Communications Manager Donna Alston Explores the Relationship Between Social Media and the Customer Experience

Hey! Who Opened That Door?

I recently had the privilege to be part of a panel of communications professionals who were charged with dropping knowledge about social media and the customer experience on a group of students studying communications at my alma mater, Temple University. My first thought was that because the audience was primarily millennials, that they should likely be dropping social media knowledge on me.

After I pulled myself together, I remembered that the topic was really about the customer experience and how it has been impacted by social media. Feeling a bit more confident, I began to think about just that. One of the most significant impacts of social media is that it has made everything public. No more private showing or sharing of anything that has been documented in any way, for anyone, anymore—and probably never again. Terms like, “behind closed doors” and “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” are now officially anachronisms.

But what has this truth meant for the customer experience? On the business/service provider side of that experience, it means that customer service is no longer solely seated in the “customer service department” because now, the entire world has a bird’s-eye view of that customer experience. What used to take place between one customer and one service representative via a secure landline is now on the internet for everyone to see. Many customers are less likely to use landlines (which are nearly anachronisms) to call a service provider, than they are to use cell phones to Tweet their issues, airing them on companies’ social media sites—which could easily be the most massive of all mass media.

This thought alone can be daunting, particularly when you consider that most customers only connect with customer service when there is a problem. So how are businesses to handle this still-rather-new, very public customer experience?

When I think about the answer, I’m reminded of my childhood and my parents in particular, who taught me to always be on my best behavior. And make no mistake about it, there was no compromise on that mandate when in public. I’d better not embarrass them when we were in public—because my behavior was a direct reflection of their parenting skills and an implication of what took place in our home.

In much the same fashion, companies should always have their best face forward when managing customer issues on social media (and elsewhere). When they don’t, just like with the misbehaved child, they leave the public wondering what’s going on at home. Who is minding that store?

Customer issues raised on social media should be handled with the same promptness, courtesy, concern, and attention we would provide to our most loved family member. Their handling should reflect the company’s brand and values, and embody its mission, because just like the child, it provides an indication of what’s going on inside the business and what is taking place with their operations.

There is already an inherent relationship between customer service and operations, which is often the primary source of information needed to reply to customer queries. However, customer service professionals charged with managing the social customer experience would be greatly served by consulting their company’s communications professionals. Social “media” has created a nexus where customer service and communications meet. I suggest that the best social customer experience is one that is informed by customer service and communications professionals. The icing on the cake comes when both of these groups have complete and consistent access to their peers in operations who are keeping the business running.

Operations professionals ensure that the information needed to provide the right answers and appropriate solutions to customers is made available to the customer service team. They should also provide notice of potential issues in a timely fashion so that customer service can proactively alert customers about potential problems when appropriate. These decisions should be made with input from the communications team. Customer service professionals ensure that responses are delivered promptly and contain information that will actually resolve the issues, and that proactive messages are delivered when needed. Communications professionals ensure that all messages are consistent with the company’s brand, values and mission.

When the customer service/communications nexus is synced and fed consistent and comprehensive information from operations, it doesn’t matter that the door is open and your company’s customer experience is taking place in public. Why? Because now, like that well-behaved child, your company is on its best behavior, leaving little or no room for anyone to wonder what’s going on at home or who is minding that store.

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Customer Service Week Spotlight: Leslie Torres

Last but certainly not least, we have one final Customer Service Week interview to close out our week of celebrations. Today’s featured representative is Leslie Torres!

 

How long have you been with Aqua?
I have been with Aqua for 10 years as of September 18th! Double digits, baby!

What is it like to interact with Aqua’s customers? What makes them unique?
We never know what situation we are going to encounter when we answer a phone call. Aqua’s customers come from a diverse range of locations, which allows us to work with a large variety of different personalities. Our customers are unique because they’re so diverse from one another.

 

Has working in customer service improved your people skills outside of Aqua America? 
Absolutely! I now have a ton more patience than I did prior to working in customer service. Speaking with customers every day has also made me a better listener; I pay more attention to detail and am able to notice things I would have otherwise missed in the past. Additionally, working in this industry has made me far more flexible — I am better able to solve problems and adapt to seemingly difficult situations. 

Has working with Aqua’s customers impacted your life outside the workplace? How so?
I always run into customers outside of work! I have been stopped while grocery shopping or out to dinner with my family; I have found myself answering customer service questions outside of the workplace more often than I could have ever imagined.

 

Whenever I do encounter a customer outside of Aqua, I always treat them just as I would in the office: with kindness and respect.

