Does Social CRM Favor Your Worst Customers?

I was reading the Social CRM Pioneers Group on Google, owned and operated, if that is such a thing in the social media world, by the Altimeter Group’s Jeremiah Owyang (@jowyang). Jive Software’s Mike Fraietta (@MikeFraietta) made an interesting point in referring to Twitter’s dealing with some hacker issues which resulted in all users’ follower and following counts being held at zero for a short time.

Mike asked: How do we prioritize our social media responses if we have no clue about the influence clout of the source? (paraphrased)

Great question – on so many levels. I mean, isn’t customer service supposed to be blind? Shouldn’t we be treating all of our customers the same? meaning – treating each one as if they were the most important?

But it sadly has shifted away from that notion of “the customer is always right” and into a more jaded “the customer who makes the most noise wins.” Through sites like Twitter – if you have a huge following and make a stink about a product or service – you will get a faster response and a little more love. But what about the loyal, high profit customer who does not play the social game? Does he or she simply lose out in the age of social?

So, does social CRM play to the hand of your worst customers? Or, at least the most whiny? (Thanks to Mitch Lieberman for putting me down this path…)

I think the answer is yes, and no. On the one hand, yes, squeaky wheels get the grease. But, squeaky wheels in the social media sense can also be early indicators – allowing you to avoid potentially huge problems before they become just that. Also, providing service through social channels is a new challenge and opportunity – while we may cater to the squeaky wheels, once that wheel is oiled they may go from whiner to evangelist – letting many more people know just how well they were treated.

In time, I think we will get to a sort of balancing point – where influence is better calculated and we are not operating in such a reactive mode via social media. Instead, we will be leveraging social channels to provide proactive service, or simply leveraging it as another channel in our support arsenal.

Again, the goal is not just to avoid potential PR nightmares – it is to provide great experiences for your customers.

12 thoughts on “Does Social CRM Favor Your Worst Customers?

  1. Thank you Martin for including my question on your blog, greatly appreciated. 🙂

    It appears to me that we are in a transitional period (and probably always will be) and that currently it makes sense to cater to those with the most influence/followers. Maybe as Facebook expands to the open web we will see a more level playing field? Especially, if the user can control what the company can see. Your Facebook following will be powerful no matter who you are. I suppose this is another conversation, but if Facebook can get this public/privacy issue right, the tipping point of the power shift could happen sooner than later.

    Mike Fraietta I Director of Social Media I Jive Software I @MikeFraietta

  2. Great points Mike – I imagine these types of conversations were happening nearly 100 years ago when businesses were startled by the ringing of this new contraption – the telephone – and, “gasp!” customers were on the other line with questions, orders and complaints!

    Ultimately this is just a new channel we as sales people, marketers, product developers, support providers etc. have to assimilate to make customers not just happy, but actually wanting to do business with us as we create strong cultures around our brands – not simply slapping products together to sell.

  3. As I stated in the Pioneers group, this is an interesting topic and one that is dynamic, as in it is changing all the time. As I wrote about once before, I fear that Twitter is bad for customer service, as it promotes bad behavior. For instance, would these same people care so much, if they did not have a platform?

    Here is what I stated:

    I believe the following statement to be true:

    ” The need to broadcast a problem to the world would not be necessary if the customer had confidence that their issue would be solved timely and to their satisfaction.”

    I also believe:

    “If your customers are trying to get your attention on Twitter to solve a specific ‘me only’ problem, your processes are either horribly inefficient, broken or you have product issues.”

    This is how I positioned it:

    Twitter is not SocialCRM. Twitter is immediate gratification meets CRM

    There are lots of companies who are taking the opportunity to try and make things right, by watching for issues on Twitter and helping those in need. Unfortunately, this also promotes bad behavior, let me paint a mental picture:

    In order to get your cable box fixed you needed to go down to the local service provider office. It just so happens that you have your 5 yo daughter in tow. The drive is 20 minutes, you figure the line should not be too bad – ooops, wrong, you need to stand in line for an hour or more. While in line, after 1/2 hour the person who just came in the door starts to yell really loudly about poor service.

    In the real world, we all know what would happen (or what should happen anyway). The person yelling would be asked to quiet down, or leave. This would be done nicely of course, but that is what would happen. Right? How do you suppose it would go over if after the second ‘rant’, the best technician in the company walked over and opened up a new station at the counter, and called that individual over, fixed their problem, then left?

