Guest Post: The Impact of Social Media on Customer Service

Customer experience consultant Ian GoldingSocial media as channel for customer service has featured heavily on my blog in recent months – firstly thanks to my experience with social media customer service from O2 and then with a follow up to blogger Martin Macdonald’s experience with British Gas. In this guest post, customer experience consultant Ian Golding gives his point of view:

I am not the easiest of customers to deal with. As someone who helps organisations understand how to consistently deliver experiences that meet and exceed customer expectation, I am naturally always assessing the experiences I have myself.

If I am ever unfortunate to have a negative experience with a brand, I take it upon myself to seek out someone in ‘responsibility’ and politely feedback about that experience. Similarly, I have always made a point of feeding back when I have had a good experience, too.

Customer Service Before Social Media

One of the problems of doing this in the past was that, in order to ‘get help’ or ‘feedback’, you could only do it in one of four ways:

  1. Face to Face – easy for some to do, but not so for others. It can sometimes be intimidating or uncomfortable to seek someone out in the human form, especially if they are not completely open to feedback.
  2. Telephone – yes, the good old telephone was a common way of asking for help – and it may be a surprise to many that it still is! The number of people using telephone channels for customer service is on the rise, not the other way around.
  3. Letter – a very effective way of communicating with organisations – especially if you needed to complain. A hand written letter landing on the desk of a CEO (or Managing Director back then) was always sure to get a reaction.
  4. Email – used to be the ‘new’ channel for customer contact. Although quicker than ‘white mail’ (as letters are commonly referred to), it has always been a little unreliable – hence why most preferred to use the phone.

Recently, the way many of us have sought to rectify customer service issues or feedback positive and negative experiences has changed dramatically. Although all of the channels listed above still exist, there is now a far easier, quicker and accessible way of getting to an organisation – through their social media.

Social Media for Customer Service

The advent of Twitter and Facebook (among others) has enabled consumers all over the world to have a voice. These new communication channels have opened up new possibilities in customer service; we can send a tweet to someone, even if they do not know us.

What this means is that we are now more likely to speak out than ever before. Picking up the phone, writing an email, writing a letter – all of these methods of contact require considerable effort. Sending a 140 character tweet requires considerably less.

I started using Twitter to express my dissatisfaction (and satisfaction) with the organisations I transact with over a year ago. I have found it to be an amazing way of getting the service and help I need.  Earlier this year, one of my daughters unfortunately bit into a chocolate Éclair from Waitrose that was missing the cream! A quick tweet later and Waitrose were already on the case to sort it out:

social media customer serviceI had a poor experience in a Holiday Inn in Walsall, and again a tweet led to me receiving a call from the relevant manager in the hotel within the hour.

And I started to realise how amazing it was that customer service could become almost immediate – I also felt that, as a consumer, I could start to have more control of the experiences I had.

Consistency is Key in Social Media Customer Service

The most significant social media customer service experience for me happened in May this year. I had a poor experience at the bakery department in my local Morrisons. To cut a very long story short, my tweet to Morrisons ended up with me getting a personal call from the general manager of the store, and a permanent resolution to my issue that would benefit other customers.

To me, the impact of social media on customer service is easy to see. But is it really that simple? Can you expect to get the kind of responses that I received every time?

Sadly not. For all of the great examples I can quote, there are just as many poor ones. In fact, a good friend of mine who is a social media expert contacted other customers who had tweeted Morrisons on the same day as me. We wanted to determine if all Morrisons’ customers were dealt with in the same way or whether what happened to me was a ‘one off’; the results showed that the experience I had was not replicated for everyone we asked, and that therefore Morrisons’ customer service was not consistent even within this one channel.

There seem to be so many factors that determine if the customer service you receive is good or not. This is why consistency of service is the biggest challenge of all.

Using Social Media for Customer Service Issues

This will not deter me from continuing to use social media channels to speak to companies in the future. When I have had a negative experience in the same Morrisons store and have taken my grievance to the customer service desk, I have been met with indifference and defensiveness. Could I have been certain that the right person (i.e. the general manager of the store) would ever be told about my feedback? Social media has taken away this problem. I can leave very public feedback whether the person on the customer service desk likes it or not.

One thing I do believe though is that the consumer needs to know/learn how to use social media channels to feedback. In my opinion, just because Twitter is public, it does not mean that you should embark on a ranting excursion to bring everlasting shame on an organisation that you feel has under-served you.  Creating conflict will not enamour anyone to want to help you.

Offering factual constructive, polite feedback is an effective method for social media customer service and should lead to the response you need. If that does not work, rather than ranting, I would suggest you have learned all you need to know about the organisation you are trying to communicate with. Next time, vote with your feet and do not give them your hard earned money!

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