In the past, being a retail consumer may have felt like somewhat of a one-way street. If a company wasted your time or delivered you with a poor experience, your options were limited. You could complain (but would the company genuinely listen?) You could take legal action if the issue was severe enough (but do you really have the time and money to do that?) Or you could write to newspapers and consumer magazines. If you’re anything like me, 15 years ago if you received poor service you probably just quietly switched to a competitor, and then told a few friends too. If the organisation was large enough, it probably didn’t even notice you leaving – it carried on churning customers, probably unaware at the collateral damage created along the way.
Fast forward to today and things feel extremely different. As a consumer, I’m able to compare prices and propositions far easier than ever before using online comparison technology like Google Shopping or LoveMoney. Not only that, I can very quickly share my opinion about any product or service on any number of consumer forums or “gripe sites” that exist as well as letting hundreds of people know through social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter etc.
Quite sensibly, organisations of all sizes – whether large corporate or mid-size – are engaging with social media in a proactive way. They are analysing sentiment and may even tap into social business intelligence. All of this is extremely valuable, but I want to ask one question:
Why wait until a customer Tweets it before fixing issues?
I saw an exchange on Twitter recently from a customer and a budget hotel chain. The exchange went something like this (I am paraphrasing, and have changed the names to protect the identities involved):
JohnT: @[HotelBrandName] : I have a problem and I’ve e-mailed your support several times. No reply.
[HotelBrandName]: @ JohnT: Sorry to hear that John, what is your reservation number
@JohnT: It’s xxxxxxxxx – I booked for the wrong night
[HotelBrandName]: @JohnT: Customer services will e-mail you shortly
You might at first glance look at this exchange and think “That’s excellent. A customer has raised a concern, and it’s now on its way to been resolved”. To some extent you’d be right – but look at it a different way. How many customers haven’t bothered to Tweet (or aren’t on Twitter anyway)? How many have taken the old-school approach of just walking away? And how many are slating this hotel chain via their private social networks rather than contacting the company directly? Plus, has the organisation in question actually fixed the root cause? Yes, they may have solved this individual customer’s problem, but how many other customers are stuck waiting for e-mail replies?
It’s impossible to answer this with any accuracy, but it highlights the importance of providing a good and slick customer experience the first time around and spotting and acknowledging when this doesn’t happen. On occasions when customer service standards slip, it is of significant benefit if you can spot this internally, without having to wait for a customer to tell you. You then have the option of resolving the customer’s issue swiftly and examining whether any changes are necessary to ensure it won’t happen again.
One way of spotting potential customer services issues is to ensure you have set the right Critical Success Factors and are tracking the right Key Performance Indicators. Ensuring that these indicators are balanced, and include measures that are aligned with customer experience is essential. Taking the example above, if the e-mail response time is unacceptably high, this identifies a problem area. However, the solution to that problem might not be e-mail related at all – as tempting as it might be to go and put pressure on the customer services team to “reply quicker”, it would be necessary to examine the e-mails to find further insight. Perhaps the real issue is that the website is poorly designed, leading to people accidentally booking the wrong date and then having to e-mail a correction.
As well as carrying out appropriate measurement and investigating trends and variances, it’s important to build feedback into business processes. Asking the customer whether they are happy is important; is there anything else we could have done? Perhaps the customer would have liked more information throughout the process – often a 2 day wait is tolerable if you’re expecting it. If you were expecting your goods to be ready in 30 minutes then it’ll come as quite a shock! Equally, your front-line staff may well have ideas about where the issues are and how they could be improved. Regularly collecting, analysing and actioning this insight internally is better than waiting for sentiment to trickle over to the Social Media Sphere.
Finally, it’s vital to take action when appropriate improvement opportunities are spotted. Here, mid-size and smaller companies sometimes have an advantage over large multinationals. In some cases, Mid-size organisations may find it easier to roll out new processes, procedures and even systems compared with larger companies. In some cases, their larger competitors may have less flexibility due to the challenge of communication and the rigidity of existing systems and processes (or even governance and the sign-offs that are required). This can be a way of quickly adapting to the environment and seizing the opportunity.
I’m certainly not arguing that businesses should ignore social media. It’s an important avenue and should be embraced. However, it is beneficial to look internally as well as externally to provide balanced insight on how customer experience might be improved. Having adequate processes and having an appropriate analytic capability to keep a proactive eye on performance (from the customer’s perspective) is vital.
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.