In Social Media, the Customer is Always Right – Right Now

Frank Eliason and I have known each other for many years. We’ve shared the stage on many occasions, he’s made an appearance on Revolution, and most importantly, I’m proud to call him a personal friend. Frank has championed the adaption and transformation of customer service during his time at Comcast and at CITI. Never one to shy away from sharing his opinions, he’s certainly bullish on where service needs to be as a function and a philosophy versus where it is today. In fact, he’s gone so far as to call out social media customer service as being a “failure” in its current state.

Already a keynote speaker on the state and future of customer service, for Frank to become a published author on the subject was inevitable. When he asked me to write the foreword for his new book, I didn’t need any time to think before I humbly accepted his invitation.  As usual, I asked to publish the foreword here for you in its entirety once the book was officially published. I’m proud to say that “@ Your Service” is now available.

Foreword: At Your Service versus @YourService

Dear customer,

I saw your Tweet about how upset you were with your experience with our product. I didn’t see it live, but someone forwarded it to me via e-mail on my BlackBerry. I guess what was delivered didn’t meet your expectations. Hey, it happens to everyone. But, you sure did let us know in your own way, didn’t you? Come to think of it, you let everyone know. So what was originally something between you and us is now everybody’s business.

I don’t get it though. Sure your time is valuable. It’s so valuable in fact that you chose to avoid the various systems we invested significant time and money in to address these types of issues. Hey, our time is valuable too. That’s why we spent millions on technology to automate our systems and responses. We didn’t divert profits toward this expensive voice recognition software because we didn’t want to be close to you or talk to you live, but to make it a more efficient process. That says something about how much we value you, right?

It doesn’t stop there though.

If you make your way through the series of prompts and redirects, we’ve hired and trained a staff of people who are prepared to address you directly. And guess what . . . if they can’t fix your problem, they have backup resources in locations all around the world to step in and attempt to resolve the issue. Sure each individual will ask you to start from the beginning and retell your story, that is, if you do make it to one of them, and assuming you don’t get disconnected. They do, after all, want to make sure to hear every detail of your experience from the very beginning. Also, please excuse their brashness. Everyone works hard, we all have somewhere to go, and you’re probably not the only one having a hard day.

So, next time you think about Tweeting, blogging, Facebooking, Googleing, YouTubeing, Pinteresting, Yelping, Foursquaring, or whatever social whatchamacallit-dot-com you decide to vent on, remember, if you want resolution, the best path between two points is a straight line. Call us. E-mail us. Fill out a trouble ticket on our website. We’re here to help. This is an “A” and “B” conversation so your so-called social network friends can “C” their way to funny cat videos instead.

If you want us to come to you, to respond where your attention is focused, where you are connected to hundreds or even thousands of people, you should connect with our “community manager” because we’re busy helping those customers who follow our rules. But you see, they’re just working here part time. She is the niece of one of our executives who’s helping our company with the social media plan because she has free hours in between classes and she is on the Twitter. We have a few people who work with her in between their stints as entrepreneurs. Some have profiles in Facebook, one uses Myspace, and another person has his own channel on the YouTube where he reviews other people’s YouTube videos.

To be honest, you’re better off not working with them. Not only do our traditional channels have technology, we have years of established rules, processes, and even internal reward systems that make sure we get to you when we can, how we can, to ensure that your time with us is endured and rushed.

Between our rules, our systems, and our people, we want you to have the most efficient experience possible so that you are a happy customer, a loyal customer, and ultimately an advocate to convince other customers to buy our products. You get a solution, we get someone in our PR department to work with you on a success story, and oh, our Net Promoter Score will go up too. It’s a win-win! See now how that social media just gets in the way of a good relationship?

Now, how may I help you?

Allow me to answer on your behalf. No, better yet, please allow me to Tweet this on your behalf. Businesses must adapt the service infrastructure to meet the needs of you and me—the connected customer. Not because they wanted to; because they have to. As individuals, we are gaining in influence with every connection we make. And when we share experiences, we contribute to a greater collective of experiences for anyone with a search box to find. And take a guess when that search box really hits a business below the belt . . . that’s right, when another potential customer is searching for the posted experiences of others. That’s why we’re influential. Individually and collectively we influence the decisions of others simply by sharing our experiences.

Why do we take to social networks to voice our problems? Businesses might be surprised. It’s not just about resolution, it’s about whether or not businesses are living up to their promises and whether or not they’re investing in the customer relationships stated in the almighty mission statement hidden somewhere on their website.

We’re empowered, and we don’t take this authority lightly. When given the opportunity to wield our influence for fairness and a sense of service, we will take to every network where we can prompt resolution or transformation.

It’s more than that, however.

