I have listened, read and attended talks given by people talking about the power of social media and how we can use it to create relationships and connect to our customers. While I agree 100% with the importance social media, I feel that sometimes we overlook the basics to have in place prior to using social media. Merlin Mann said in his South by Southwest panel with Jon Gruber that Social Media doesn’t automatically give you good service. Using Zappos as an example of a company that had great service then turned to social media. Think about what he’s saying, create a great company first then use social media to enhance your communication to your customer base.
So the area Merlin mentioned was good customer service. Outside of marketing and PR however typically the view of a company comes through our direct interactions with employees, customer service. Poor customer service will always undercut your business goals by irritating, frustrating and losing customers. So what does it mean to have good customer service. It means different things to different companies. Some say it is doing whatever is necessary to make the customer happy while others look at customer service as scriptable phone jockeys and still others think of customer service as secretaries there to take orders from customers. So which is it? To me none of them work and all too often the role of customer service being played incorrectly.
For me a customer service person is someone that serves in the best interest of the customer and company at the same time. The problem with that is that to accomplish that customer service needs to be smart enough to understand the balance between the two. This is typically where customer service fails. They do one versus the other. If you focus too much on employer then customers get mad and if you focus on customers then the company may suffer from poor decisions.The customer is always right but that doesn’t mean they should get anything they want. Intelligent solutions are needed. To satisfy this customer service people need to be some of the smartest people in an organization. I don’t think this happens. I think customer service is looked upon all too often as a data entry clerk or phone jockeys not intelligent problem solvers. If the people dealing with your customers aren’t some of the smartest in your company then your customers and your company will suffer.
In my earlier post #FAIL is not the objectivewhere a Youtube video became a PR horror story for United Airlines it all could have been avoided if one of the first customer service representatives had acted smarter when approached with the situation. Poor customer service ended up costing United Airlines a lot more than just a replacing a couple of guitars. On the other hand in Yvon Chouinard’s book “Let My People Go Surfing” he writes about a situation where a customer had sent in a pair of twelve year old pants hoping they could be repaired. By accident the pants were tossed and the customer was upset. A smart customer service person went back into the company archives and found the same style and size of pants to replace the ones that were lost. Think about how smart that is. Taking the time to search for obsoleted stock to fix a mistake cost Patagonia very little to save for a big mistake. While we don’t know the customer I would guess that they were satisfied with the solution.
Smart customer service people are problem solvers that benefit both customer and the company. So before firing up the twitter profile, setting up the Facebook fan page or starting that corporate blog maybe we should all ask ourselves if our customer service is up to the task. Let’s face it the only worse than poor customer service is seeing a trending topic named #fail”yourcompany”.