones) as potentially able to be disrupted or “taken back.”

(Maybe that’s why I particularly enjoyed and understood Blanchard’s on-point and very practical recommendations.)

Have you ever had a really horrible customer service experience you can relate?  By contrast, have you ever had a great outcome from an excellent customer service provider? Please share your stories about those!