This is nothing short of a consumer revolution. We’ve had it. Our hope for recognition and value from the myriad of businesses we’ve supported over the years had turned hope into despair. Our faith in the system was eroding until we took measures into our own hands.

This isn’t about upsetting the balance. This is about introducing equality in the relationship between customer and company. So, not only is the customer always right, but the customer is always right—right now. This is the real-time web and we are venting to get your attention, to earn support from our community, and to change systems that are outdated. And, if you want a win-win situation, by paying attention to us in our networks of relevance, by connecting with us in the moment, you will end up creating a new model supported by technology, people, processes, and metrics that facilitate efficient and effective direct engagement. You build a better way while connecting with the very customers that define your success. And, you invest in relationships in the process.

The result? Well, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this one out. It actually takes a social scientist. This is about relationships. And to invest in relationships requires a commitment to improving experiences and increasing empathy. This is a time for innovation in how you engage with customers now and over time and how you measure and appreciate the aftereffect. This is that moment to create a culture of customer-centricity and employee empowerment to enliven a more engaged, informed, and vested front line of stakeholders . . . to rekindle your company’s promise and deliver a meaningful experience before and after every transaction.

If you acknowledge that someone is in need, that mere action communicates how you value customers. There’s tremendous value in extending your hand, albeit digitally, and it only invites appreciation and reciprocity. By providing resolution and seeing the engagement through to satisfaction, you’ve not only invested in a relationship, but converted a potentially negative experience into a positive outcome where one-to-one engagement will now reverberate across social networks through one-to-one-to-many connections. More important, by investing in positive experiences you influence the decisions and actions of others. Remember, shared sentiment is discoverable by prospects and as they discover these experiences, those shaped by your engagement, the resulting decisions, of course, net in your favor.

These are emotional landscapes and this is why expressing that you care is so vital. The negative sentiments of dissatisfied customers will not cower into the digital corners of the social web simply because you plug your ears, close your eyes, and shut your doors to engagement simply because it doesn’t align with your current service directive. When you do engage, however, well the world of experiences is yours to define. And thus, the future of business is not created, with customers, it is co-created.

Delivering exceptional customer service is the new way businesses will grow. But that means more than asking, “Would you refer us to someone else?” It means asking or observing whether not customers actually did refer your business to someone else. More important, that they did so across their social networks.

This is why, as Frank Eliason so eloquently explains, businesses and organizations everywhere, must be @YourService if they are to continue to earn the business, support, and influence of their customers.

In your corner and in the corner of your customers,

—Brian Solis, Author of The End of Business as Usual and Principal Analyst, The Altimeter Group

Connect with me: Twitter | LinkedIn | Facebook | Google+

Unhappy photo credit: Shutterstock

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  • Frank Eliason

    Brian,
    Thank you for being such a great friend and inspiration!

    Frank

    • http://reelseo.com/about/grant Grant Crowell

      I’m looking forward to reading your book, Frank! The timing couldn’t be better for me since I’m having an article series published on the increasing importance of customer care integrated with online video. I’m hoping it will give me some new ideas I can incorporate into my own tips list for the video junkies out there. 

      Brian and you speak to what I believe has been the big oversight for too long with so called “social” [fill-in-the-blank] today: too much fixation on getting immediate bursts of attention, and not enough on building relationships. In the latter part of that is the biggest oversight: a lack of integration of customer service in social media programs? That’s because even with many agencies doing social media (including many of them who’s foundations are built on ad agencies, creative agencies, and SEO agencies) — they go by the old standards of measuring results (impressions and clicks), and just take the customer for granted. Not just in the initial stages of the buying cycle, but in the lifetime customer cycle. 

      I hope your book will make customer service sexy again! (Oh, maybe for the first time. ;-)

    • http://twitter.com/YourService Frank Eliason

      I love the idea of video and Customer Service.  It is very humanizing.  I think you will like the book because because it reinforces the human touch that has been missing from service while also emphasizing the impact all service channels have on the brand.  Companies are always sending messages to employees and Customers but it is not usually what their leadership intends.

      Frank

  • http://twitter.com/EleanorPie Eleanor Pierce

    I love this, I do, but I’m hoping it’s not the final print version? There’s a your/you’re error (“you’re so-called …”)

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

       Thank you Eleanor…corrected here and in the book.

  • http://www.mynotetakingnerd.com/blog Lewis LaLanne aka Nerd #2

    I love the re-frame here Brian of showing the customer the other side of the coin. As Spinosa said, “There’s always two sides, no matter how thin you slice it. There’s always a counter but if it isn’t artfully brought to our attention in a way that shows your best intentions, the wrath is what you will endure. 

  • Steve

    Good post Brian.

    It boils down to the fact that we need to be in the place where customers are talking. Period. If they wanted to use smoke signals, we need to watch the skies for messages. Whether we think we have processes in place that are more efficient or not doesn’t matter.

