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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