As consumers we all know exactly how we want to be treated, we are all unique individuals who expect human interaction in this digital world of endless communication possibilities. I believe it’s fair to say that as digital natives we all understand how engaging customers, building an authentic community with strong relationships with your audience and obeying the golden rule of befriending your customers rather than bombarding them with selling messages is becoming paramount.
However, for many years businesses have made it increasingly difficult for their own customers to reach them, which goes against all of these basic modern principles, so it should be of no surprise that there has been a dramatic shift of frustrated users turning to social media channels to voice their concerns knowing that a public facing forum is their only chance of being heard. How did this happen?
Call Centre Hell
The infamous ‘helpline’ in loathed by most and although businesses have put in place a process to ensure that calls are routed to the right department in order to cut down on call waiting times, the customer experience is not one that anyone would want to repeat any-time soon.
If you are wise enough to successfully navigate through the average helpline menu system, your reward is to be treated by someone who typically appears to be reading from a script complete with an over long robotic salutation before moving on to the irrelevant closure speech.
For example, at the end of a call to my internet provider where an engineer would be required to visit, I was asked “Is there anything I can do to enhance your online experience?” As I was unable to get online, you can imagine the growing frustration.
Auto Response E-Mails
If the idea of phone menu’s and scripts are your idea of hell, your next traditional step would be to send an e-mail to the company you are experiencing problems with.
However it often seems that businesses prefer to avoid any direct dialogue with their customers as every e-mail you receive seems to be an automatic response from a ‘do not reply’ email address. Although I understand why companies do this and more a case of not having the resources to respond to a deluge of messages, but to say to your customers do not contact us, increasingly feels like an alien concept as a customer.
Personally, whenever I get an auto response through email, 99% of the time, I delete them. If I have just spent 40 minutes sending a detailed message, only to receive an automated script then it’s never going end as a positive experience.
After several weeks of going around in circles, the customer’s final option is to send the company in question a letter of complaint. Typically complaints are handled (in the UK) by being asked to send a written letter to a snail mail address via a traceable method.
Whilst becoming increasingly angry at your current predicament, the prospect of queuing up in your local post office to send a letter at your own expense that will probably take another week because by the time the letter has arrived at the company, gone through the internal post system and in an in-tray for somebody to respond by calling and asking you to repeat the last 3 weeks again, essentially leaves you feeling far from optimistic.
At this point you will be at the end of your tether and will be fast running out of options, until your online savvy friend says something like “Forget that, hit their public viewing social media sites, they have to respond because they look bad if they don’t.”
Social media can be a double-edged sword, On the one hand if used correctly, it’s a fantastic avenue for a meaningful connection with customers and an instructive window into client behaviour and perspective. However on the other, it can be where customers that have been mistreated will arrive eager to start airing their grievances, both legitimate and even sometimes ridiculous.
Most problems can be avoided by responding quickly in a sincere manner, genuinely apologizing and attempting to correct the situation but you cannot help but think that the whole customer experience could have been improved before it reached the social media channels
There is an old sales mantra “It’s much more profitable to keep an existing customer than go looking for a new one.”
However it’s not all bad news, there are some companies that seem to understand that customer experience, engagement and building positive relationships with their customers, if you call First Direct bank for example here in the UK your call will be answered within a few rings without the hassle of phone menus and long hold times.
Although social media is becoming more and more important in improving the customer experience, many of the problems that businesses face, could be dramatically improved by overhauling their more traditional methods of contact and encourage a dialogue with their users rather than putting up blockers in the form of do not reply email addresses or hard to navigate phone menus.
Consumers have adapted quickly to the digital world and learned that when you want to resolve an issue with a retailer or brand quickly, the fastest method is through their public facing Twitter, Facebook or any of the growing number of available social networks.
Ideally Social media is not, and should not be a customer service channel, why would any business want hundreds or thousands of people listening to each and every problem so ideally if the more traditional methods of contact were resolved, a company can concentrate on using social media to understand and engage their customers.
I would love to hear about your own comments/experiences, so please let me know