This is how customer service is done in social media

(Image via salescook)

It really blows my mind when I see organizations that deal with the public shying away from social media when it comes to customer service.

Here’s why:

The old model of customer service was either one-to-one responsiveness (on the phone, by letter or in person) or one-to-many, one-way communication. The latter takes the form of news releases, FAQs, and of course advertising. Consumer complaints, on the other hand, end up in the media or consumer watchdog reports.

What is wrong with this model is that it wastes time and effort. You end up answering the same question, or giving the same defence or apology, over and over again, while the PR fire grows. Or else you issue a blind statement just hoping you’re doing the right thing.

The new model of customer service is one-to-many, and many-to-one, in an ongoing conversation.

An experience I had recently with Air Canada perfectly illustrates this. I was coming home to Ottawa from a long day few days working in Toronto on our recent TV campaign. I was tired and cranky, and I just wanted to see my family after being away. When I got to my gate, there was nobody there. I found the new gate on the board, and when I arrived there the flight was “delayed.” None of the ground crew had any idea when the flight would arrive, and their unwillingness to discuss the issue had several passengers audibly irate.

Like many others were probably doing, I whined on my social networks about being stuck at the airport. (Its a bad habit, I know.) But what happened next amazed me.

A friend, who is also in “the business,” commented that I should ask about flight status on the Air Canada Facebook page.

Four minutes. FOUR! And it was after-hours, too.

I was good to my promise. I Facebooked, Tweeted, LinkedIned and Google Plused my appreciation all over the internet. (Air Canada even gave me a shout-out back on Twitter.) If only their ground crew had been as well-trained as that anonymous Facebook admin.

This seems like such a small victory for consumers, but it’s actually a huge step forward for brand engagement.

One of my colleagues, when flying long-haul on Air France, posted a query on their Facebook page. It was deleted. She then complained about their deletion, and got seven instant “likes.” They then denied the deletion.

If you don’t mind me getting all technical here, I believe the professional term for that is “Epic Fail.”

Customer service performed in public is risky, because even if you delete a bad interaction, people can screen cap it for posterity and share it on and on. But if you do it right, the benefits are huge.

What you need to do is to commit your own well-trained customer service people and internal PR strategists to your social media communities. Keep your owned social media channels well-monitored, and give admins the brand training and responsibility to respond to most comments quickly, kindly and effectively. Monitor mentions of your brand on other channels, and be ready to adjust your approach based on this real-time market research.

To protect yourself from bad actors, teach your social team how to put out small fires by being gracious and empathetic. And help them understand how to identify and deal with trolls.

Or you can ignore the problem, and let other people talk amongst themselves about you while you avoid the conversation.


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