Social Media and Customer Service

30 12 2010

Talking to people at holiday parties, this subject keeps coming up: Why would anybody use social media for a customer service issue?  Doesn’t it make more sense to contact customer service directly?

Not in my experience.  Have you ever had one of these situations happen to you?

  • Called a computer manufacturer’s support line because of networking problems only to have the customer support representative tell me with great solemnity that “Your computer is not compatible with the Internet.”  I got the rep’s name and told him that I was going to quote him on this and he still insisted that my PC was not compatible with the Internet.  (What training do they give these people???)
  • Called a different manufacturer about problems with another PC.  I had run diagnostics that showed that my PC was not booting because of memory hardware problems.  The service rep insisted that he could not authorize replacing my memory unless I first wiped and re-installed my operating system — and everything else on the computer.  I argued with him for hours and could not get him to budge on this issue.  (I resolved this one by writing a letter directly to the CEO of the company, which by the way, became famous for its poor customer service.)
  • Another time, I was having trouble with email.  The customer service rep for my service provider told me that the problem was that I was sending attachments too big for their email server to handle.  I went so non-linear that my family is still laughing about it.  It turns out that I was the Product Manager for that particular email server and I knew it’s exact specifications.  I had worked for the company that sold them the email server and had been personally and directly involved in the sale and installation of the software.
  • Most recently, changes at my service provider caused my email client to stop working.  When I asked them to fix it (and it took hours to get to the right person) he told me that he knew what the fix was but would not fix my problem because they did not support email clients, only Web clients.  I argued that they had caused the problem, but it was to no avail.  He was prepared to argue with me for hours when it would have cost his company far less money to just give me the fix.

Believe me, I am not making this stuff up.  I could never imagine this level of insanity going on in any professionally-run organization.  When a customer service organization reaches a certain size, Dilbertian behavior somehow becomes the norm.  There is something about the goal-setting process and poor training that results in this type of behavior.

So, why do people take their customer service problems to Twitter and Facebook?  On the surface, it does not seem to make sense.  Why blast your problem out in a broadcast to thousands of people when it would seem to be more efficient to handle it one-on-one with a trained customer service agent.  Here is why people use social media for service issues:

  1. Customer Service agents behave differently when the eyes of the world are on them. One-on-one they can and do say the most outrageous things to you. Before the eyes of the social media community, they need to be much more careful.  A mistake like any of the ones above could cause a viral firestorm on social media and severely damage the reputation of the company.  The stakes for the company are much higher on a stage that big.
  2. Customer Service agents on Social Media appear to be better trained. In my experience, customer service agents who handle social media are much more thoroughly trained, not just on technical issues, but in common sense and on social interaction skills.  Dealing with one giant telco who has a deep and well-earned reputation for poor customer service, I found the telephone support people to be worthless.  On the other hand, the Twitter support people were helpful, knew their stuff, and quite willing to fix the problem.  The telephone support was so bad,that I documented the entire experience, tracked down the VP of WorldWide Customer Support, and sent her a letter detailing the situation.  It took a month to get a response from her.  In the meantime, their Twitter support team had solved my problem cheerfully within 48 hours.

Culturally, I see some people struggling with these issues.  For some it seems like “bad manners” or something to broadcast a product issue out in a one-to-many fashion.  At the end of the day, you have to use what works and my experience is that social medial support channels just plain work better.  Why wast literally hours arguing on the phone when you can get a quick fix on Social Media?

The worldwide transparency of Social Media makes customer service organizations bring their A-Games. No enterprise wants to attract the Roving Eye of Sauron.

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