Was it as good for you as it was for me?

The impact of Social Media in Customer Feedback

A few weeks ago I wrote a post arguing the not all the excitement is justified, that some of the early experiences with Customer Service in Twitter are not sustainable in the long-term. But I do think adoption of Social Media by customer service departments is mandatory and can have a very positive impact on customer experience and bring change to the Marketing/Customer Service balance in companies.

Quality and Excellence

Quality is defined as “consistently meeting specifications”. It is, by definition, a statistical exercise: constantly measure results and manage the process so that we can control and continuously improve it. This is how you can be confident your Big Mac will taste about the same whether you are ordering it New York, Fresno, or Shanghai.

Consistency and predictability has value. That is why we stop at McDonald’s when we feel the need for a quick and predictable meal when driving across an unknown stretch of road.

When it comes to Customer Service, quality is achieved by monitoring results (through operational metrics like resolution times) or by directly measuring customer satisfaction (through feedback methods like customer surveys). Close the loop and you can ensure that identifying past problems will help you to offer a better and more consistent experience to future customers.

Alice Water’s Chez Panisse restaurant is a temple of California cuisine. Potatoes are not shipped pre-cooked and frozen from some national distribution center. They might not even be in the menu if it is not the right time of the year. Diners are not looking for consistency or predictability in a special-occasion restaurant. They want to be surprised and expect a memorable experience. They are looking for excellence.

In Customer Service, excellence is achieved by empowering the front-line agent to autonomously solve problems on the spot within reasonable business parameters. Prioritizing quick resolution will occasionally generate service inconsistencies and might limit the ability of the organization to learn about root cause of problems.

There is no intrinsic conflict between quality and excellence, but there are operational trade-offs every company needs to make. The most successful are the ones who can strike the right balance.

But in the era of Social Media…

Social Media does not change the business basics. What it does is change the business environment outside the company.

When the media let customers air dissatisfaction in public, customer service problems affect more than just one specific person. Other prospects watching the interaction are influenced by a negative exchange. On the other hand, a happy customer praising a quick problem resolution might influence many others favorably.

That peer-to-peer influence (which mirrors old-fashion business in small communities of the past) and the loss of control by the company over media (like in print and broadcast) increase the relative importance of excellence over quality. It favors companies that can develop deeper relationships with their customers because customers behave as a community, not as isolated individuals.

It is necessary but no longer enough to detect and measure past problems to improve future service. Without excellence, there might be no future customers.

Adopting Social Media is a shift driven by the market as customers become empowered by the new medium. It neither solves all problems nor is necessarily a better way of doing anything.

But it is a reality. Adoption of Social media by companies is not mandatory only because survival is optional.

In Conclusion

  • It is no longer about prompting customers to evaluate their experience, but listening their feedback where and when it is dispensed. Could be Twitter, Yelp or a specialized forum. It could even be a survey.
  • It is real-time and about the current experience, not learn how bad it was so that you can fix it for the next customer. You cannot afford a dissatisfied customer negatively influencing others.
  • It is personal, not statistical. Strive to make each customer’s experience as good as it can be. The days of working on averages and getting “80% of customers strongly agree that service was satisfactory” are gone.

The impact of social media is the ability to get feedback without being intrusive and, for most businesses, to shorten the time between awareness and action so that we can fix customer experiences before they become bad experiences.

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