The DO’s and DON’Ts of Customer Service in a Social Media Age

In Apple, General, How To, Social Media, Social Networking by Michael Sheehan1 Comment

How many times have you had a bad customer service experience? More than 50% of the time? I will bet that you think that it’s much higher than that even. Most of us tend to remember poor customer service experiences than good ones. It’s easier to gripe and complain about someone NOT doing something to your satisfaction than it is to praise those who DO do something good that makes you happy. The old saying “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” normally holds true from a Customer perspective; from a Customer Service perspective, you must listen for the squeak.

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In this day and age of tight budgets, your brand is even more vulnerable than before. People expect compensation, free trials, and superhuman efforts to resolve issues of a product or service. But even that sometimes is not enough. Paying for something now means that it must last longer or perform better than in the past, or at least that is the perception. I would dare say that if you purchased the same product 10 years ago as you did now, people now expect it to be better, stronger and not break down compared to before. Our value perception has changed because we expect our money last, regardless of whether the product has changed or not.

To that end, Customer Service is now a critical component to a brand. When you buy a product, you expect someone to be there backing it up with help and support. Buying a product or service now without good Customerjuggle Service is foolish at best. The sale does not end with the purchase, it must be bolstered and enhanced with Customer Service. Many companies are opting now to provide paid-for support and shying away from free support. This does work provided that the price point is reasonable and if there is some level of support or service provided for free. But, simply paying for service is not going to guarantee you quality service. There are some companies that pride themselves on their Customer Service, but they set that high benchmark as part of what you purchase with the product (e.g., Apple). On the flipside, there are companies that seem to just do Customer Service simply because they are required to and do the bare minimum at best.

We have all had positive and negative Customer Service experiences. A while back I wrote about my experience with Tivo and how hard it was for me to cancel my account. I also wrote about some interactions I had with repairing a PowerBook with Apple. I must say, however, my Apple support experiences have always been more positive than negative. But do these experiences represent ALL Customer Support experiences with a company? Many times, the positive ones are due to interacting with a star, someone who is truly great at their job. But, there aren’t many stars out there, unless the company they work for has taken time to create and nurture an environment for them to thrive and shine.

But it’s important not to forget that any conversation with a Customer Support person is a two-way street, if you are rude, they will not necessarily shower you with flowers, most likely, they will do the bare minimum to help you. Remember, when you talk to a support person, there are some points you should follow. Here are some you can use when talking to Tech Support, for example.

A Good Customer Service Example and Why It Works

jump_through_hoopsRecently I had some issues with my MacBook Pro’s battery. It wasn’t holding a charge and shutting my computer down without warning. I went through the Apple Care site (yes, I did pay for extended coverage). The Customer Service site was elegantly designed, helpful through Fix It and self-service articles. I did decide that I wanted to talk to support live though. I went through the support wizard to help drill down to my specific problem and provided as much detail as I could in the contact form. I filled in my phone number in the “Call me now” field and the second after I hit the Submit button, my phone was ringing. Seconds after that, I was connected to an Apple support person.

The Rep went through a series of questions and then gracefully connected me to a battery and power specialist. With this new rep, I went through some more questions and as I was talking, I received some emails on how to reset my power settings as well as how to calibrate my battery. Very helpful and proactive, and arriving even before the call had ended (the rep referenced the emails during the call as well).

On that call, we concluded that I needed to do some more things on my own and that I would probably have to go into an Apple store for further troubleshooting. I decided to wait and just try the steps in the emails I received.

After a few more weeks, the Apple System Profiler showed that I should “check battery.” To make a long story short, I went through the same web-to-phone process and within a couple of minutes I had a replacement battery on its way to me. Case solved quickly, painlessly and professionally, and all to my great satisfaction.

What I liked:

  • slick web troubleshooting
  • possible solutions emailed to me real-time
  • courteous, friendly and helpful support reps
  • follow ups via email and regular mail on quality of the support

Apple is one that companies should model! They have taken time in building the experience a customer has. While not all companies have the resources to do this (e.g., slick website and call-back features), they do have the ability to capture information in order to deliver information back to the end-user as well as be friendly and helpful on the call.

A Less Than Ideal Customer Service Example and What Could Have Been Done Better

I could have written about my Tivo experience but I’m a bit less bothered by that at this point. Instead, I will use my recent issue that I’m currently having with my Honda Accord and the clear coat peeling issue.

