If you’re reading this article, it should be clear to you that people use social media — like this very blog post — as a way to broadcast their thoughts and feelings, be them positive or negative. Blogs can also convey information, share ideas, and chronicle important lifetime milestones. In today’s day and age, it is incredibly easy for a person to set up his personal web space to start sharing whatever is on his mind (and you begin to wonder why Twitter’s growth is so huge and popular among celebrities?)
With social media — or quite frankly, the existence of the Internet, any misstep you make in your personal dealings with others can become public. And this is why customer service is incredibly important, even if the customer service dealings are entirely handled offline.
Social media is social.
It’s easy for people to tweet about bank robberies and to photograph live displays of computer errors in public places. Do you think it’s harder for people to rant about your screw-ups?
Social media, quite simply, relates to the usage of content created by easily accessible publishing technologies (social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter, photo publishing sites such as Flickr, video sites like YouTube and Vimeo) that is generated by the hundreds of millions of consumers utilizing these technologies. As alluded to in the previous paragraph, it’s so easy for people to say something using these services that can be detrimental to your business. And if they don’t have a blog? It’s easier for them to tell someone else who could make it a public crusade for reform.
Customer service is social, too.
Situations like this appall me. In the linked-to article, Consumerist shares the story of an individual who opted to use a landscaping service to trim his lawn. Since he was reasonably happy with the service provider, he referred it to his friend. Only when the landscaping company mowed down the guy’s vegetable garden and did not rectify the situation seven weeks later did the guy decide to make a public spectacle of the situation. He brought the incident to Consumerist’s attention and then even transcribed, verbatim, the verbal threats he received from the company owner over his phone’s voicemail.
Sure, there are probably a few things you can point out that should work in the company’s favor. After all, you’re reading one side of the story, and the owner of the company admits that this is a misstep in the guy’s logic. However, the damage is done when a company’s customer service does not actually perform the service and refuses to right its wrongs. Despite not knowing the other side of the story, as a reader, I gleaned a few things: nearly two months have passed since the company wronged its client, the owner of the company was not apologetic, and not one but two customers were affected as a result.
If you’re reading this article, even if you did know the other side of the story, would you want to do business with this company? Does the company owner appear to be a guy you’d want to have dealing with? (Heck, are you even interested at this point to know the other side of the story? Clearly, there was no communication done there since two clients are left speechless.)
In a post made by Seth Godin, he writes:
My rule of thumb is this: every person you turn away because your product or service isn’t right for them turns into three great customers down the road. Every bad sale costs you five.
Here’s some more food for thought: Every blog post or negative review costs you thousands of customers.
This is exactly why your customer service representatives need to do a perfect job or none at all. Everything today can be turned into a public spectacle that can make or break you. We have embarassing pictures in Google Maps, videos about the death of an innocent man in the hands of a “competent” cop, and even Yelp reviews that can damage your personal reputation, never mind your business.
It’s evident that if you want to maintain your clients, you need to really make the effort to keep them. We’re starting to use search — and social media — as our recommendation engines. We trust what our peers or others say about the services being offered by providers and choose whether or not to proceed on the basis of what people are saying.
If you value your company’s survival, it is imperative that you educate those who respond on your company’s behalf to bear in mind that people are publicizing their interactions. Sure, you may not necessarily be in the greatest mood, and we all have those days, but that split second when you say something awful could really hurt the chances of growth for your business in the long run. How many people really want that?
Even if your product is terrific, if your service is horrible, don’t expect your customers to stay. We can learn a thing or two from the landscaping company and AT&T’s failures with the iPhone. If someone isn’t happy with the way you’re treating them, they’ll go somewhere else. Some will go the extra mile to share with their friends exactly why they’re moving on, too, so don’t make any missteps that will cost you business down the road.
I am a huge advocate of stellar customer service. I try to answer all emails within minutes of receipt — even at odd hours of the day — and I try to go above and beyond to provide the most informative responses that I can. Even if I’m in a sour mood, I still try to end my emails with a smile. Why do I do this? Because even if I don’t know the person (yet!), I still care about the people I am dealing with and the relationships to be forged, and I don’t want them to be disappointed in the lack of attention. When an email is genuine and personalized and someone has taken the time out to write it, would you really want to ignore it?
What’s the moral of the story? Your reputation is always on the line, and if you commit any type of blunder, albeit a small one, don’t expect to be off the hook. Since it’s so easy for people to vent their frustrations, you could very well discover that you are the subject of their complaints.
(And if you are, I hope you have a disaster recovery system in place!)
Update: Ely Rosenstock has a different take on customer service.