    It is all about them.

    @eyebrand

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

       Thanks Steve…love it, “watch the skies for messages.”

  • http://theinspiredgroup.com/ AnnHawkins

    Is the foreword longer than the book? Brilliant (if rather wordy) parody. Steve sums it up perfectly below. 

  • Ike

    I have started Frank’s book and find it very engaging.

    • http://twitter.com/YourService Frank Eliason

      Enjoy!  Love to hear your thoughts

  • Anonymous

    Brian (and Frank),

    I agree to a point. I don’t think we are there yet.  let me explain.

    Twitter cust. service works really well for Comcast because the vast majority of the people using it have some technical aptitude and are “on twitter”.  I speak a lot to older school businesses and their executives, and for the most part, not only are they not on twitter, they would never dream of starting an account.  Within my extended family, less than 5% of us have a twitter account and the only two that are active are my wife and I.

    I think we, as technologists, are lost in an echo chamber that twitter actually matters in the big picture.  Can it be ignored? of course not. Is it where you should be focused your customer service efforts? Absolutely not, it accounts for a very small percentage of total customer service incidents across the globe.

    Believe me, I would love nothing more than to say “social media matters in customer complaints”, but hte more research I do amongst people that use it, the less convinced I am.

    Thoughts?

    Erik

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

       @ErikBoles:disqus Indeed. I call this the horseshoe effect. Here’s how to solve it: http://www.briansolis.com/2011/11/how-to-make-customer-service-matter-again-part-2/

    • Anonymous

      Brian,

      I have read this before, and just now again, and think it is a great piece…for those actually using social media. It assumes, however, that our customers are on twitter, google+, etc. or that they want to be (and many, many have zero desire to ever use the medium).

      Facebook doesn’t count because facebook is a semi-private medium.  Sure, I can influence the potential 5,000 people I am connected to, but statistics prove that most facebook members have well under 300 friends, so resonation there is very small.

      I think the biggest misconception is that our customers are actually on twitter, which is largely occupied by techy people, not your average consumer, (twitter has ~50 million active daily users based on login’s, and only a percentage of them actually tweet) and google+ is most definitely occupied by progressives.

      I am playing devils advocate here in an effort to question the real value of social customer service vs. traditional customer service.  We should focus more on just answering the phones and being pleasant than making sure we are watching twitter, because the vast majority of our customers are still picking up a phone, we, as tech/social progressives just don’t see that because we have our head buried in our monitor and think the whole world is using social media for everything now.
      Erik

    • http://twitter.com/YourService Frank Eliason

      Erik,
      In my book I make the case that Customer want service through more traditional means, but they wanted it done right.  Up until now many companies have not focused on the traditional experience.  In fact what I have seen is Customers only go to social after being frustrated elsewhere, such as phone, email or chat.  It is time to fix the service model we work with.  Either companies will do it on their own, or their Customer will force it. 

      Great post

      Frank

    • Anonymous

      Excellent reply Frank.  You make some really good points and I completely agree.  I will be buying your book, I have followed you for quite some time and we have had a few conversations at #SxSW, so I have been following your work for quite some time.

      Erik Boles

    • http://twitter.com/Mastersson K

       To be fair twitter is currently growing faster than fb in the US (actually fb is stagnating). The key here is the growth of smartphone use (where these social apps thrive) and again figures show a strong steep curve upwards. Twitter is not going anywhere anytime soon and with the knowledge that a service issue can be resolved (minus the premium rate cost and impersonal automated response of old methods), it’s going to keep attracting both customers & businesses.

  • http://www.steveskojec.com/ Steve Skojec

    I had the good fortune of encountering Frank Eliason several years ago when he was still with Comcast. I had posted something on my blog about a really terrible customer service situation and an overcharge, and he not only got it fixed, he got it fixed fast.

    But he didn’t stop there. He actually called me. Took time, on the phone, to talk to me about the issue. And since I was working in PR and Social Media (at the time I was a consultant to General Motors, working with their emerging social media effort) we had a lot to share. Frank told me how he had taken a forgiveness rather than permission approach with his efforts at Comcast. He knew it was the right thing to do, and whether or not he had the company’s blessing, he was going to just do it and let the results speak for themselves.

    I tell my story about Frank to people all the time. I use that interaction as a model for where business is going in the social sphere, and how he got it, way back then. As Gary Vaynerchuck so pointedly puts it, “it’s about giving a crap.”

    One downside I see to the empowerment of the consumer, though, is that we’re all so jaded by our corporate experiences that we have a tendency to treat small businesses the same way. I work for a small association these days, and we get complaints via Twitter (without the resources for dedicated staff to watch for them) from people who never pick up the phone and call, and rarely email. And yet, I answer my phone and my email. I know these people by name. I try to address their problems. But they’d rather feel like modern day Robin Hoods, exposing our faults to the masses. Why settle for resolution when you can build your reputation at our expense in the process?

