I love the debate and fear surrounding social media and its place in customer service. Even Amazon’s purchase plans of Zappos have shown a spotlight on social media.
Look, the reality is that the customer – supplier relationship is just that, a relationship. And in all relationships, people want to be heard. Those who fear an open exchange resemble ostriches with their heads in the sand. Regardless, the topic begs some thought especially when you boil it down to a fundamental question a board member recently asked me. “How do you control bad news when it’s available to everyone online?”
Social media brings:
- More Risk – In the customer service realm this is a concern point because customers can say anything they want about any topic. This risk is offset by the sheer volume of junk transmitted over the internet… who can check everything?
- Less Control – Just as improved communications speed has changed the way the stock market behaves (faster up and faster down), improved communications have made it more difficult
- Better Visibility – A two-way street. We now know if/when customers say negative things. And we have a way to respond. The response can be private to the individual buyer or to the community. The online community reacts favorably when companies make things “right”. And often those corrective actions are made public. So both successes and failures are visible. Interestingly, at least one article (The impact of the recovery paradox on retailer-customer relationships) suggests customers prefer companies who fail and later recover well to those that don’t fail in the first place.
- Inevitability –We don’t have a choice. Companies that don’t have online communities are seen as trying to hide something.
The pivot point — social media is here to stay. Customers voice their opinions anyway. Social media just means that the opinions can travel farther/faster/broader than before. Over time this faster and broader feedback mechanism will cause companies to act more prudently (with a longer time horizon) and will eventually lead to better products or at least a closer match between reality and expectations.