    There, I said it….

  4. Hi Martin,
    Excellent point there. The virtue of being thankful and “count your blessings” are mostly found only in Moral Science classes (Do we still have them?). Most of the times customer would not praise you for the excellent service or product because that is what he expects (and he is right, we promised that! Didn’t we?).
    However if there is some fault, customer wants you to hear, once over the phone else there is whole world who is ready to listen to him and there he goes #@%@@# on one/all the social mediums. (We asked for open world!!!)

    Social Media is the most important tool in marketers and Sales guys toolkit today. But are you spending too much time on it? Read some tips for effective usage.

  5. This is an interesting discussion.

    One thing that we sometimes leave out of this discussion is that, ideally, the company is not the only one listening, answering, and engaging with its customers. We sometimes call this “social-as-a-channel CRM.” In this formulation, Social is like any other kind of input into your support queue, but it’s all out in the open so others are listening. But this isn’t the ideal of Social CRM. In an ideal scenario — there will be customers who put some oil on the squeaky wheel, or who help moderate the worst excesses of the impolite. They may even help.

    This is not merely theoretical. This is how a well-functioning customer community actually works. We work with companies whose customer satisfaction ratings are, shall we say, less than stellar — and even they have passionate defenders who help keep the peace. Not everything is sweetness and light, but you don’t get people jumping to attention merely because you’re loud.

    The trick is to make this behavior pervasive. It’s somewhat easier to model positive behavioral feedback loops in a controlled, branded community than it is on, say, Twitter. But remember, Southwest Airlines had a lot of people rise up to defend them against Kevin Smith, and indeed their brand sentiment went right back up again in fairly short order.

    Phil Soffer
    VP Product Marketing

  6. Phil,

    Excellent points, thanks! I may have to flesh those out into a blog of my own – these ideas already have my mind going in all sorts of directions… I love the use of “channel” as not just a medium but also as an indirect marketing/support/advocacy line of offense/defense, just like a VAR partner. Cool stuff.


  7. Wow, this is quite the multifaceted discussion, if there ever was one…. There are certainly many views, and I agree with a nugget from just about each of the comments. On the one hand, if it’s true customer service, it should be a little more democratic than the “I’m loudest and most influential, help me now!” approach. Mitch is right: we are setting some bad precedents and rewarding bad behavior. The whole SWA / Kevin Smith thing made me cringe. We as consumers with voices have become to an extent so spoiled that we have neglected to hold ourselves to a standard of social responsibility. We expect companies to be socially responsible (I don’t mean the conventional meaning of social responsibility in terms of charity and contribution to society, but rather acting as responsible members of the social community you are in). We wouldn’t stand for a company bullying a customer, so why is it OK the other way, especially when the “influencer” has a brand almost as strong as the company brand? With power comes responsibility, so if you are an influencer, you really need to watch what you say. This is just a personal opinion and a commentary on how we relate to each other.

    Within the context of SocialCRM, it’s important to make a distinction with the type of communication it is. Is this is a support issue, you should help as many customers as you can, regardless of their amplification. Scale your support team if you can, socialize your existing support teams. Instead of being just phone, encourage your service reps to jump on Twitter as well. Twelpforce does it well, and so does Zappos, so it is possible (I recently wrote about my experiences with various companies here: Customer support should treat everyone equally, and if you socialize the enterprise and have the ability to route messages to the right people, you can scale your service. And we all know that great service and a great user experience is the best marketing and PR. Customer retention is cheaper and more effective than acquisition.

    However, when someone influential bashes your company publicly, it becomes a PR issue. So then influence does matter. Again, if you can figure out how to route the messages and activate resources from within the organization (which is what we are working on at Attensity360), both PR and customer service resources will be looped in. We just incorporated Klout analytics into Attensity360, and I wrote about that same thing in the blogpost introducing the integration: – my stand is that influence should be treated differently in a pure customer service issue vs. a marketing / PR issue (whether it’s a proactive situation or crisis management).

    Wow, this is a long post. I may repurpose parts of what I wrote into a post of my own – this is really a truly important and multifaceted topic! Thanks Mike for bringing it up and everyone for discussing.

    Maria Ogneva, Attensity360
    @themaria @attensity

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