Millions of people are using social media to network, sell
products, to extend influence and inevitably, complain about poor service. A
recent report on social media use reveals 1.59 billion people engaging with
Facebook, 320 million with Twitter and over 100 million people on LinkedIn.
Beyond these impressive numbers, do you really know the extent to which this
activity impacts on your customer service?
Before the rise of social media, if you had an issue with the
service you received you could complain face-to-face. Another option was to
ring the company later, or write a letter and wait patiently for your issue to
be resolved. All these pathways to customer service are still valid, though
each has their own problems. Face-to-face conversations can be confrontational.
With communication increasing via screens, confrontation is something many
people shy away from.
A browse through Facebook or Twitter reveals a world where even
the smallest everyday occurrences are shared publicly. For many people, it’s
not even a conscious decision anymore to let your social network know what
you’re up to. Any interaction with a business - good or bad - is likely to be
highly visible. Can you really afford to ignore this trend? As an enterprise
with ‘key stakeholders’ and ‘margins’, you really need to know what these
people, your customers, are saying aboutyou.
Doing the right thing
While some share complaints immediately, many customers still
choose to contact the company directly – via social media – to share their
concerns and look for an appropriate resolution. Industry research reveals the
alarming statistic that from January 2014 to May 2015 the use of social media
for complaints had increased 300 percent.
That represents a lot of complaint traffic. However, there’s no
reason for panic. Complaints aren’t new. As you already know how to provide
great customer service – why shouldn’t you be able to translate it into
excellent social media engagement? This is your opportunity to visibly do the
right thing in a very public setting, to promote outstanding customer service
and turn your critics into advocates.
Terms of engagement
To achieve an online presence that is proactive and
customer-centric, requires precise targeting. Adequate software to capture
complaints and analyze data is a must; as well as policies and procedures in
place for colleagues to exemplify good practice.
Equip your customer service team with the right skills to
respond. A badly-written response or negative tone may do as much damage in a
public forum – if not more – as not responding in the first place. All
employees should be aware of your company’s mission statement and objectives.
All levels of the business, from the boardroom down, should be engaged and
Ensure your customer service and marketing departments are
communicating effectively. Empower your employees to make good decisions. Once
they’re confident with their own judgement, you minimize risk. Technology is
available to add layers of protection, if required.
Great customer service looks the same on all channels. Customers
want the same things: they want a swift response; they want you to be honest
and acknowledge your mistakes; and they want a satisfactory outcome.
Are you genuine?
Train your staff to recognize genuine engagement: let them use
their own natural tone of voice; their own words; and their name to ensure that
personal touch. Placatory comments without substance, or using obvious cut and
paste templates should be avoided. One engaging, conversational response
addressing the customer’s concerns directly, offering an appropriate solution,
is much better than going through the motions. Reward colleagues who
demonstrate the best you have to offer.
A public apology and transparent ownership of mistakes show
customers you care. However, you could set a precedent for every customer to
demand the same outcome. You might even encourage unscrupulous people to make
false complaints if you offer public compensation. If you need to have a
conversation about sensitive data, let the customer know that you will contact
them privately. Avoid pushing the initiative back on to them to complain again
elsewhere, especially via a different channel.
Technology answers back
Invest in software to analyze your presence and feedback on the
main social media channels. It’s not just complaints - many people will share
positive experiences too, or even seek the answers to basic service questions.
Every customer who comments about you must be addressed; the one you overlook
is the one that will escalate and damage your reputation. Technology can help
you to catch negative feedback before it escalates. Have a system that alerts
you to a problem and aim to resolve it within a set time.
Some people just want to cause trouble. Identifying trolls and
dealing with them effectively is a key part of your strategy. Again, look to
your processes – do your employees know what to do? Make sure you teach them
how to handle potentially sensitive public situations.
A clear brand vision
Communication at all levels is vital. Align skills and knowledge
about best customer service practice. Possess a clear vision that is shared
throughout the business. Ensure marketing provides feedback and reports on
social media analysis and that customer service craft responses that reflect
this vision. If you have a separate complaints team bridge the divide by
creating one team, or by improving connections.
Effective social media management helps to develop and maintain
a healthy brand and improves relationships with your customers. Reinforce your
vision daily and show it working publicly through social channels. As your
customers are talking about you – you have nothing to lose, and much to gain –
by giving them a platform to talk to you. Most importantly – you remain in
Staff on the frontline are the face of your company, and
customer service staff in particular have the important role of putting things
right when they go wrong. If a customer has a poor experience here, it could
make or break their relationship with you.
Demands on frontline customer service staff are increasing
as consumers expect a higher standard of response. If you cannot provide it,
your customers will simply look for other companies who can satisfy their
expectations. Martin Ellingham, Respond Product Manager at Aptean, discusses
why empowering frontline staff ultimately results in higher standards of
customer care and overall profit. It’s about staff quality, not quantity.
Today, it has never been easier for consumers to change
their supplier or service provider. This has become particularly apparent in
free markets in recent years, as governments have attempted to break up
oligopolies of numerous industries – for example energy providers and financial
services – to increase the competition and ultimately benefit consumers by enabling
a wider range of choice.