    The work I’ve done to address these issues has minimized this somewhat, but I still have a sense that too many people get a kick out of watching corporate lackies jump when someone with a Twitter account (or a Klout score) complains. And then they start doing the same thing to everyone, including businesses that aren’t equipped to react that way, but actually DO provide real customer service regardless.

    I’m not saying businesses don’t need to adapt, but even if the customer is always right, that doesn’t mean the customer doesn’t sometimes wind up on a power trip that isn’t entirely fair. We’re training them to expect to throw an online fit and get what they want, even if that isn’t the best way to handle every situation. And what we may wind up with are a bunch of spoiled brats in the process.

    • http://twitter.com/YourService Frank Eliason

      I think we are at a point where we will see more Customer strive to take advantage of their new found power over brands.  I think this is because many have felt brands have taken advantage of them so they have a right to do the same in return.  This best way to combat this is treat all your Customers properly and consistent.  If you do this, other Customers will come to your defense.  I think one of the reasons social service is broken is because companies are treating Customer differently and not fixing the root cause.

      Enjoy the book!Frank

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrea.villa.148 Andrea Villa

    Great Post! I am definitely looking forward to reading the book! Reading different comments I do have to agree that it is a controversial topic. I agree with many when they say that not many old-school business are on twitter and not all consumers are on twitter. I do agree that Facebook is a completely different category. This post has def. got me thinking! thanks :) 

  • http://twitter.com/akwyz Antonio Santos

    My wife is a customer from Optimus/Orange in Portugal.She is on bill pay plan since 1999.Recently, they have decided to start charging customers from all plans, every time we call they’re services.If you decide to  call, an absurd IVR system is expecting you…discouraging people from continuing..Outcome:you end up paying money, and no service……so they have basically opened the Facebook/Twitter walls for complains…

  • http://www.callboxinc.com/ Amber King

     I am looking forward for the book. We should indeed be where our customers are talking. Customer service should also evolve. If our customer turn to the social network or anywhere, we should be there to listen. This is one way of excellent customer service.

  • http://www.dazeinfo.com Dazeinfo

    Excellent master piece Brian;

    Undoubtedly, customers are the ones which keep you in business but more importantly its equally important for the business to segregate customers into various pipes and then set them into order to get maximum outcome from each.

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  • http://twitter.com/Pantiux Alex Fridman

    Brian magic words came out of your mind….. I´ve follow you and @bf74d1d7c4b4603a4908aadcf37c854b:disqus every-time I can, I read your articles, visit your blogs and attend some webinars and it´s thank to your daily work that others like me we have come to realize how important this new change in the way we do business will change everything, now it´s time to spread the word on this one so more business around the world will jump into this train. I am pretty sure the book is a very high content material for those of us who breathe customer satisfaction. Best regards. 

    @pantiux:disqus 

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      Thank you Alex…

    • http://twitter.com/YourService Frank Eliason

      Thank you Alex!  I think you will like the book.  It connects the dots from Customer experience to PR disaster.  I have watched the number of blow ups in social regarding service grow dramatically and from my perspective it is still growing at a dramatic rate.  In the coming year we will see many more examples.  

  • http://twitter.com/paulabgreen Paula B Green

    Regardless of the channel used (even smoke signals), so many companies and their people need to improve their customer experience — product/service delivery, follow-up, responsiveness to issues.  I’ve had Tweet-plaints ignored by some of the most techy of the techy (@apple in fact). Telephone customer service can be wonderful or awful, as can in-person, email and snail mail, let alone “social C/S.”   

    A wise entrepreneur I worked with always said “treat the customer as though it’s your favorite aunt/uncle on the other end. How would you want someone to help them?” Kindness, civility and action win the day. No, it’s not techy, but it feels great, on the giving side as much as on the receiving side.

    Cheers, Paula Green

  • http://twitter.com/SunilMalhotra Sunil Malhotra

    Brilliant foreword to what must be a customer service Bible.

    Customer Service. Two words.

    Customer: That’s a human being.

    Service: That’s a way of predicting and understanding the ‘situation’ that human being might be in after she bought our goods/services. She does not want to go through our IVR to get to a human operator. She does not want me to read off a screen and ‘fit’ an answer to her question. She does not want a ticket number.

    Your customers’ perception is your reality. My post http://sunilmalhotra.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/1235/

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  • http://marketing-lux.ru/ Rumzik

    Where can read more about it! I`m beginner in this theme…

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  • http://www.cendrinemarrouat.com Cendrine Marrouat

    Dear Brian:

    As always, this is an excellent post. I never get tired of your honesty. 

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

       Thank you Cendrine!

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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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