Customer Service in the Age of Social Media

Social media all about is providing advanced communication tools which allow information to travel faster than a speeding bullet.  When a celebrity dies – the news travels fast. However, it’s important for business owners to recognize that the same communication tool that allows the world to be notified in minutes to the King of Pop’s passing can also be used against your business. Disappoint a customer these days and they might believe it’s their moral imperative to start a social media shit storm with your business as the target.

Now more than ever, customer service has GOT to be a top priority for ANY business either online or offline.

Thirty years ago, if you were a business owner and your staff offended a customer, you only had to worry about the 16 people that offended customer would tell about the bad customer service experience.

However, you could count on the fact that at some point in time – the offended customer’s passion would wane, he or she would stop spreading the word about the mistreatment he or she suffered at your place of business.

That was then – this is now.

More an more people are “connected” online now.  Social media tools have made communication easy for all.  It’s no longer just geeks and freaks online.  The Pew Internet & American Life Generations online in 2009 report (PDF opens in new window – click save as if your browser can’t open a PDF), shows that that anyone who thinks that only the younger generation is online is sadly underestimating the impact of the internet.  As a matter of fact, the biggest jump in online use is in the age group of those 70 – 75!!!

Unless you’re a bingo parlor – catering to am exclusively octogenarian crowd – you’d better be concerned about your “online image”.

A few months ago, I wrote about a particularly horrific customer service experience I was having with my pest control company. It’s interesting to watch the comment thread of that post.  Truly Nolen’s director of marketing Barry Murray was the 2nd comment on the post.  I give him credit – he was there to “defend” Truly Nolen’s online reputation within hours of the post being published.  In addition to responding online,  Barry handled my problem offline as well.  He did so promptly and professionally.

However, the match had been lit – the fire had begun.  Over the course of the next few days – the comments kept coming in. The thing is – that blog post is going to be there for as long as I keep the site up.  Unlike a complaint to a neighbor over a backyard fence – this customer complaint is now a part of the company’s online DNA.

When Cath Lawson had problems with Sky TV, she wrote about it on her blog.  When Betsy Wuebker’s friend had horrible customer service at the hands of a moron employee of Wells Fargo, Betsy took up the cause and wrote about it on her blog.   Those customer complaints arem’t locked away in a  file cabinet – they’re out in the open – on the internet –  availabel for everyone to see.

On the other side of the coin, when a business goes above and beyond – social media users will sing their praises as well.   That’s what Betsy did in her post Considering a Staycation with Hotel Minneapolis and Resaturant Max.

Ah, the power of the new web, where communication is becoming easier – more people are connected and word travels FAST!

Ever since the dawn of time, people have wanted to share their experiences.  What was once etched on cave walls is now posted on blogs.   Unlike the cave walls though, the blog posts and other social media communications are being indexed by the search engines and archived in the Web Archives.

Which is why it amazes me to watch as some in the corporate world are viewing blog as a source of lead generation and nothing more.  “How many new sales can this thing generate?” seems to be the question of the hour.   Your company blog is more – much, much more than just another form of direct marketing.

Social media is bigger than just the potential to generate leads.  As Jason Cohen brilliantly points out, your corporate blog is a way to recruit more corporate cheerleaders for the company brand .  The fact that it can also gather leads should be viewed as a bonus – not it’s primary function.

Of course – cheerleaders come at a price.  The price you pay for cheerleaders for your business is exceptional customer service.    Hotel Minneapolis would be well served with a corporate blog right about now.  Betsy could have linked to it in her rave recommendation  just as she did when she raved about Linmar Gardens.

Companies need to recognize that the social media connections built today can possibly last – well, a lifetime.


  1. Another great post! Even though positive news CAN travel as fast as negative news, we all know that negative buzz gets spread faster and deeper. Human beings LOVE to be the bearer of bad news. Emails with negative subject lines, for instance, have far higher open rates. We also love to complain, and to do it publically . . . well there is a certain joy in that, especially when you aren’t getting a satisfying response from the source! Companies with poor customer service beware – very risky decision in the age of social media. And I think we have just BEGUN to see the potential of the wrath of customers who are treated poorly.