In years gone by, many businesses could rely on low customer
churn because it was both inconvenient and difficult to switch supplier or
provider, but now it is a relatively pain free process with agencies and
switching services literally knocking on customers’ doors.
With that, how a business interacts with its customers and
their problems is fast becoming of greater significance. Customers don’t
necessarily want to switch providers, but if they feel that inadequate customer
service is forcing their hand, they will – and they won’t be coming back.
A business’ frontline is the first and the best opportunity
to either reverse a negative situation or build on top of a good situation.
Therefore, frontline staff need to be operating at a level that can both handle
the demand and satisfy customer queries effectively in order to reduce churn
and keep customers loyal.
Depending on what study you read, the cost of gaining a new
customer compared to retaining an existing one is about 10 to 20 times more
expensive for a business. But what many studies do not account for are the long
term ramifications of losing a customer to a competitor. Consider a bank or
building society; many customers will potentially be committed to one for
decades. If poor customer service results in a number of customers looking
elsewhere, it could leave a significant hole in a business’ long term financial
projections and results.
A single click can send a bad review around the world
The challenge of providing satisfactory customer service has
been exacerbated by the evolving digital landscape and how it now essentially
dictates brand reputation.
Customer service departments are no longer a 9-5 operation;
many are already running 24/7. The nature in which customers get the attention
of their service providers has never been broader or more varied, both online
and through the more traditional channels like phone calls and letters.
Now, there is nowhere for a company to hide if a customer is
dissatisfied. Evidence of poor customer service no longer dies out once it has
done the rounds at the coffee shop, office or gym – it lives on in the virtual
world as a permanent reminder to anyone researching their next service
It presents a real challenge for businesses, and has
dramatically increased the reliance on their frontline staff. If customer
service representatives are not adequately trained or do not have the resources
to effectively handle customer interaction across several different channels,
it could lead to a serious breakdown in customer trust.
As businesses have adapted to these developments,
expectations have risen. We as consumers want answers quickly. We want
immediate access to real people. We want them to be aware of our situation and
have solutions tailored to our specific requests. No matter how strong a staff
member’s personal skills might be customers always expect more. Apologies and
empathy may pacify the customer in the short term – be it face to-face or
digitally – but it does not solve the whole problem.
To ensure truly content customers, those skills need to be
complemented with the expertise that the customer ultimately wants. Frontline
staff need to be empowered with support that genuinely makes their jobs easier
while providing exemplary service.
It is no longer a numbers game. More customer service staff
does not necessarily fulfil customer expectations. More informed, more
efficient staff – that is the answer.
Embracing technology for an efficiency drive
With this digital age comes the need for customer service
staff to be technologically equipped – with technologies that really benefit
their capability to keep customers happy across the ever expanding list of
For frontline staff, there are any number of queries that
they could receive via a call, email or face-to-face enquiry. It is impossible
for them to know every single answer to every single situation off the top of
their heads, and they should not be expected to.
But that does not mean they cannot communicate some form of
useful information to the customer. A vague response that delays things further
– such as “I’ll have to go and find out” – hardly inspires confidence in the
customer that the business is doing everything in its power to help them in a
timely, effective manner. For staff on the frontline, understanding why an
issue has happened is not easy; understanding why when they are only armed with
basic summary information is even harder.
By utilizing holistic Complaints Management software, the
frontline – and as a result the overall business – will feel considerable
benefits. This is because it truly integrates the whole setup into a manageable
and easily accessible format.
It gives staff the ability to provide customers with instant
updates, rather than making them wait for an answer. If the problem cannot be
solved instantly, the software can streamline the redirection of a customer
complaint to the correct subject matter expert. Company-wide system updates
within the software can provide clarity into how similar issues have been
resolved – resolution information captured at first point of contact is logged,
so the customer need not wait for an answer that already exists.
For large companies whose customer service teams are spread
far and wide, this kind of streamlined internal communication is vital in
driving complaints handling efficiency.
By investing in the right tools which improve the
frontline’s effectiveness, it will prove to customers that company profits are
being reinvested into areas that will be there to help them – eradicating any
perceptions that the profits are simply lining the shareholders’ pockets.
Short-term action for long-term prosperity
Businesses need to separate themselves from the crowd, and
doing so means investing in customer service that exceeds the competition.
Consumers have never been better informed about the products and services they
use, as well as their rights, and ignoring that will be to the long-term
detriment of the company.
Simply hiring more customer service staff is not the
solution to improving complaints handling efficiency. In fact, adding more
components to an already inefficient system will go only go towards making
The key is to identify ways to make staff more efficient.
This means implementing inter-connected software systems that allow greater
detail to be captured, without disrupting a slick customer-facing experience.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but enhancing staff
capabilities through a complaints handling restructure does not have to be
costly, particularly in the context of the long term gains of doing so. By
working with complaints handling management experts to tailor a software infrastructure
that improves frontline customer interaction, businesses will gain customers’
trust – and acquire their loyalty for years to come.