For a while, it has been in vogue to say that customer service is the new public relations, especially when it comes to social media. Companies have increasingly focused on monitoring what people say about them online. And when customers start complaining online, companies have learned to reach out and solve the issue quickly. There is no shortage of companies patting themselves on the back for a job well done in these early efforts at social customer service.
But we communicators are guilty of taking the easy way out. We have justified our service to customers with the idea that in a digital age, customer service has become a PR issue. And we have only offered to solve customers’ issues for our companies and clients as a line of defense, because customers are complaining with such a big megaphone now.
Yet, in the process, we risk making the problem worse, not better. Because this “service” we offer customers is only at the surface level. We act like doctors treating an endless array of symptoms without looking at the underlying disease. We often work to quiet a specific complaint, but fail to dig deeper into the operational issues within a company that resulted in the negative tweets or complaints on a Facebook Timeline.
With this marketing-driven approach to service we miss the chance to be communications advisers to our companies and of true service to the people with whom those companies interact. By seeing customer service issues as PR risk management, we are missing the opportunity to:
• Create a more consistent positive experience for our customers across communications channels. If people in marketing and communications are empowered to fix service issues, while customer service still toils away without proper influence, resources or support, then customers are getting high-priority service through one communications channel and low-priority service in another.
• Provide a transformative, consultative role to the rest of the company. Corporate communications, PR and marketing cede their seat at the top decision-making table when they become a shield rather than a conduit, a fence rather than a facilitator. Communications should work to ensure coordination, consistency and collaboration across all the parts of a company that interact with customers.
• Empathize with customers. If we put ourselves in the shoes of a customer, we realize that real people don’t distinguish between who’s in marketing, who’s in sales, who’s in customer service and so on. It’s all just the company to our customers.
At Peppercom, we have challenged ourselves to go further than providing our clients and their main audiences with merely “surface service.” Here are a few tips from what we have learned so far:
1. Start with taking the audience’s points of view. Most of our mistakes stem from looking at our interaction with customers or other audiences only from our own perspective, rather than from theirs. So we’ve adopted an approach we call Audience Experience. We empathize with our clients and their customers, clients and employees and strive to think about everything from this outside-in perspective.
2. Listen to what your audiences are talking about, and not just in relation to you. When we say we “listen,” we’re usually just listening for when our audiences mention us. But being a truly social organization means paying attention to what your audiences care about beyond products and services.
3. Don’t hide from service issues. Tackle them publicly. We can’t just give a coupon or other perks to customers to get them to stop complaining. As long as we only bribe customers to make them happy, they’ll have an incentive to keep grabbing the bullhorn when they have a problem. And, as long as we try to take everything offline to solve, we do little to be transparent about how we are fixing issues at our company.
4. Become an advocate for solving the problem. We must become the advocates for the customer inside companies, and help others across the organization put themselves in their audience’s shoes as well.
This shift in intention and attention is essential to being a truly social business. Marketing and PR departments can take the lead by becoming information arbiters and customer-centric consultants across all areas of the company. PRN