The (Social) Customer Isn''t Always Right

By TMCnet Special Guest
Brendan Read
  |  August 01, 2011

This article originally appeared in the August 2011 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions

There appears to be a tendency with social media as a new and highly visible channel to overstock the value of the sentiments expressed in posts and tweets, that these truly represent the collective voice of customer and that the comments and complaints are factual, well-founded and sincere. And that those who made them must be supplicated to keep them as customers, lest they tell hundreds of others never to do business with one’s company ever again.

In short, to update the old cliché, “the (social) customer is always right.”

Nonsense. Balderdash. Rot. “Social” customers are not always correct. Just ask anyone who deals with customers – counter/front desk/retail staff, attendants and servers and contact center agents. And they will tell you that too many of the complaints that they get from patrons are not valid, either from misinformation about hours, offers, prices and features or mishandling, specifically, the individuals didn’t read or correctly follow the instructions.

Of the customer abuses, product returns are the worst. Too often the goods are brought back and sometimes damaged not because of flaws but because the customers abused them or “borrowed” them for special occasions. This last one is a big scam in women’s apparel, report friends who work for retailers.

Alas those obscene customers are, more often than not, the enterprises’ sweet spots, the ones that firms are fighting to attract and retain, namely the affluent and influential. Unfortunately too many of these people are accustomed to bullying and lying either outright or by omission to get their way even for the smallest purchases – techniques no doubt well practiced in their professional lives. These people, not surprisingly, treat customer-facing staff like serfs, other buyers with distain – unless they have something to gain from them – and get a perverse satisfaction from haggling over pennies and humiliating others in the process. For them winning, and with this brandishing their rank and superiority, no matter how trivial the matters involved or upsetting to others – is what counts.Individuals’ behavior on social media is no different than that on other channels. Anyone can post and tweet comments. Whether these are accurate, have value or are not part of any scams are collectively another question altogether. Moreover, there is so much muck out there that it takes an immense amount of precision sifting to get to those messages that are worthwhile and detailed. In too many cases, though, the social statements can be distilled to “(fill in the blank) sucks” or “I like it”.

One of the great social channel/media attributes that is not available to in-person or contact center voice channels is that there is a briefly-opened time window to sift the whiners out of the winners. There are a growing range of social media monitoring and sentiment analysis tools available to do just that and to find productive insights from them. When coupled into social profiling and other customer-identifying solutions and CRM systems, they can provide contact center agents with effective, customer-specific suggested responses.

More important than buying and mashing solutions, firms should consult with those who work directly with customers to learn about the issues they face and obtain suggestions on how to handle them. Companies should also engage with those who work at every other supply chain link to find out what needs to be done to ensure product and service quality, delivery and fair pricing. These insights can minimize misunderstandings and complaints, and customer service (and returns) expenses.

The customer may or may not be right. Understanding their intentions, and anticipating, identifying and responding to legitimate core issues, sifts out the classy from the cranks. More importantly, this strategy improves quality and reduces costs that permit competitive prices that then attract and retain truly valuable customers whose patronage maintains and grows profits.

TMCnet publishes expert commentary on various telecommunications, IT, call center, CRM and other technology-related topics. Are you an expert in one of these fields, and interested in having your perspective published on a site that gets several million unique visitors each month? Get in touch.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi