Customer Services Must Invest in eReputation Management or Face Death (Wired Innovations)

Customer relationships have radically changed over the past decade — from the efficiency and convenience of the online sales process to the immediacy of social media. The digital generation has high expectations — and low tolerance — for a poor experience: at the first sign of a problem, their response is to share the experience via online forums, Facebook and Twitter.

Brands now face a totally new customer services environment. The requirement is not only to deliver far better and timely customer responses but to also improve the management of social media comments and complaints. Critically, these activities need to be undertaken together to ensure that the digital generation receives the immediacy and tone of response that is now demanded.

Unless an organisation includes eReputation management as a fundamental component of the customer services model, it will soon be out of business.

Instant Response

Five years ago a customer could write a letter of complaint — and it would have limited impact on the business. Today, a poor online experience can be immediately shared on an open forum, Twitter or Facebook and can quickly go viral. The negative impact on a brand can be immense.

Just take the recent Comcast experience — a customer records a dreadful conversation with the call centre when attempting to cancel a subscription; he posts it online; and not only it does go viral on social media, but it is also picked up by traditional media networks.

The impact on that brand’s reputation -as a result of one call centre individual’s activity- is devastating. 

Today’s digital generation reaches first for social media when looking to interact with a brand. The experience is shared with the world before an incident is directly raised to the company. Indeed the first indication of a potential problem is more likely to be picked up on a brand’s Facebook page than it is within the call centre or customer services desk.

Customer Service Experience

So what does this mean for brand management and the improvement of customer experience? Of course, the better the customer service is, the less demand for crisis driven by eReputation management it will have. Furthermore, there is much less need for the eReputation team to swing into action to respond to a flurry of negative Twitter posts if the company’s customer services team is operating well.

Problems will always occur in any business — whether logistics driven by delays in product delivery or supplier’s products or service quality issues. No company is going to achieve 100% positive experience for every single customer.

When a crisis occurs it is essential that both eReputation management and customer services work together.

Integrated Model

Today most of large brands have some form of eReputation management — either internal or outsourced. But it is a team that usually works in isolation. Of course, the task of actively scanning online forums for negative comments and taking proactive action is important. But these individuals rarely even consider engaging the customer services team in this process. Why?

When it comes to the quality of customer relationships, the buck stops with the customer services team — a team that needs to be actively engaged in every aspect of the customer’s interaction; via social media, telephone or email. How can the customer services team appropriately support the customer without an overview of the ongoing activity on social media?

Indeed customer service members are at a massive disadvantage if a customer is more likely to have an up to date picture of the current comments and postings — the chances of an appropriate response are severely reduced. 

The cost invested in eReputation management is wasted if the customer service is not good enough.

Step one — improve customer service. Step two — improve eReputation management and ensure both disciplines work effectively together.

Integrated Activity

In order for a brand to survive it must have in place efficient strategies for crisis management. Naming, continual surveillance and 24/7 monitoring of all online discussions and forum posts mentioning the business which are now an essential part to gain immediate insight into any potential issue within the customer base. While eReputation’s management process can work to moderate and respond to comments as well as to highlight a more positive corporate messaging, the customer services team needs at the same time to be aware of the issue and be ready to respond.

Effective crisis management requires an embedded eReputation manager within the Customer Service team crafting responses to support customer service staff and minimise problems but also to actively be addressing any online comment to avoid brand damage. 

For customer services, it is essential to have the right scripts and, in the case of a crisis, it is the right tone of voice that is by far the most important aspect. Why? Because in these cases what the customer wants more than anything else is to air the grievance; to feel that the complaint has been heard — and accepted. The worst response for the customer would be to feel cheated, left aside — they would go straight back onto social media platforms to share the experience; again!

For customer services teams this also means knowing when to step away from a set script to ensure that the customer’s specific needs are recognised and met; it means making a heartfelt apology for the problem straightaway; it also means admitting there is a problem — and explaining why; and it means being able to offer the customer some form of recompense, such as money off vouchers in the future. But it’s important for it not to be a half-hearted gesture; treat customers like the intelligent adults they are.

Without the right tone of voice used together with a clear insight into the ongoing social media activity,

Organisations will without doubt, experience a rapid escalation of problems and achieve the level of crisis experienced by companies like Comcast.

Consumer expectations continue to rise and the speed with which social media can fan the flames of customer complaints can take even the most experienced customer services teams by surprise.

The companies that would fail to link these two vital parts of the business — customer service and e-reputation management — will sink without trace!

The possibility to have a direct conversation and a dialogue with the customer will enable real quality of customer service.

In that sense, the subscription economy is pushing towards a renewed customer relationship management.

 “ Think of this as essentially using new technologies to transform business models” Tien Tzuo (Zuora) speaking about Relationship Business Management,  

This brings a new, refreshed point of view in which the relationship with the customer is not only a part of the business but on the contrary, becomes its engine.

By merging both customer services centres and eReputation management together, subscription companies are able to create an ongoing relationship with the customer, being by his/her side at all moment.

This translates into a constant feedback with the customer, increasing the efficacy on both ends.

A new business model focused in the relationship with the customer is the logical adaptation for any business to thrive in the current digital changing times.

Article originally published in Wired Innovations

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