Studying the impact of innovation on business and society

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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