Customer Service Rep, Meet Marketing Manager

Monday, 12 July 2010

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I’m not shy about voicing my opinions. Yes, I will complain when something is not up to par, especially service. In my mind, it’s the easiest to fix, because all it takes is some common sense and human decency. The shipment might not get here faster, and the kitchen won’t magically un-run out of something, but your attitude can make all the difference. And when something is good, be it food, fast shipping or the smallest of favors, I will always rave about it online. To the point that people have actually asked me if I work for companies I talk about, because of how mushy-gushy I can be.

The answer is no. I just really like to give credit to people who are awesome. And I also like to call out those who, quite frankly, suck. I started this post a few weeks ago, after a particularly long, drawn-out and heinous customer service experience. Then I began to wonder if I was being too dramatic. So I stopped mid-post.

3 weeks later, same issue, same company, even more of a pain in the ass. So here you go NSTAR. This one’s for you.

Customer Service Impacts All Aspects of a Business

Customer service goes hand in hand with marketing, now more than ever thanks to social media. Word-of-mouth now includes Tweets, Facebook status updates, emails, IMs and text messages. Consumers have more places to voice their opinion, while Marketers have more channels to listen to. The end result is that when a company screws up, as every company will at some point, it’s more likely that people will hear about it.

Good Customer Service Means Good Marketing (Free of Charge)

Of course, the converse is also true: go above and beyond, and we will all be made aware as well. But it’s far more dangerous for a brand to risk pissing off the wrong person and having everyone hear about it online, printed, out in the open, and there for the taking by news outlets or competitors.

One of the biggest arenas where companies mess up is customer service. Everyone has a horror story, dating back long before the internet. The oft lampooned customer service reps really don’t stand a chance with the newly empowered class of social media users, especially given the ease and speed of posting a Tweet or status update.

Many companies have responded by upping their social media presence and trying to help so-called power users or influencers. And while it’s great that these people get help, it’s actually even more great for the brands, ‘cuz they get free advertising when these loud-mouthed social media users compliment them on their handling of the situation.

It’s Not Just Web Whining

Yes, people complain on Twitter. Newsflash, they also complain in line at the grocery store, on the phone to their friend, over drinks with a big group of people. Wouldn’t you rather know people are talking about you, and what they are saying you do poorly, than stay clueless? Here’s a hint: the answer should be yes.

What do people do when they call customer service? Complain. Or whine, whatever you want to call it. And the rep tries to fix the problem (at least they’re supposed to). Their goal is to make the customer happy. My mom taught me this long ago, before there was a Twitter or even an internet to gripe on. Hit “zero” until you get a person, tell them what you want and ask for a manager if they can’t do it.

That was then. This is now. If I want to tell my friends something, there’s a good chance it will end up on Facebook or Twitter. And if I want your attention, I might call. I also might Tweet. Times are changing, and businesses need to keep up if they want to stay in business.

AdAge asked:

“By rewarding complainers with lightning-fast responsiveness, are marketers training consumers to publicly flog them rather than take the discreet and often-frustrating route of calling customer service?”

Yes and no. We’ve already been trained to complain. Now we’re giving companies the opportunity to redeem themselves publicly and get credit for their customer service. If some companies don’t like the idea of offering help or support in a more public manner, then I think they’ve got something to hide.

Getting Back to Basics (2.0)

Ignoring social media channels is not a marketing strategy. Nor is it an effective customer service strategy. Your customers are out there, begging you to help them, and you’re leaving them stranded. A simple “we’re sorry” or “we’re trying” can go a long way.

The Good

Shopping site ideeli does a beautiful job of customer service, after a slightly rough start. And they have no become my favorite online retailer for it. When I have a problem, the phone reps are knowledgeable, and their Twitter team jumps right in to work with me where I spend most of my day. They go out of their way to make it better. That one mistake actually helped them in the long run, because of the way they handled it. I can’t say enough good things about them. On Twitter, on the phone, over drinks.

The Bad

Power provider NSTAR is another story. I’m getting married in November. So we threw an engagement party to celebrate. I got dressed up, all our best friends were there, we decorated and had tons of food. It was great. Until the power went out. No light to take pictures of all my pretty friends and decorations. No AC, so it got pretty sticky. We made the best of it, but eventually it got too hot to party and people left. Basically, NSTAR ruined my engagement party and robbed me of that experience.

I asked them to credit my account to help make it up to me. They said it was an unplanned outage, so they couldn’t do anything. Here’s my response:

“The very reason I want a credit is because it was an unplanned outage. Had you told me ahead of time, I could have planned accordingly. I was inconvenienced because it was NOT planned, which is why you SHOULD issue credits for unplanned outages, not planned ones. This wasn’t scheduled maintenance; it was a mistake. And when other service companies make a mistake, they fix it.

Online stores replace shirts and refund shipping; restaurants re-cook meals and often remove those charges from the bill. You don’t deal in tangible goods and couldn’t fix the power in a timely manner, so it seems to me the only way for you to remedy this situation is with a credit for part of the bill.”

The Ugly

Nothing, except for a sarcastic “congratulations on your engagement” from the head of their customer service department. Flash forward to this past weekend, when our power went out again when the same manhole cover literally blew up across the street. This time, I made Dan call. The customer service rep admitted it was NSTAR’s fault, and I’ve already submitted a claim for the food we lost. Let’s see if they’ve learned anything.

Whether you’re a marketer, customer service agent or business owner, I hope you’ve learned something too. Customer Service is not a phone bank. It’s being there for your customers. And if that means Twitter, than get Tweeting. Social media users are your customers, and they’re not going away or keeping quiet just because you’re not there to respond. We’re talking about you. So it’s time to listen.

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