Customer Disservice?

Brands Can’t Afford to Ignore the Ties That Bind Customer Service and Social Media

By Meghan Britton-Gross

There is an old Saturday Night Live sketch where Lily Tomlin portrays Ernestine, a phone company employee. Her famous line was, “So the next time you complain about your phone service, why don’t you try using two Dixie cups with a string? We don’t care. We don’t have to. We’re the phone company.”

There are businesses that always get a bad rap: phone, cable, restaurants, and doctors’ offices. The places that receive the most demand for their services also have the most critical eyes on them. I don’t know too many brand ambassadors for Comcast or Verizon. Truth be told, I don’t know any.

Lily Tomlin

My husband and I recently canceled our cable service. When he went to return the box and cables, a woman coming out of the store held the door open for him and said, “You go, boy! You get your money back!” It was a “stick it to the man” kind of moment. A collective cry from people who have given up cable.

Did you know that 72 percent of people who go to a brand’s Twitter page and complain expect a response in an hour?

But what about those brands that have an intensely loyal following of brand ambassadors? You no doubt are a fan of such a brand. If that brand were to misstep, you would feel betrayed. I had that happen to me recently with a brand I’ve held in high esteem and had put on a pedestal. (FYI: It was a pedestal the brand had crafted out of reclaimed marble and carved with delicate tools.) Nearly every woman I know covets its products. With the whole debacle said and done, I am no longer a brand fan and I regard its products with suspicion.

I don’t think the next few statements will be revolutionary for anyone: Customer service has an enormous impact on a brand’s fan base. It used to be that word of mouth was literally spoken out of a mouth — person to person — and word traveled. Now, social media is a megaphone to the masses, and word travels even faster. I’ve seen so many friends complaining on Facebook about cable companies and how long it takes to accomplish anything with them via a phone call. One friend even posted a comic strip that said something to the effect that all drugs should be legal and in order to buy them you should have to purchase them from a particular cable company — over the phone.

Thanks to social media, on a good day bad customer-experience stories reach twice as many people. On a bad day, the news goes viral.

In this day and age there is a thin buffer between opinion and brand image. So what can a company do to ensure that its customer service isn’t making matters worse — and how can social media help?

Customer Service and Brand Image

Just to get this out in the open: I am not targeting people who work in customer service. What I’m referring to is the brand — its processes and its support of the customer-service team.

You know how we always hear the bad news while the good news is harder to come by? When was the last time you called customer service because something went well? My guess is never. According to Help Scout, 96 percent of customers don’t voice complaints and 91 percent of dissatisfied customers leave the brand. That’s huge! Especially when new sales are 80–95 percent harder to obtain and existing customers are 60–70 percent more likely to buy again.

Different Channels, Different Usage

Earlier I mentioned a problem I recently had with a brand. I ordered a kitchen table online. After about eight weeks, the table came, it was broken, and I had to send it back. Had my track record with the brand been OK up until that point, I might’ve reordered it, but because my experience had been so frustrating and time-consuming, I went to a competitor. Even when I changed specifications with the competitor midstream, my experience was amazing. The new company had a rock-solid customer-service response plan that included phone, email, and Web tracking. The old company had an inexperienced customer-service team that wasn’t correctly using the tools given to them. It wasn’t their fault: They weren’t trained properly. I know this because of a comment I received by way of an apology from a more seasoned team member. The responses by phone were frustrating and I couldn’t speak with a manager directly. When one manager emailed me, you’d better believe I kept that email and used that avenue to fix the issues rather than by phone. That extra way in made all the difference and kept me as a customer, although a frustrated one who will never buy a large-ticket item from them again.

In this day and age there is a thin buffer between opinion and brand image.

Thanks to social media, on a good day bad customer-experience stories reach twice as many people. On a bad day, the news goes viral. No one is perfect and no plan is foolproof, but this is one area that brands cannot ignore. Britton Marketing & Design Group’s content strategist, Nic Hulting, wrote a blog about creating a social media response plan that I strongly suggest reading. Thankfully, a lot of brands realize how important customer service is; what a lot of brands are missing, though, is the connection with social media.

Social Media, the Customer Service Sixth Man

Please note: This is probably the only time I will ever reference any sport. Ever.