  2. It’s amazing the power of word of mouth and how fast information can travel these days! I think what a lot of people miss once they get into the excitement of social media is the fact that it’s a huge driving force for building recommendations for a brand. Like you said, customer service is important–online engagement and interaction with people in a sustainable way is what matters. If done right, people will willingly recommend your brand, which ultimately, helps drive business. Thanks for the great read.


  3. Hi Kathy – WOW! Thanks for the multiple mentions! I Facebooked this – and yes, I just made up a new verb! As the author of two other business blogs, one internal and one external, I can assure you, it’s not just about sales as you say. Instead, it’s about community and validation – the things you champion. Thank you!

  4. Kathy,

    I think it is a good idea for companies to pay more attention to blogs and blogging. I was pretty amazed that your pest control company responded as quickly as they did. I love this line, “Unlike a complaint to a neighbor over a backyard fence – this customer complaint is now a part of the company’s online DNA.” It does sum up the power of social media!

  5. Carol – You’re so right. Negative news DOES seem to be more “fun” to spread than positive news. I also think you’ve hit the nail on the head – this “social media” phenomenon is still in it’s infancy. The effects are just beginning to be felt.

    Leah, welcome!

    Betsy – YEAH! Verb creation rocks!!!
    You did a GREAT job of illustration BOTH sides of social media – you’ve got a “rant” and a “rave” in the same blog.

    When bean counters get involved in blogging – they start measuring the conversion of RSS subscribers into sales. Sigh. They just don’t get it!

    Sara – I too was amazed how quickly the pest control company was there to defend themselves. Like I said, I give them kudos for that. The thing is – companies need to remember that those “faceless” customers might be bloggers. As I mentioned above, those “rants” have staying power when they’re unleashed online!

  6. Thanks as always for the kind mention!

    I think your continuing point about social media having permanence is something that people (including me for that matter) are still wrapping their heads around.

    That is, we know intellectually that “the internet never forgets,” but the full impact of that fact on our image, our business, our relationship to our customers and our relationship with potential future customers — that’s an effect that I think we don’t understand well although you’re continually making it more and more clear for me.

    It’s not just that it’s permanent, as you say it can continue to grow and change and evolve and affect people. Scary yet exciting.

    I’m looking forward to more about the impact that has, what we can control about it, and how to just “deal” with it. Thanks!

  7. Jason –

    I have to disagree with you on the point of “we know intellectually that “the internet never forgets.” The point I beg to differ on the definition of “we”. The “tech savvy” may understand this fact- but I know from experience that the non-techies whom I service really don’t “get” it.

    They don’t “get” that what they write today will definitely be hear tomorrow and beyond… especially the stuff shared via Facebook, Twitter and Myspace!!!

    I think there are precious few “regular” folk who understand the permanence of what is going on here. There are way too many people acting like the information shared via social media is ethereal and transient – and it’s not!

    The other day, I heard a radio show host promising “confidentiality” for callers who wanted to confess their infidelity on air. He then suggested that if they didn’t want their voice to be heard – they could just connect with him on Twitter.

    HELLO! If you’re afraid your voice will be recognized during a 30 second “here and gone” moment on the radio – you should instead share this sensitive information via Twitter?

    Social media is revolutionizing the web. What was once a community of “web smart people” is now growing to include people who really don’t understand the “rules” of the game known as the web. It’s definitely interesting to watch the impact making the web “user friendly” is having on the world!

  8. Hi Kathy,

    You’re right. What is said/written online lasts forever. For business owners, if they’re wise, they’ll take care of problems BEFORE their customers decide to take it to the web. Once that happens, damage control only becomes more difficult. Sadly, a problem can be resolved, but due to the nature of the web, others who read about it might think it happened yesterday.


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