Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Are You In Danger of Customer Care Overkill?

As a customer service manager, new technologies, like Twitter, can imply improved service; but it's not always so easy to meet rising expectations. As a graduate student in Northwestern's Medill IMC program, I have been examining articles on customer service and technology and have found two worth exploring; one by entrepreneur and ex-Mashable, Ben Parr, and the other by HootSuite blogger, Sarah Chambers.

Ben Parr’s Mashable article, “How To: Use Twitter for Customer Service,” makes the claim that the key to great customer service is the speed and quality of your response. Twitter is without a doubt the best way to share and discover what is happening right now. At least that is the claim found on Twitter’s support page, verbatim. Twitter’s proven omniscience and omnipresence is exactly why companies have added it to their customer service repertoire (if you haven’t, you probably should...five minutes ago). 

Aside from the unfavorable aspects of using Twitter to address customer issues—the 140 character limit, heaven forbid you need a longer phrased solution to your customer’s problem—the major plus for customers is instant gratification. Several companies have made headlines (ex., Zappos, Southwest, Starbucks, etc.) with their timely and thoughtful customer care. Gratifying indeed. But where should you draw the line?

I recently had an unexpected run-in with KLM’s customer service; what started as a slightly palpitation-inducing experience—both from the fear of being caught complaining and then satisfaction at being unexpectedly rewarded—quickly turned into an eye-rolling session between me and my computer screen. Having recently watched KLM's (KLM Surprise) success in using social media as a tool to enhance the customer experience, I was a little perplexed at their seeming inability to get the basics right.  

After reading an article about the benefits of being bored, I was reminded of my 28-hr flight to and from Europe with a malfunctioning TV screen.  I had so looked forward to watching the latest movies I had missed on the big screen; and so I tweeted about it. KLM responded. Quite unexpectedly. They offered me miles, but I’m not a rewards member. And so proceeded the sending of information, the tweeting, the emailing, and the filing of official complaints. All I did was add a hashtag! 

Source: mediabistro.com

Sarah Chambers explains in "HootSuite’s 3 Secrets to Rocking Customer Service via Twitter," that directing users to submit a ticket or call a hotline, as KLM had done so with me, only defers the problem. It makes the user take "another step to contact you, instead of providing an immediate solution." In dragging out the process, Twitter's "instant gratification" capability becomes void. 

Okay, so forget immediate solutions to customer problems for a moment. One could argue (as I am) that what makes Twitter a great platform for customer service is that it enables authenticity. A company can be quick, transparent, and above all, real. KLM’s approach to my complaint, however, was formulaic at best, and all too focused on filing information. Based on both articles, by Parr and by Chambers, it is vital to remember that Twitter is a medium for conversation. Excellent customer service is not about “shutting-up” the customer or about bribing them, it’s about meeting their needs.

From my analysis of these two articles and my work at Northwestern, here are three action items I recommend you implement immediately:
  • Focus on Customer Needs.
  • Know the Purpose of Social Media Platforms.
  • Have a Conversation.
Monitoring what people have to say is only a fraction of what needs to be done to deliver quality customer care. No customer service manager in their right mind would boast about how many people they heard complain in a day or about owning a Twitter account. Using social media correctly and for its intended purpose is what differentiates good customer service from great customer service. Twitter is meant to be quick and concise. 140-character responses should lead to 140-character actions. Use social media the right way to avoid customer care overkill.

Liz Arteaga is a M.S. candidate in Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University. Her previous work experience has been focused on event planning, most notably with the Boy Scouts of America and Adobe.
She is currently a graphic designer for a non-profit organization based in Utah. Follow @LizNArteaga

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