Has your CEO heard the news? Big Companies are Abandoning Social Customer Service!

Great media headlines have a knack for pushing the right emotional buttons and leaving people with strong negative or positive feelings, especially when they haven’t read the rest of the article. And in today’s world of 140 characters and digital media inundation, many of us, including me (I must confess, at times) are guilty of only reading the top line. So it is with this headline that hit the digital press Friday morning: “These Big Companies Are Abandoning Twitter And Facebook For Customer Service“. Wow, sounds pretty dramatic! Oh, and to add to the drama, the featured image in the post is a picture of Joaquin Phoenix in “Gladiator” garb, giving the thumbs down.

So now imagine your CEO, SVP Marketing, SVP Store Operations, etc., getting this headline forwarded in an email from a personal friend or relative over the weekend, or seeing the image below when they click on the link.

ThumbsdownDo you see what they see? A headline and a metaphor of themselves, a leader, saying “not a chance”. The rest is a blur. That’s the message that will register with them. That’s the memory they’ll be left with. And it’s a shame, but that’s the reality for too many busy executives. What may seem important for someone who works in Social Media, or Digital Media, or Customer Support, may be but a blip on a CEO’s radar screen. And they’re often looking for cracks in the wall to discount all of these peripheral requests for extra funding.

So, before they or someone else at the Senior Executive level, ridicule Social Customer Service in the days and possibly weeks ahead, because of this article and any subsequent noise it stirs, let’s spend a bit of time with the details.

Two companies are mentioned in the post. That’s it.  Charter Communications, and Wegmans.  Temkin 2012 Customer Service Ratings Charter is the fourth largest cable provider in the US with 5.2 million customers across 25 states. Wegmans is a supermarket chain in the northeast US with 81 stores. And they’re both big companies. But here’s the difference. Charter sucks at customer service. In fact, according to Bruce Temkin, Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a highly respected research and consulting firm, in the 2012 Customer Service Ratings study completed by his firm (which covered 174 companies from 18 industries and polled 10,000 US customers), Charter ranked at the very bottom in terms of Customer Service (I’ve added a red box to highlight Charter’s position, in the table on the left). Isn’t cutting out Social Customer Service in line with them being Customer Service bottom feeders? Need we say more?

Charter ranked at the very bottom [of the 2012 Temkin Customer Service Ratings] in terms of Customer Service

Now Wegmans is at the other end of the spectrum for service and Customer Experience. First off, Wegmans just ranked number 5, last week, on the Fortune list of best companies to work for. And research shows that happy employees make happy customers. Fortune best companies to work forMichael Hess of CBS Moneywatch, in an article published in late 2011, asks the question: Could this [Wegmans] be the best company in the world?  As it happens, it was only a single one of their 81 stores (though the largest in New England) that shuttered its use of Social Media for Customer Service. Does anyone really care? Does it really matter to a single store of a brand that is so customer-focused? Come on!

Wegmans just ranked number 5, last week, on the Fortune list of best companies to work for.

So, “Big Companies abandoning Social Customer Service”? I think not.

Given this background information, would you not agree that the premise of the Business Insider article is suspect?  But it’s clear there’s still fear out there about using Social Media. And the author is playing to the fear of Senior Executives.  So given that many CEOs and their leadership team may be fearful of this new medium, because they don’t quite understand it, how might we help reduce the risk for them? Why should they care about Social Customer Service? Perhaps if we try to answer this from a Senior Executive’s point of view. What’s in it for them? What’s in it for the business?

…the author is playing to the fear of Senior Executives

  1. Social Customer Service helps drive greater revenues/more profitability – Social Customer Service is all about listening and responding to Customers through the Social Channel. It’s about managing customer service issues through Social Media. Most organizations recognize that price-competition isn’t a long term strategy. It’s great if you want to sell commodities, but this is not going to make the business profitable. In order to differentiate your products and services from your competitors, you need to provide great experiences for the people who buy from you, so that they spread the news; so that they tell their friends. Average experiences are boring; they’re not an option. Your customers view your company as a single brand; not a bunch of individual channels. But because your customers can choose to engage with you across the channel of their choice – in-store, Call Centre, web, mobile, Social – the experiences that they have with you need to be consistent. Social Media is simply another channel. Trouble is, you don’t control it. It’s just there. Ignore it at your peril; especially if you’re a large, well known brand. Embrace it. Don’t fear it. Using Twitter and Facebook for Customer Service provides an opportunity for the brand to create unique experiences that your customers will want to tell their friends and family about, and it can serve as an amplifier for word of mouth advocates for your brand. Word of mouth advocacy builds loyalty, engages more customers, keeps them longer, and enables you to charge a premium for your products and services. In short, it helps your business drive greater revenues and profits. As simple as this sounds it’s the essence of a Customer Experience Strategy, that smart companies are realizing they need to develop and execute in order to survive in today’s commoditized world.
  2. Social Customer Service helps manage the brand’s reputation – Social Customer Service is about responding quickly to negative feedback that has the potential to grow exponentially and “go viral”. It requires active listening skills, the ability to empathize, and the ability to provide thoughtful responses very succinctly – often with 140 character limitations. Depending on the volume of service issues you’re responding to, it might also require routing of the issue to various people in different departments within the organization. It’s also about building community and creating advocates that will come to your defense if people talk negatively about your brand on Social Media. Consider these examples of real life events that have actually happened in the past year:
    1) You’re in the travel business, and a couple who are to be married Sister's original postbook a honeymoon travel package with you, but two days before the wedding, the husband gets killed in a freak accident. A customer service agent follows policy and refuses to refund the bride-to-be for the couple’s travel fees, so her sister goes on the company’s Facebook page, that has over 62,000 fans, and seeds an outpouring of negative comments towards the company.
    2) You’re a very respected brand in the high-end food service business and someone notices a mouse scurrying across the floor of one of your stores. They tweet a warning out to their 14,000 followers. The story goes viral and hits the mainstream news media.
    3) You’re a major financial institution and your ATMs and access to personal account information go down for 2 days nation-wide because of an Information Systems glitch. Irate customers take to Twitter and Facebook to voice their anger.
  3. Social Customer Service is an Insurance Policy for protecting your brand’s reputation. In all three cases above, smart leadership, fast action, and the right messaging with customers helped circumvent brand reputation damage. Social Media gives a voice to your customers that until now was one-to-one with the brand – think about a phone call with a Call Centre Representative, an email to Customer Service, a problem in a store or a branch.  These are typically private conversations between a customer and an individual in the company.  However, with Social Media, a single customer’s voice can now grow to reach thousands of people within a day; hundreds of thousands within a few days. And the Social channel is not like a valve that Marketing or Customer Service can simply shut off. You can choose to ignore the Social noise about your brand, and risk tarnishing your reputation, or take the route of engaging with the noise-makers, giving your brand the opportunity to take back some control.

What else might be important to your Senior Leadership team in terms of positioning the virtues of using Social Media for Customer Service?  What do you suppose the author of the Business Insider article was hoping to gain from positioning his post the way he did?  What does your own company think of Social Customer Service?  Do your Executives get it?