I posted my complaint complete with pictures and suggestions to my blog and Flickr as well as engaged in some Twitter activity to hopefully raise some awareness of the issue I was experiencing. To my surprise, I started getting several tweets and comments on my blog post about people having similar issues with the same color and model Honda. The post started getting quite a bit of popularity and is now the first page search results if you Google “Honda clear coat peel”.

Eventually someone who was monitoring the Honda twittersphere got my tweets and through a series of private messages, told me to contact Honda Customer Service.

customer_serviceI gave them a call and went through a series of questions with a customer service rep who seemed to have no pulse. After providing my VIN, the rep asked me for the information. I told him the general information as well as that others had experienced similar issues and had commented on my blog post. I told him that I had plenty of pictures to show the problem.

Then the “recording” started playing. I was told that the warranty on the paint was 3 years/30,000 miles. I replied that I found it interesting that others with the same issue had commented and posted pictures as well. CLICK, the recording went on again…”3 years/30,000 miles.”

I tried to ask if perhaps the clear coat manufacturing process had been changed or something. He flatly told me that he had no information on recalls or defects for this issue and couldn’t comment on the manufacturing process. CLICK the warranty popped in to the conversation again.

I asked if there was something that could be done about this. The answer was No, no suggestions, no “let me check” just No.

I considered asking to speak with a manager, but realized that this was going nowhere. So here I am writing about it instead.

What could have been improved:

  • Honda Twitter rep could have started a case for me or gotten me in touch with someone within the Customer Service organization (more pro-active support help)
  • customer service rep could have been more courteous or at a minimum, have a bit more of a pulse
  • rep could have tried to go beyond the bare minimum and suggest that I talk to my dealer
  • rep could have placated me by asking to look at the pictures or blog post
  • no follow up email as a result of the call (as of this writing)
  • no reaction to me saying that I might be contacting a Consumer Rights organization

After I hung up the phone, I decided to write this article. That should tell you how I felt after THAT customer Service experience.

My Customer Service Perspective

In past jobs, I ran Customer Service departments. In my current position as a Technology Evangelist and Social Media pundit, I frequently find myself trying to help frustrated customers who are bloggers or twitterers and offer advice and ways to resolve issues or get in contact with the proper person.

Here are some rules that I try to follow (and many of these also come from my Social Media Guidelines):

  • listen
  • be helpful
  • offer solutions
  • try to go beyond the expected
  • don’t let the customer know that you are frustrated
  • be friendly and conversational
  • try to connect at some level with the customer (e.g., if you know their location, ask about it)
  • follow up with them later if appropriate
  • remember that you represent your brand and your actions will bring more customers or create a PR nightmare potentially

Providing quality customer service is difficult. There are quite a few good examples but unfortunately many, many more bad examples.

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Also, Customer Service teams should adopt a Can-Do attitude. I recently twittered some frustration I had (very generically) about how I view the Service should be:

“I wish I wouldn’t hear “It can’t be done” and instead hear “Let me see if I can help you figure it out.” Oh well.”

So what can you do about Customer Service? If you are on the providing end, look to go a bit beyond what is expected. Your customers will appreciate it and become more loyal, your managers will recognize checklistyour value and you will generally feel better about yourself as you provide users with a hopefully positive experience. If you are on the receiving end, try not to get frustrated immediately. Understand that Customer Service reps have a difficult job to do, and an extremely difficult one if they do go above and beyond. Try to help them out in the process, explain your issues or concerns clearly and let them go through their support “scripts” (that they are frequently required to say). If things don’t go your way, try to ask leading questions like “what do you suggest that I do now?” A good Customer Service rep will offer suggestions. A bad one will do nothing. If you hit a wall and the conversation has dead ended, there are still things that you can do:

  • ask to speak to their manager – do this carefully because managers are in that position because they are experts – hopefully – at what they do. They may gracefully shut you down or help you out.
  • write a letter to the company – sometimes doing things in writing is a bit more effective
  • look beyond the traditional – write a blog post about your experience, use your social network to find alternative paths to get more favorably results
  • contact outside organizations, communities, or user groups– they may have other avenues you can pursue.

Lastly, if you do find a support person that really went above and beyond, be sure that they are recognized somehow:

  • get their name or agent #
  • write a letter or email to their manager or the company and tell them how great the rep was
  • fill out the survey (if one comes to you)

HTD says: Customer Service continues to evolve, especially with many support or service organization moving to Social Media as another communication channel. Just remember, on either end of the communication you must work to keep your cool, it will go a lot further.