*By ‘you’ I mean any service provider, by ‘we’ I mean the user of those services*
The Easter break has been an exercise in restraint. Not from mass chocolate chowing, rather from posting here every awful minute of the transfer from my perfectly beautiful and working Sony Ericsson to the delicious and hedonistic iphone.
- before you read on, I have no religious affiliation so please do not be offended by my own earthly frustrations -
Believe you me, it has been a painful journey; rather like leaving a comfortable and working marriage to living with a strutting, pony-esque lover. I did not expect it to be easy – but I did not expect Customer Services to be the stumbling point, reducing me to mono-syllabic mutterings, not suitable for the ears of anyone under the age of 18.
However, rather than indulging in a rather tempting moan-fest I am just going to concentrate on communication in this age, and basic customer satisfaction.
We are faced with an overwhelming number of channels to reach intended, or current customers. Every focus group – yes I say this lightly – will tell you that they have simple needs, just address and meet them, and all will be well.
In all avenues of interaction between any business and its customers, there are brief touch-points of direct contact:
- when the product or service is being interrogated for value
- when the product or service is being purchased
- when the product or service goes wrong
- when the product or service needs clarification/attention
It matters not whether we are talking about something that costs ten quid, or one that costs tens of thousands… or more. These are the four basic points of contact that any business should concentrate on.
Why these four points matter so much more in this age of social media
People/customers talk. I was ‘tweeting’ my pain whilst I was on the telephone to a certain company that shall remain nameless (unless you click the link… sorry I am human). That led to direct contact from someone who works in marketing for this company. It might not have done my need for seamless mobile contact any good, however it has meant that what I went through is documented and may have an impact on the experience of future customers.
I am sure, absolutely sure, that I am not alone in sharing my frustrations immediately online, with no compunction about naming and shaming a company – especially when reduced to staring blankly at a wall, utterly blindsided by the line: it is against company policy.
So, stepping back from my own experience, let’s take the four touchpoints and address them in this age of social communication (I am not going to include the obvious Internet value in research etc, this is just looking at social media comms and how businesses/service providers need to consider this):
When the product or service is being interrogated for value
Social media will play a part in evaluating a service of product. People will research on the Internet, but will look for endorsement of their decisions in the social networks, accepted both on- and off-line.
Online, there is a less biased group of opinion-makers, as in people not influenced by the knowledge that you have saved and set your heart on that pink parasol with wi-fi and teleportation coming as standard.
In the main, businesses have sussed this one and there is enough out there to endorse any product that will probably calm any concerns raised by friends and online advisers. Let’s face it, you really want this product/service, you will over-ride warning shots from mates/online forums – you WILL find the one article from a respected author that refutes all criticism.
So, businesses have this one sorted at very little expense: perhaps a carefully placed piece that addresses commonly held misconceptions or experiences will do the trick at research stage.
When the product or service is being purchased
Point of sale is important – and that is retail 101. Of course you have sales staff who will flog the product and its benefits, calming any remaining nerves with a promise of full refunds etc etc. This is not limited to shop floors, let’s take this pink parasol with built in wifi and teleportation. The customer is buying this online; online reassurance is easy to achieve – the provider knows your concerns as a consumer (extensive customer research will have been built into the cost of producing the parasol). Before I lose any more of you, I could just as easily be talking about your policy on equipping everyone with energy-saving lightbulbs.
I am pretty sure that any business or service provider that loses its customer at this point, does not deserve to be in business.
When the product or service goes wrong
Oh it starts to get a bit iffy here, and we all know it starts to get iffy here. The salesman, whether that be person or website, will have uttered every word that the lawyers have demanded in order to conclude a safe sale. So you can be assured that in the first instance you will be faced with an – I am sorry sir/madam, you did agree that in buying/signing up… etc etc
(Minor human moan here – you don’t expect to be threatened with having just committed fraud – but that is another story)
We all know and recognise the feeling of despair, when you know that you will face an immediate ‘It wasn’t me…’ attitude from your business/service provider, followed by days of arguing and high blood pressure before the situation is resolved.
- We weigh up the pros and cons before making the call
- We decide to make the call, but are very nice – of course it is not the fault of the poor lass/lad at the other end of the phone
- Sometimes it works at this point – often more to do with the humanity of the member of the customer service department than company policy!
- If it does not work, then the personal decision to be nice starts to slip and you try to apply reason
- Reason is failing, blood pressure is rising, but you knew this would happen – and you possibly have friends or partners who will look in disdain at your herculean effort to address the grievance – making you more determined to win
- By now the service provider/business faces an incoherent, normally ranting, customer who quotes everything they have read in the Daily Mail and threatens to sue/have a heart attack
- At this point social media steps in
- Ranting, furious customer sits on hold on the phone whilst the legal team are taped into the call, and starts to open up all avenues of ventilation: Twitter, Facebook, Pownce… EMAIL!!
- Eveyone on the receiving end of your shout for help – especially those who do not know you but perhaps recognise the company or the angst – spring to attention. Someone knows the head of marketing, someone knows a supplier, someone has been here before and talks you through what you have to do or say – within minutes you have an army massing behind you. How long before the managers or head of customer services are aware of this civil uprising?
- In this day and age of everyone having to work at least the normal working hours to bring in enough money to live, we tend to deal with these personal frustrations during ‘out of hours’ when most businesses/service providers have skeleton staff, often underpaid and more than often slightly put out that they are working these hours… not a good combination with the frustrated and ranting/incoherent customer. It does not take too many brain cells to understand how any communication between these two bodies will end up in one or t’other losing… badly. Unfortunately, it seems to be the customer who will be cowed by the immortal words: ‘my manager says you need to put your complaint in writing to our Post Office Box, address to follow on the automated service…’
Note to Apple: O2 only allow complaints in writing – snail mail – to a Post Office address… not exactly bleeding edge social technology!
When the product or service needs clarification/attention
Now we have a customer who is frustrated, has possibly gone through the pain of the above three steps and slept for 48 hours (and worked) before re-approaching the customer services department.
In most cases, before they do so they will check in with social media: Am I right to think this? Has enyone else experienced the same? Once again a battle line is being drawn within minutes, and without the knowledge of the business/supplier. Is that baying crowd silenced by a solution from you the business/supplier? Absolutely, these people are just human and are behaving in a human way when faced with validation of their frustration. Once validation is granted, you have a fierce and supported opponent in your customer.
How did you get here?
- You ignored follow up from point of sale
- You put poorly paid staff on after-hours work
- You failed the people that you are trying to serve
- You looked for the quick win
Trust me… apply this to any supplier/consumer analogy.
Online apology: Karen Dickson from O2 – I was rude and patronising… I am sorry
In the age of social media, you will not win this battle, because you do not realise that for us, your customer, as soon as it goes wrong, it is full on war.
Note to Apple/O2
Our Father who art in Apple
Hallowed be thy brand
Thy Kingdom *might* come – if you are careful with your partners
Thy Will be done – because we know you are brilliant
On O2 as it is in Apple
Give us this day our mobile and other communication opportunities
Forgive us our trespasses into Blackberry or the like
And forgive us our rantings against your chosen delivery partners (O2)
Lead us not into temptation – we REALLY WANT the iphone
But deliver us from the evil of O2 customer care
For thine is the iphone, the power and the glory
For ever and ever
Do not even begin to look at how social media can attract more customers before you look at how social media already works with your business or brand. The weak spots that were there before, are now magnified.