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Customers are back - and need some love

Joshua March
By Joshua March on Sep 1, 2011 4:09:00 PM

Ilana Fox wrote an article in NMA today, "Stop pandering to customers on social media". It is well written but I disagree with it's premise.

My comment back is below (also posted on the original article):  

I don't agree with this article. In my opinion, social customer service isn't about pandering - it's about recognising the importance of customers.

The obvious argument is that if organisations just tell customers to go elsewhere when they complain on Facebook, it will cause more public upset and anger on what's supposed to be a social reflection of an organisation’s brand online. Anger against the organisation that can easily spread to thousands or millions of people in minutes. All this is true, but this is about something deeper and more meaningful. 

For most of human history, shops really cared about what their customers thought of them. A customer complaint could kill a business - which probably operated in a small village or community, built on top of customer word of mouth.

The rise of supermarkets and mass media made most word of mouth irrelevant. The voice of the customer was drowned out by celebrity endorsements, and businesses developed customer bases so large that even a whole village moving against would hardly touch their bottom line. Customer 'Service' became a cost, with no real benefit - do just enough to scrape by, and ignore the rest as much as possible. Phone and email systems were designed, not by thinking 'how can we help make customers happy' but by thinking 'how can we get as many customers as possible to just give up?'. Please press 1, until at least half of you stop phoning. 

Well guess what? Customers are back. It's no longer about pandering just to the celebs and journalists. You don't need to be famous any more (or even have a high klout score) to make a splash. And companies can no longer treat customer service as a cost to minimise. This is a Good Thing. Companies who embrace this, and make it a real part of their strategy, will feel the benefits. If a customer logs on to Facebook, and sees a friend who's posted a complaint to a supermarket and had an amazing response - then look down and see below another friend, posted on to another supermarket, who's been ignored and angered by them… who will they shop with next?

Social media is changing the way that customer service works. Many companies will fight against this change, preferring to stick to the old paradigm of keeping customer service hidden away. But many of those same companies are going into Facebook and Twitter, and building up communities of customers in order to market to them. They can't have it both ways. Companies who embrace this change will have a more engaged fan base, drive more marketing value through social, decrease customer support costs and gain better customer insight; and all of this will drive real ROI and competitive advantage. 

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