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February 20, 2014 6:43 AM

The End Of Customer Service

Now that everyone complains... nobody cares when there is a complaint.

There was a time (not that long ago), when someone's complaint online would be rocketed to the executive office, changes were made and brands were being held accountable for their foibles and mishaps. It was the early days of social media (nearly a decade ago). We had the Slashdot effect and more. It was a time when Jeff Jarvis complained about his experience with Dell (now, a story that lives on in infamy as Dell Hell) and it (along with other similar stories) demonstrated that the power to publish a story online had ramifications well beyond the usual "write a letter to the company" and hope that they respond. Back then, you would do an online search and see massive corporate websites vying for search engine optimization over someone with a blog and a bad customer experience. Online social networking took hold and these stories were further exasperated. Brands went from private responses to very publicly trying to resolve customer service issues.

David meets Goliath.

It's hard not to face the reality that the vast majority of brands came into social media and digital connectedness kicking and screaming. They made very public concessions and apologies. Several organizations have since restructured how their marketing, communications, customer service and more interact with each other and with consumers. Transparency, speed-to-response, bringing a sense of humanity to the brand have all become corporate cultural pillars that every brand now lives to embody. It's not easy. Remember back when the sentiment was that a brand needs to respond to everything - positive, negative and neutral - everywhere?

But, there's something else.

Do brands really care anymore? Are there now so many people online, in so many places that it has become both impossible to keep up and, to be raw, not all that important for brands to respond because of the sheer volume? Did the whole United breaks guitars actually do any material damage to the brand? There are some many customer reviews online, that it is often difficult to make heads or tails of something. I'll often find myself wondering about how brands respond to customer service online, because the same/annoying passive-aggressive type of customer service calls are now being embodied in the digital channels. In fact, when I have a customer service issue, I am prone to not post it online, as I don't feel the need to leverage my community to get a response or a desire to publicly call any one brand out. I simply want a response and resolve to be done privately. The desire for brands to force this outing on social media is bewildering to me. This past week, Chris Brogan was ranting about his own customer service issues with Dell (you can read about it right here: Update to my Dell Hell Story).

Social Media Cowboys.

Brogan's raw frustrations or issue with Dell and their products isn't the crux. The real point of focus lies in the corporate integration. Forgetting that this is Dell, that this is Chris Brogan and that all of this is very public, what we're seeing is a failure of integration. I loved his use of the term "social media cowboys", because it speaks volumes to the real challenges that a brand faces in a world where consumers are both the center and the true omni-channel of a brand experience. Sadly, most companies have some kind of social media cowboy. It's an analytics package, it's a social media monitoring tool, it's a real-time marketing command center, it's a handful of work-from-home helpers, it's a four person team working within the communications or customer service center to be listening and responding to trending issues. In short, it all means nothing, if it's not integrated into the core product/service. Having a handful of emails (or people) run through the organization with their hair on fire because someone with any semblance of an audience (like Chris Brogan or anyone else) is demanding answers doesn't change how a brand operates. It creates a dissonance with how everything else runs.

Sadly.

What have we learned? This is what really made me sad and frustrated after reading Chris' post: we have not learned much after all of this time. And, for all of the talking that has been done, not much has changed. You would think that Dell (which is often held up as a case study is excellence for social media and monitoring) would be able to nail something so basic. So, left to our devices, I'm wondering how many true strides brands have really made in an effort to be better, to be more transparent, to be more human and to connect more with their consumers? Ultimately, how many brands have built a better organization, in a world where every voice now has a stage and an audience?

I'm hoping this isn't the end of customer service.

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