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.)

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