There’s a lot of focus right now on how we should respond to negative comments on social media. Most emphasis is plonked at the very end of the customer service food chain - but the sad fact is, many of us still haven't learnt to get things right at the beginning.
Exhibit A is a recent experience of one of my friends in their dealings with a household-name car company (I won't name then here, but it's tempting!).
Let me set the scene for you because it plays out like a soap opera.
Customer has bad experience with Car Company over the replacement of tyres.
Several months later, Customer experiences a flat battery in their car. They use their jumper leads to re-start it and while everything else works perfectly, the radio simply won’t turn on. It’s dead – kaput. The car is relatively new so there’s no apparent reason why the radio on its own is dead. Customer feels frustration.
Customer takes the car to the service area of the Car Company that sold him the vehicle. Is met with apathy, shoulder shrugs and a bunch of people who don’t want to know about their issue. Customer is told, in an offhand manner, that he would have to book the car in for a service - for a fee of $150 - before anyone will look at the problem. Customer’s frustration intensified.
The next day customer picks up the car following the service and is told the radio now works. Asks what the problem was. Again, met with apathy and shoulder shrugs. Told by Car Company staff member, "I don’t actually know what the problem was – or how they fixed it. It just…happened by accident". Customer's frustration moves from simmer to boil.
Customer asks; “If I get another flat battery will this happen again? Am I going to be up for another $150 and have to bring the car in, in the hope that you can accidently work out how to fix the radio again?” Shrugs all round. Customer's frustration now heading off the charts.
Customer stews over experience. Looks up Car Company's phone number to make a formal complaint, but is unable to find any advertised numbers. About to explode, goes on Facebook and finds the Car Company's page. Sends a direct message, explains what happened and demands a response.
Receives an instant answer and follow-up phone call, including all the right noises expected of good customer service staff. Customer is now both frustrated and confused, wondering why this wasn't the response from the beginning.
Customer tells their story to lots of people. I share it in a post.
This major company, like many others, is using the Fear of Facebook principle to deliver customer service. Their approach is; "Holy crap, this person is about to go ballistic on social media - give them whatever they want to make them stop!" instead of actually listening to the customer early in the piece and meeting their expectation.
In this case, it wouldn't have been difficult to save a whole lot of aggro, and in the process create an advocate who spruiked about how great the company had been, rather than bagging them out to all and sundry.
It's important not to get customer service backwards. We're in the reputation economy, so every interaction with anybody important to our organisation can potentially end with negative reactions on social media. But rather than putting all our efforts into combating those comments, It still makes plenty of sense to put resources into the beginning of the experience chain so we don't give people bad experiences in the first place.
Sure, we need to be ready for the small number of complaint-hungry grumps who want to rant to and cause social media damage for whatever reason. However, by making sure we give people the best possible experience whenever they interact with us, we'll reduce the risk of negative social media comments - heck, they might even say something nice about us.
It's time to be proactive with our reputation. There are many opportunities to build reputation capital, so let's take them. It's about striving to be great all the time, rather than waiting to spring out in our fire-fighting gear if things go wrong.