Is Social Media and Outsourcing the End of Real Customer Service?

As I’m writing this, I’m trying to decide what my own thoughts are on the matter. Intellectually I probably don’t care that much, but emotionally, I can’t help but think it’s a bad thing.

Background: My wife made what I thought was a wise-crack the other day, that it was actually faster to get a response to a customer service issue if you post something negative on social media, than it is if you call their toll-free number. She wasn’t joking, and proved it.

A very large retailer had screwed up, not once, but twice, and she spent a long time on the phone trying to sort it out. Naturally, the support centre was based in India, out-sourced, and had no real concept of the original business outside of their database of questions. Long and short; she got nowhere.

The next day, she vented her frustration on Twitter, and within a few hours, a representative from the original company contacted her and the issue was resolved that day.

What I took from this is that it’s more important to give the perception of good customer service, than it is to actually give it. As long as no-one knows that your customer service sucks, people will keep buying, and you can keep saving money by outsourcing.

My dilemma is that I can’t decide if I care that the good customer service is genuine, or if the fact that it’s forced now makes it intolerable. Would I really make the fairly significant effort to go to a competitor just because the first vendor doesn’t really care?

I think the answer is yes, I would, because it’s not just about customer service, it’s about how business is done properly. Customer Service is most often associated with reacting when things go wrong, but it’s far more than that. The term ‘business partner‘ sums it up nicely as it’s supposed to be a partnership, not just a business deal, and is only at it’s best when it’s also pro-active, personal, performed with genuine empathy, and mutually beneficial.

I think what I’m really saying is customer service simply cannot be outsourced. I know it’s very expensive, but perhaps the following may help to offset it;

For one week in every year, EVERY member of staff, from Finance to Sales, from Marketing to IT, works in customer service. This includes the CEO, even the Board of Directors, EVERYONE.

Benefits:

  1. If the CEO talks to real-world customers, as well as sees what goes on every day in the support centre, they will have a much better idea of where his/her company may have gone astray. The CEO is the one responsible for the culture and priorities, so it would be good for them to be reminded of what’s most important.
  2. Sales people often forget what it is they are supposed to be selling, which in almost every company is either a solution to problem, or something someone wants personally. The week they spend in customer service will help them reconnect with their target audience.
  3. Product and Service developers often get too caught up in their day jobs to really understand what it is they are supposed to be developing. Hearing client problems and confusion every day for a week should help to clarify things for them, and maybe even give them ideas for innovation.
  4. Marketing departments too often rely on their previous experience and/or education, so a few angry clients should do wonders for their clarity too, as well as give them ideas for future marketing concepts.
  5. Ancillary departments like finance, IT etc should all have their go too, every employee is part of the culture of a company, everyone must be on the same page, as well as see the impact they are having first hand.

Passion and motivation are hard to maintain if you don’t know where you’re going, or worse, don’t agree with what you’re doing. I think a unified focus on customer service goes a long way to ensuring everyone stays on track.

Of course, your CEO may be a utterly incompetent at dealing with people, but if he/she loses a few clients from poor customer service – their own! – they will probably get the message 🙂

Anyone know any good studies on the effect of social media or outsourcing on customer satisfaction?

 

UPDATE 12-Jul-13: A very interesting article my wife just sent me about social analytics; 90% Of Customers Will Recommend Brands After Social Media Interactions.

It would seem that people LIKE interaction over social media, but they make no mention of whether it was company run, or outsourced, nor do they mention age groups.

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