Social Media Strategy, Social CRM

Why Social Media Has Ruined Your Advantage

Yesterday, I wrote about real-time information and the death of news cycles. This of course creates considerable challenges for business, which typically is not yet architected for real-time communication (at least not in public).

clock head 300x195 Why Social Media Has Ruined Your AdvantageSpeed matters. Requiring someone to pull off to the side in your drive-thru lane like a vehicular leper because you didn’t have the foresight to cook some chicken strips during dinner rush has a deleterious impact on customer satisfaction.

Your speed in answering the social media telephone is no different. Considering that 70% of consumer complaints on Twitter go unanswered, you can probably assume that response at ANY point will win you some hearts and minds amongst your customers. And that’s probably true today. But it won’t be true for very long. You’ll need to get faster. Speed and brevity are the twin rails of technology and customer interaction.

And the responsiveness expectations your customers place upon you in social media will continue to heighten, as consumers will adopt the belief that companies can and should use social media the way they often do, in a continuous, hyper-aware, always-on, multi-tasking fashion.

This creates a problem even bigger than speed.

Shared Tools Equals Less Patience

Social media is unique in that businesses are using the exact same tools and playbook that customers are using in their own lives. This breaks down barriers and eliminates the shroud of mystery that business has used to its advantage for centuries. You know why customers still accept (albeit begrudgingly) waiting on hold for 25 minutes? Because they don’t run their own call center. If they did, they wouldn’t stand for it. They’d know that you’re understaffed to boost margin. They’d know how linear the relationship is between customer service expenditures and subsequent satisfaction. They’d be mad as hell, and they wouldn’t take it anymore.

The speed of social media isn’t inherently the challenge, nor the fact that it’s made customer service and crisis management a spectator sport. The real challenge is that we can’t fool customers any longer. They often know just as much about Twitter and Facebook and blogging and YouTube and Yelp and TripAdvisor and FourSquare and all the rest as we do. That’s never been the case before, and it makes it much harder for business to claim they need 4 hours to respond, when customers are responding to their friends using the exact same platforms in 15 seconds.

Related
  • nrobins1

    You’re right, it is like a spectator sport to watch what brands are doing wrong! I see it over and over again. Executives somehow think (or are not paying attention) that social media conversations don’t hold the same weight. Or maybe it’s the lack of understanding, which people like you are so important for the continuing education of the business community. The people who truly want to succeed today, will shift their businesses “slowly” (I know counter-intuitive to your point) to accommodate this new consumer.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      @nrobins1 There’s a belief out there (thankfully nowhere near universal) that keeping your businesses head in the sand is a good plan because you aren’t “making it worse” by responding.

  • MikeWise07

    Insurance peeps, take note! In Jurassic Park, Jeff Goldblum said, in the understatement of the year, calmly but urgently, “Must go faster!” Yep.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      @MikeWise07 I knew that Jeff Goldblum was more than just a Fly.

  • be3d

    Was on a panel last week where someone said something similar to “Shared Tools Equals Less Patience.” As I said then, I think we need to be careful here with correlation and causality. We don’t know that patience is diminishing as a result of use of social channels, etc., but we do know it’s happening concurrently, and that expectations for faster service are at the very least being reflected in tweets, etc.

    Second, I’ll just add something else I advised then: Don’t let servicing customers hijack your primary branded presence. Create separate accounts for this, or use existing personal/professional (i.e., human) accounts for this. Why would anyone want to follow Brand XYZ when all they every see are responses to CS issues? That said, it’s critical that social listening is calibrated to include all the ways customers can be talking about a brand. In other words, a brand that uses something like @brandXYZsupport shouldn’t be only responding to tweets to @brandXYZsupport. They should be engaging with mentions of “brand XYZ”, “brand x y z”, “xyz brand”, etc.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      @be3d I see the logic in separate accounts, but by doing so you are putting the onus on finding the right one on the customer, where it doesn’t belong. Further, running multiple accounts is viable for larger companies only.

      • be3d

        @JayBaer You misunderstand me. The customer should be able to tweet at or mention whatever branded presence they want, and receive a reply from the support account, who is monitoring for all variations on the brand name, and all mentions of the primary branded account.

        • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

          @be3d Sorry pal. Didn’t mean to misunderstand you. Glad we’re aligned. I’m interested in your correlation comment too. Few are more dialed in on the correlation vs. causation argument than me, but in this case it’s hard for me to imagine what else is driving consumers’ need for speed?

