Social media has changed our lives massively. We can share content and ideas with an unprecedented audience of friends, family, strangers and every shade in between.

It has helped to build new communities (who would have known 1.2 million of us share a passion for racing the microwave) and promote social good, to which the high number of petitions shared on Twitter and Facebook stands testament. For brands, social media has been a godsend too; a human face for the multi-national conglomerate and a way of creating a personal touch for brands that have felt so distant in the past.

Those stories linked above are exactly that: nice stories. They raise a laugh a smile but the cynic in me wonders whether this is something of a smoke and mirrors show. Brands on Twitter are acutely aware that they are being watched by the wider public – it is after all, a broadcast platform at heart. Consumers air their grievances on the platform with a view to making them as visible as possible. Is it so strange to think that brands mediate those same problems – often through disproportionate acts of generosity – in a public forum for that same reason? It’s the modern day version of graciously waiving a bill with a contrite and knowing glance after an appearance on Watchdog or page 7 of The Sun.

As a marketing activity it’s almost genius. Take a problem and turn it into column inches and goodwill for a fraction of the cost of advertising. This in itself isn’t a problem – it’s good business. The issue is that customer experience has been pushed on to the backburner. Let me explain.

Customers will typically only complain when they have a real problem that has damaged or ruined their experience and they complain looking for some acknowledgement or reparation. It’s also fair to say that consumers, on the whole, are not particularly proactive.

They’ll take the route of least resistance to complain; if faced with sitting on the line for ten minutes of low-quality ‘recent hits’ in a call centre queue or 140-characters on twitter they’ll likely lump for the former. What happens is that consumers air their dirty laundry in public, as I mentioned before, to as wide an audience as possible. For the brand this then becomes more of a matter of brand image than resolving the complaint.

While that may not seem an issue – problems are getting sorted after all – there is a very real risk that brands are creating a double-standard for customer service. Whose problem do you resolve first: the complainant with 25,000 Twitter followers or the one 250? If it’s through channels like email, phone or even webchat, it would be done equitably.

On Twitter, it’s always going to be the one with the biggest presence. While there will always be a degree of prioritising the loudest complainers, social media has made amplified this to a crazy degree.

Customer service is all about ensuring that your customers enjoy a quality customer experience. This means happy customers and good relationships that will in turn look after themselves and breed goodwill. Social media can be and should be a part of this but real customer care is a much more nuanced and committed process.


By Oisin Lunny, Senior Market Development Manager at OpenMarket

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