Back in the day, I was a huge Duke University fan. HUGE. I learned about the Cameron Crazies and how the team relied upon them. Fast-forward to now and social media is just that to a customer-service team. This tool needs to be relied upon and used wisely. This isn’t just a sales tool. In fact, that statement needs to be struck from your vocabulary. Social media needs to become a customer-service platform that is managed just as a phone line, email, or message forum.

Did you know that 72 percent of people who go to a brand’s Twitter page and complain expect a response in an hour? And did you realize that Facebook actually has a notification on brand pages that states how quickly they respond? In that same vein, Lithium Social Web came out with a report that said if a brand takes care of that negative post and meets expectations, 42 percent will then turn that negative post into praise or a recommendation on the same network. So how do companies expand the already stretched bandwidth to encompass social media monitoring? Read on, my friend. Read on.

1. Don’t be afraid. It will be OK.

A lot of trepidation goes into engaging with social media on a personal level. A number of people we’ve talked to fall back on traditional excuses. “I don’t understand why you’d want to post online about yourself.” “I’m too old for Snapchat!” (That was me. I’m 36.) “I leave that up to the marketing team.” On the flip side, those same people have been talking about how they as a company can attract millennial customers. Remember that adage about smelling fear? Yeah, it’s true.

If you are the one who is handling social media for your brand, you go for it. Also, talk to people at the company who need to understand this new world and try to help them understand (just don’t talk to them like you’re talking to a preschooler). That will help give your position more clout, the people you’re talking to will tout your knowledge, and it will help the company move forward. Case in point: BMDG’s president and co-owner Jeff Britton. Jeff is on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. Does he use them? Probably several times a year. That’s not the point. The point is that he appreciates this new channel and gives it the same (or more) weight than print, digital media buys, and strategy. If you say anything to Jeff about how social media is tricky, he’ll admit it.

2. Be channel-specific.

If your brand isn’t currently utilizing a social media channel for customer service, the best way to dive in is to choose one channel that the bulk of your engagement is on and go from there. Note that I said engagement. Not numbers. You can have a gazillion Facebook fans or Twitter followers, but if you don’t have engagement it means nothing.

My personal internet company currently uses Twitter for customer service. On the company’s website you can find its Twitter handle. You can find a phone number, but the company promises a quicker response if you use Twitter. We’ve had a pretty good experience. There have been a few glitches, but that could’ve been our user error and not theirs. I give them extra grace because they are where I am, it’s convenient, and there’s a pretty immediate response.

3. Own it.

If a brand seems hesitant on social media or appears to have shut off a communication channel, that will continue to backfire. Oh? You don’t think it will? You go on believing that.

In 2015, Facebook announced Business on Messenger, which allows integration between Facebook Messenger and businesses. This is awesome. If someone has a problem, instead of posting on the wall and giving a negative rating, they just have to send a message. There are the typical indicators (i.e., colored dots) to let you know if the brand is online and even if it’s responding to your direct message. Hyatt was an early adopter of this channel. According to a Wiredarticle, the company hasn’t promoted the feature, yet Messenger is “morphing into a 1–800 number for Hyatt’s digital customers.” Interaction with the brand has multiplied “nearly 20-fold,” and interactions have ranged from great feedback on an experience to how well a hotel booking turned out to a late-arrival request for an extra blanket. How’s that for service? Easy. Where the customer is. Provides an immediate response. Sound familiar?

4. Dive in — strategically.

Shoot. (Second sports reference.)

If you dive into a pool but don’t know how to swim, that’s a problem. If you are going to dive, you look at what you are diving into so you don’t break your neck or crash into anyone. Remember that old gag where the person is in shallow water? Customer service on social media is the same. Stand up. There — not so scary, is it? Presumably you know how to empower your customer-service team to answer customers’ questions on the phone. Social media is even better because you can have similar response plans and the grace of thinking through a response instead of giving an instant reaction on the phone.

5. Learn to multitask.

You don’t think you have the resources? I think this is obvious, but maybe it’s not: The more people use social media to connect with your brand, the less they will use the phone. At the same time, customer-service team members can be more effective on social than on a phone since they are able to conduct multiple discussions at once.

So I hope this blog will help you look at your own company’s customer service and how it might improve. I kinda want to travel so I can test Hyatt out on Facebook Messenger. I wonder if that will qualify as a business expense?


Britton Marketing & Design Group

Follow BMDG on Twitter | Like us on Facebook | Subscribe to our newsletter

Thank you for reading this blog post. If you think others might enjoy this, would you mind giving it a recommendation?

Photos: Shutterstock