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Customer Service Week Spotlight: Kelli Hodges

Continuing our Customer Service Week series, today we’d like to introduce you to Customer Service Representative Kelli Hodges! Let’s get to know her.

 

How long have you been with Aqua?

I started in a temporary position with Aqua back in July of 2009, and was hired on full-time in November of that year!

 

What is it like to interact with Aqua’s customers? What makes them unique?

Aqua customers are truly one of a kind. Dealing with an ever-present utility, I find that I am learning about the lives of people from all walks of life, an experience I find very rewarding.

What challenges have you overcome in order to provide quality customer service?

I have learned that it is sometimes necessary to pause, take a step back and give a customer the space to share their feelings, even if I have already determined the reason for their call. A lot of the time, customers need to express their emotions, and they use customer service representatives as an outlet to do just that.

 

We all need to be heard, and a major component to my role here at Aqua is ensuring that I’m listening to our customers’ needs and feelings, and driving home the fact that they know I’m here to support them.

What is the most rewarding thing about working in customer service?

The most rewarding thing about working in customer service is definitely helping customers find solutions and offering them options they didn’t even know they had. It may seem like such a minor thing for us, but we can make someone’s day and lift a huge weight off their shoulders with one short phone call. It’s an act I am very passionate about!

Has working with Aqua’s customers impacted your life outside the workplace? How so?

Absolutely. First and foremost, I have learned to develop a great deal of empathy and understanding in my relationships with others. Additionally, it is often the people we would least expect who may be having a hard time.

 

I believe that working in customer service has made me far more open-minded and sensitive of other peoples’ needs, thoughts and feelings.

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Customer Service Week Spotlight: Sarah Camargo

We’re on to day two of Customer Service Week here at Aqua! All week long, we’ll spotlight our exceptional customer service representatives, giving them a chance to share the ins and outs of their experiences. Today’s customer service representative spotlight falls on Sarah Camargo. Let’s get to know her!

 

How long have you been with Aqua? 

I’ve been with Aqua since November 2006, so nearly 10 years. Time flies!

What is it like to interact with Aqua’s customers? What makes them unique? 

There’s never a dull moment when interacting with our customers. Since we take calls from customers in various states, we encounter a wide range of personalities. You would think after working here for nearly 10 years that I would have heard it all, but that’s not the case. 

 

We get inquiries that range from water distribution to what our field technicians are working on, so I’m always happy to serve as a human encyclopedia for them!

What is the most rewarding thing about working in customer service?

I live for customer satisfaction. When we can help and lift an enormous weight off their shoulders, it makes our job incredibly fulfilling. 

 

Has working with Aqua’s customers impacted your life outside the workplace? How so?

I never want to speak over the phone anymore! Since I’m on the phone all day with customers or other Aqua employees, I try my hardest to never use it when handling personal matters. If I can do it online, I will. I tell my friends and family to text me rather than call, if possible. The rare times I do have to talk to somebody on the phone, I accidentally end the call with, “Thank you for calling Aqua!” 

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Customer Service Week Spotlight: Vicky Raines

The first week of October is nationally celebrated as Customer Service Week. Here at Aqua, we take every opportunity we get to recognize the impactful work of our employees, and this week is no exception. All week long we’ll highlight our remarkable customer service representatives with a special series of blogs.

Each day, the spotlight will shine on one of four featured Aqua customer service representatives. They’ll provide answers to questions about the industry and what it’s like to work with Aqua customers. Tune in this week for individual interviews, and get to know some of the people working to help you.

To start off the week, we introduce Customer Service Representative Vicky Raines!

 

How long have you been with Aqua?

have been working at Aqua for more than 7 years! 

 

What’s it like to interact with Aqua’s customers? What makes them unique?

Working with our customers is like driving a car — it may be a smooth ride, but you can hit the occasional bump or end up driving over uneven roads. Other times, a customer will call because they don’t understand their bill and need a walkthrough or further explanation. Interacting with Aqua customers is unique in that we spend a lot of time educating them about their water service rather than merely spewing out general information. 

 

What is the most rewarding thing about working in customer service?

Knowing that you made a difference—that you were able to stop a situation from escalating or made it so a customer has a better understanding of an issue. When you can turn someone’s day around, you know you’ve done your job. The information you are providing may not always be what the customer wants hear, but how you deliver the message will determine the customer’s reaction, willingness to listen and the outcome of the call. Have I mentioned that I love my job? 

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