The Agency I work for recently presented at a conference of customer care representatives called the ICCA. Our MD Matt Hardy presented on the hot topic of Social Media and Customer service (his slides are available here)
Ultimately conferences like this and the additional time and consideration that savvy professionals are devoting to customer service stem from a step change in the market. Customer expectations are shifting and Individual customers of all spending brackets are expecting to be able to interface with companies they deal with in new ways.
Whilst consumers have always had the potential to influence their own social groups based on positive or negative experiences, things have changed. Only recently has the average consumer been able to climb on their social soapbox and command some real respect from brands with their ability to become a promoter or a detractor for online brand identities big and small.
With the potential for a single irate customer to instantly update hundreds of twitter followers and an average of 130 Facebook friends in fit of rage (or adoration), big brands need to monitor the social arenas carefully. Unlike other engagement provisions like phone lines or opening times, abstaining or pulling down the shutters when you have had your fill of customers wont go down well. 71% of Twitter complaints are ignored and only around 5% of Facebook wall posts to companies are answered which only exacerbates the problem. Rather than waiting on hold or coming back tomorrow, a motivated customer can now say what they want, when they want, and now people outside of their immediate social circle actually hear it.
But hearing it is just the start. Customers have long memories regarding their relationship with a brand. How many times have you stumbled upon a friend or colleagues burning animosity towards a brand due to an event which, when emotionally detached, may seem a little trivial on reflection? The truth is that much like any relationship we don't like to get burned twice. A single unfortunate experience can leave a lasting sour taste, and with an increasingly discerning customer base who are watching the pennies there is really only one way to recover from a royal cock up; ground work with your customer.
I believe the way to achieve truly impressive customer service standards is to deliver a granular and consistently positive experience for the customer. There really is no alternative to providing timely and helpful 'micro-experiences'. When they fire out a tweet (good or bad), a validation from a brand-backed account will catch that broadcast and allow you to own it. Making a mends or thanking the individual is up to you, but the key is consistency and making that first contact.
In our personal lives rarely do we begin to trust someone based on a single dramatic event outlining some kind of ethereal greatness. Likewise we don't often completely write someone off in the face of a single unfortunate action of theirs. I believe the shift of brands into social spaces like Facebook, Twitter, and now Google+ highlights a move towards a more natural way of customers interacting with them. The two-way communication which can now easily be sparked up may seem time consuming for the brand, but may prove more cost-efficient and valuable in the long run. Having recently had a conversation with @RoyalMail after a throwaway irate tweet, I now feel closer to the organisation and ended up praising them to all and internet sundry.
Customer service should be granular, little and often, and using the right kind of social media engagement is a great way to do it.