Your reputation is in the hand-held devices of your customers

Not that long ago, if a person felt that they’d be let down, whether by their footballer boyfriend, or to the other extreme by their furniture delivery company, they might have snapped “I’m going to the press about you”.  The slighted WAG might have had more luck getting her story into the press than the disgruntled customer, but in a fit of desperation to right a wrong, this was one of the few options available.

Now, we have social media and we can pretty much say what we like to a potentially huge audience.  Whether you’re on an overcrowded train and want to get the attention of the train operator, experienced a rude salesperson and want your story about it to be heard, or even if your footballer boyfriend slept with your brother, you now have the platform to publish it far and wide instantly.

So what does this mean for the companies, whose reputation is now in the electronic hand-held devices, and fast-moving thumbs of their customers?

I would suggest two things:

  1. Get your social media right
  2. Get your customer service right (not so applicable to celebrity shenanigans)

Social media

Let’s face it, if you’re in business and particularly if you’re selling to consumers, you’re going to get knocked from time to time.  But whereas one of the few options for the customer was to ‘write to the CEO’ knowing that it wouldn’t get past a manager, they now have a much more direct route to you and all of your other customers.  If you have a Facebook page, it’s very easy for someone to write a post about their experience, for all of your ‘fans’ to see, and possibly join in the conversation about similar experiences.

That’s no reason not to have a Facebook page, or a Twitter presence, but companies need a good system in place to capture and positively deal with complaints and attacks.  John Lewis does this brilliantly.  You’ll often see customers having a moan on the page about a range of issues, but every time it happens, a John Lewis representative responds straight away, if not with an immediate solution, then a holding comment thanking them for their post, and saying that they’re looking into it.  They always then come back with the solution or give details for the complainer to call so it can be discussed offline.  As an observer, and fellow fan of the interaction, you can’t help but still like the company as a result.

Whereas those companies that just let the customers whine together and don’t engage aren’t doing anything to build trust them.

Customer service

Once you realise that anyone can say anything about their customer experience, it really is time that companies ensure that they’re staff are living the values of their brand.  I recently bought some eye drops for hayfever from my local supermarket, and when I got home realised the bottle wasn’t in the box.  I took the empty box back to the customer service desk, and was treated very suspiciously and although I was refunded, the whole interaction was nothing more than a series of grunts from the customer service assistant.  It annoyed me so I said “err, so do I get an apology for the inconvenience?”  She thought about it for a moment, and replied “no, I don’t feel the need to apologise for this.”  We went on to have a very good-natured exchange about why she felt that, but I came away bewildered that a very large supermarket doesn’t even train their staff to apologise to customers for inconveniencing them.  It was the sort of thing that I could easily have tweeted and/or posted onto Facebook, and maybe set off a whole rant from people around the country about bad service from that supermarket.

So, what’s the lesson?  Companies need to realise that conversations are happening about their brand whether they’re participating in social media or not.  It’s therefore better to be part of the conversation and be seen to care about what they’re customers think of them; and, with all that in mind, look at their systems, processes, training, values, etc and make sure that they all work.  It’s a new world, and everyone needs to step up because the customer really does have your reputation in their hands.

If you’d like help with your social media strategy, then let’s start talking.

By Christine Jones, Tiger Mouth

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