Can Customer Care Be Given In 140 Characters Or Less?

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Oisin Lunny, senior market development manager at OpenMarket says social media is an important part of customer care but can never take its place

To quote the great Nathan Barley, we have become a world of “self facilitating media nodes”.

We can share content and ideas with a global audience instantly, contact friends easily and participate in communities that we might never have known of (1.2 million share a passion for racing the microwave…).

Human face

For brands, social media has been a godsend too; a human face for the multi-national conglomerate and a way of creating a personal touch for brands that have felt so distant in the past.

The stories like those linked above certainly raise a laugh and an appreciative nod from us but the cynic in me wonders whether this is all a bit of a show. Brands on Twitter are acutely aware that they are being watched by the wider public – it is after all, a broadcast platform at heart.

we love customersConsumers air their grievances on the platform with a view to making it as visible as possible. Is it so strange to think that brands mediate those same problems – often through disproportionate acts of generosity – in a public forum for that same reason? It’s the modern day version of graciously waiving a bill with a contrite and knowing glance after an appearance on Watchdog or page 7 of The Sun.

As a marketing activity it’s almost genius. Take a problem and turn it into column inches and goodwill for a fraction of the cost of advertising. This in itself doesn’t bother me. The issue is that customer experience has become secondary to public perception. Let me explain.

Customers (usually) only complain when they have a real problem that has damaged or ruined their experience and they complain looking for some acknowledgement or reparation. Consumers will also take the route of least resistance to complain; if faced with a 40-minute flute solo on a call centre phone queue, or a 140-characters on twitter, they’ll likely choose the latter. What happens is that consumers air their dirty laundry in public, as I mentioned before, to as wide an audience as possible. For the brand this then becomes more of a matter of brand image than resolving the complaint.

While that may not seem an issue – problems are getting sorted after all – there is a very real risk that brands are creating a double-standard for customer service. Whose problem do you resolve first: the complainant with 25,000 Twitter followers or the one 250? If it’s through channels like email, phone or even webchat, it would be done equitably. On Twitter, it’s always going to be the one with the biggest presence. While there will always be a degree of prioritising the loudest complainers, social media is an efficient amplifier of complaints.

Customer service is all about ensuring a quality customer experience. A good customer experience means happy customers and good relationships that will look after themselves. Social media is part of this but will never take the place of real customer care.

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