Let’s tell whiny, attention-seeking customers to grow up and use the correct customer service channels.
Sometimes I toss and turn in bed at night and think about work. My career has focused on user engagement in digital for over ten years and it’s something I never get bored of. I find what people will share online – with friends, with strangers, with brands – fascinating.
One of the areas which many of my clients are interested in is how customer service should be applied to social media: how they should manage the expectations of their customers, how they can be prepared for all complaints and queries, how they can integrate social media responses with their current customer service team and how it needs to be resourced and managed.
I know all the answers to these questions – I make a living helping brands do it better each time. But when I’m helping companies with their customer service on social media stuff, a little voice pops up inside my head asks me if I really believe in what I’m saying.
The truth is I don’t think retailers should be on Facebook handling customer complaints. I believe a brand should maintain an official page if its customers are already on Facebook, and I also think that brands should use this presence to market to its customers (using conversation points rather than broadcast mechanisms). I’m just not sure if brands should be implementing a customer service strategy on Facebook.
Yes, the future of digital marketing is customer service heavy. Brands’ reputations are held into question every time a customer goes online and whines about bad service or products, and a whole micro-industry has spawned to assist companies when this happens. You can get reputation-monitoring technology, customer-service-workflow-on-social-networks technology, reputation-monitoring-within-customer-service-technology, and annoying consultants like myself have popped up to help put all of the above into effect.
But when I think about why brands are so quick to jump at the slightest hint of criticism, I feel a bit guilty. Obviously I realize that the Internet does not revolve around me, but I’ve been encouraging companies to get involved in public-facing customer services for longer than I can remember, and now I’ve changed my mind it almost seems a bit late to take a stand. Would it be terrible to tell customers that I’ve (we’ve?) had enough of their social media attention seeking and that traditional customer service channels work perfectly well?
The argument a mouthy customer would make is that they go on social media to vent when their traditional-customer-service-channel complaint isn’t dealt with. Perhaps it falls through the system, or maybe the person handling the issue doesn’t do a good job of it – but the more I see of how current customer service teams are run, the less likely I think this is. Customer Service teams – and the technology they use – are pretty impressive. It’s near impossible for a complaint to get lost in the system, so we can only assume that when a customer goes off in a rage on social networks, it’s for their psychological reasons rather than because of anything the company did or didn’t do. It’s the customer’s problem … and by putting their issue out there they make it the company’s concern. Yet by pandering to customers on social media, we’re enabling them to keep doing it.
I know it’s idealistic and naïve – and goes against how I make a crust – but what I’d like to see is a company go on a social network and tell a customer that their complaint will only be dealt with if they use the correct channels. I’d like to see a company stop pandering to whiny customers who think that raging against the machine on social media makes them a global superstar. I’d like companies to focus their attention – and their budgets – to improving their offerings so they get fewer complaints in the first place.
When I can’t sleep at night it’s because if I know Don Draper would disapprove of me, and therefore I can’t think of him in a sweet going-to-sleep fantasy. Don Draper never would have allowed a brand to indulge customers so publicly, and while digital may have changed the traditional marketing landscape, it doesn’t mean companies should lose their nerve and race around the web like subservient shop assistants.
The customer may always be right, but they should grow up and learn to pick up the phone to prove their point. Like strict parents we should encourage customers to behave properly, and respectfully. It will end in social media riots if we don’t.
This column originally appeared in New Media Age magazine.