Social media, despite permeating popular culture for the better half of a decade, still stands as a Wild West of policies, concepts and ideas. More and more brands are establishing a presence on popular platforms while looking to tap this captive audience effectively. While marketing may be the immediate instinct due to an interest in sales and ROI, the reality is social media provides an exciting opportunity to sell through service, not pitches.
This last idea, that service may in fact be a more compelling manner to boost sales than marketing itself, is slowly gaining traction as word of mouth grows in popularity across social channels. Customers now turn to these channels expecting resolutions rather than a placeholder, making one of the most important lessons of social clear: do not establish a presence unless you plan to use it. However, in the rush to create and engage, many companies are failing to take the necessary steps to create the policies and training methodology necessary to empower social as a viable avenue of resolution. More concisely, there are still brands whose social media accounts serve as little more than an answering machine.
What exactly do I mean by an answering machine account? Based upon the very real idea of using a pre-determined message to push ‘visitors’ to another channel, these accounts serve one purpose: redirection. With just a minor amount of work, you can easily find some major brands whose entire customer service strategy on social media is redirecting consumer complaints to a 1-800 number or email address. But why would you insult your customers in such a way? An individual who was able to search and discover the unique Twitter or Facebook handle of a brand is clearly capable of searching out the phone number as well. If a customer of your small store came to your door to ask a question, would you ask that they fill out a comment card and say you’d call them back in 48 hours?
This answering machine system also applies to standardizing responses in the wake of a PR nightmare. The recent example of Mattel comes to mind, wherein angry customers have peppered the toy-maker regarding comments an executive made regarding motherly interest in cars. It’s no wonder that people who took the time to contact the legendary company remain nonplussed as the feed is filled with the same standardized apology in duplicate, visible to any casual observer as a script of potential disinterest. “We are sorry for the upset this caused. We understand many moms love Hot Wheels and we take your concerns very seriously.” Over and over.
Do I believe that the customer service arm of Mattel is trying to upset customers, or even disinterested? Probably not. Instead, the reality is two-fold: (1) the manufacturer likely does not have the staffing necessary to customize a unique response to each unique complaint; and (2) the use of a standardized response seemed sufficient. Yet, it’s hard to believe 20 years ago Mattel would have set up an answering machine repeating these same two sentences and considered their customer service job complete. So why does such an effort on social not appear obvious to these decision makers?
The likely answer is a lack of empowerment for the social team. This is a problem across all industries, as companies have done great work to establish solid programs but do not go the whole way, don’t commit the slam dunk and fail to make social media customer service teams able to rectify a complaint on the channel it is received. A customer who complains on Twitter should not have to shift to email unless their concern is so extensive that 140 characters at a time (DM or Public) cannot contain the issue.
Privy social media users gravitate towards brands where effective interaction and engagement with customers takes place. When buying local is not an option, I go to FTD first because of the efforts they have made through social media and email to handle my concerns, and I am no exception. Delta is another company I have gravitated towards due to their online presence, and I was not surprised to see them receive recognition for their work in the field. The reality is that effective messaging can be easily discovered by anyone who visits these accounts, and one person’s problem resolution can be a marketing push for the observer. While it may seem that a customer service interaction is one-on-one, the reality is that the audience can be in the hundreds, possibly thousands.
So, in the end, what were the leaders of Mattel to do in light of such a PR disaster and the ensuing fall-out? While it appears they were vigilant in trying to reach out to each individual complaint, the use of a copy-and-paste’d response likely unhinges any value received. As such, if a major company is unable to respond to each individual complaint, they are better off providing a dynamic, effective statement regarding the matter and going silent on the issue moving forward. With a clear explanation that company resources prevent addressing each individual complaint, a transparent, and adult, dialogue is fostered with the public. They may not be thrilled that their voice is unheard, but they sure as heck aren’t going to feel like they reached a pre-recorded message intended to shuffle them on their way.