Let's face it. We all love complaining about bad customer service. My "customer service" and "customer experience" Google alerts are filled every day with bloggers telling long, rambling stories of high expectations and bad customer service agents. And if I read one more vapid post on improving customer service by teaching your agents to smile and by rewarding them for good service with a better parking space, I'm going to scream.
Is social media the answer to bad customer service? No. It's not.
The dark side of social media
What is most annoying about the writing surrounding social media and customer service is the constant fearmongering, focused on the dark side of social media. What if customers complain? And not just in a blog comment, but what if they take several weeks to produce a video slamming your company's bad customer service? In the aforementioned post, Gershenson warned,
Not everything with social networking is positive. All it takes is one disgruntled customer to post a video on Facebook. The video could knock your company and you might lose business.
And in a recent Marketing Profs post on using social media for customer service, Christine Whittmore invited corporations to become more social with their customer service, citing as motivation David Carroll's infamous United Breaks Guitars video, among a host of other nightmares (remember Dell Hell?).
You have nothing to fear if your customer service doesn't suck
Let's address these concerns. Sure, someone could take a few weeks to write a song, storyboard a video, find shoot locations, get talent to perform in it, edit it and post it to YouTube. It's a possibility. But consider that creating a catchy video
interesting enough to go "viral" takes a tremendous amount of work. Dave Carroll fought with United for nearly a year before creating that United Breaks Guitars video,
now with over eight million views. It's
more likely that a disgruntled customer will Twitter something negative
about your company. (And that Tweet is very easy to respond to and turn
So before we go too terribly
alarmist, in order for a customer to make a video about your company's
awful customer service, your service must be consistently awful and endemic to the organization. Very few consumers will bother to go to the trouble to make a video if you get their latte wrong once.
Second, despite what high-priced "gurus" may tell you, not every video or blog post does go viral. Most videos receive views by the customer's friends and through a few searches, but it takes something special, something that hits a cultural nerve, for a video to go viral and "knock your company" enough that you would lose business.
If your customer service is broken, social media won't fix it
That being said, social media won't fix your crappy customer service. United didn't get bad publicity because David Carroll made a video. They got bad publicity because the organization provided consistently poor, insensitive, unfair and impersonal customer service and drug the dispute on for nearly a year. United was the victim of a viral video because the level of customer service is endemically poor. If United had invested in promoting excellent customer service as a company value and rewarded that behavior in a tangible way, United Breaks Guitars would never have seen the light of day. Social media engagement would not have solved Carroll's problem.
And I don't mean to single United out; this could have been true of any brand considering the social media space. If an organization invests in creating a corporate culture that rewards and encourages excellent customer service, it will have nothing to fear from the dark side of social media. Zappos is actively engaged in the social media space, to be sure, but they also back that participation up with famous and award-winning customer service, even famously offering new hires $3,000 to quit, just to make sure they are fully committed to the company's goals and ideals.
While I agree that engagement across social media channels is usually a good idea and can create a lot of goodwill through familiarity and visibility, it's not a silver bullet. Social media won't fix what's broken in your organization; it will simply give you more chances to fix it.