  • markwschaefer

    I have been thinking a lot about this topic. What you call the shroud of mystery, I have coined “the ether.” A lot of profitable business is based on confusion and neglect. I saw some incredible number that much of AOL’s revenue comes from people paying for dial-up accounts that they don;t need any more. Same with bank fees. They come from the ether — people being asleep through life. To some extent, social media dis-intermediates the ether in the marketplace. Once again, our thinking is running on parallel paths, Jay. You were just quicker to the keyboard! : ) Good job, as always.

    • webby2001

      @markwschaefer@JayBaer It’s really just economics, isn’t it? Social media is enabling the same kind of efficient marketplace that “fairly” prices equities. Eliminating information inequalities essentially takes the arbitrage out of social business. But that arbitrage never was a true competitive advantage, was it? I think what information equality really does is *highlight* a company’s true competitive advantage, if they have one. In other words, social media might seem as if it levels the playing field somewhat, but actually – in doing so – companies with an actual sustained competitive advantage will have more opportunities to profit over companies who formerly relied upon doing business in “the ether.”

      Love you both. Don’t go changin’, now.

      • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

        @webby2001@markwschaefer Absolutely Tom. (and thanks for the great comment to you both). Social media lets the rich get richer. I want to write about this (Mark probably already has it planned) notion that companies that genuinely give a shit about their customers are inherently better at social media because it’s part of their DNA. The arbitrage for them is the currency of relationships, and belief in the primacy of lifetime value over short-term sales and margin. Tom, how would we quantify that, O Great One?

  • http://occamsrazr.com Ike

    “They often know just as much about Twitter and Facebook and blogging and YouTube and Yelp and TripAdvisor and FourSquare and all the rest as we do. That’s never been the case before, and it makes it much harder for business to claim they need 4 hours to respond, when customers are responding to their friends using the exact same platforms in 15 seconds.”

    Allow me to amend this — the delta between what our customers THINK can be done, and what can REALLY be done is growing.

    My wife’s use of Facebook doesn’t scale the way a big company would use Facebook. She doesn’t have fiduciary responsibilities, and she doesn’t have to moderate comments. She also doesn’t have to worry about people that she hasn’t pre-approved writing on her wall.

    My wife sends me emails all the time, but she knows that when I am busy I might not drop everything and answer that moment. Same with phone calls.

    I believe what we’re identified is that there is a mob of social media users who THINK they know how to run things, but implementing those in the real world takes time. And the ones who are the surest about how companies can Tweet or Post tend to be the furthest from the realities of that scale.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      @Ike Outstanding point as always Ike. Damn you. Indeed, at scale companies use the same tools, but in disparate ways. However, that differentiation is often due to things that the consumer does not care about because they do not add value to them directly (i.e. fiduciary responsibilities or pre-approvals). If we believe (and I certainly do) that “humanization” of companies is a worthy objective, standing behind “we have rules we have to follow that you don’t” isn’t a particularly strong – or more importantly, salient – stance to present to the consumer. Doesn’t mean it isn’t true. It is, as you adroitly point out. But I’m not sure John Q. Customer gives a shit. Perhaps different in B2B, where I believe customers “get” the reality of their vendor partners more than in B2C.

      There’s also a growing chasm between how small biz handles (and can handle) social, versus the enterprise. That delta will continue to grow. I’d LOVE to see a guest post from you on that, if you’re game.

      • http://socialbutterflyguy.com/ djwaldow

        @JayBaer@Ike I’ll second the “LOVE to see a guest post” comment. Very interesting topic.

  • TomMartin

    Have to say I disagree with a few points…. customers stay on hold because they aren’t offered any other options not because they don’t understand the call center is understaffed to max profit. But if you need help, want to complain or whatever, you’re stuck. Each company has a monopoly on it’s own in-bound communications channels. Given that pretty much all of them are functioning on the same “max profit by min staff” model there is a competitive advantage out there for delivering better customer service (via social or phone) but none are jumping on it. Further, isn’t this entire discussion defensive in nature? Customers don’t really want speedier call centers or the ability to get answers/problems solved on Twitter.

    Customers want to not need to call a company ever — with a problem or to get help. When I purchase a product or a service, I’d like that to be the end of the transaction not the beginning. THAT is the huge opp IMO.

    @TomMartin

    • http://www.contentping.com/ tahartman

      I totally agree with @TomMartin . Companies should offer consumers excellent product descriptions/videos/photos so that they know exactly what they’re going to be getting and don’t need to complain in the first place.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      @TomMartin@TomMartin I have to disagree on that. Customers in fact do have options beyond staying on hold. To whit, email and snail mail (among others). You of course are right that ultimately the best scenario is that you delight every customer to the degree that customer service is unnecessary. Not sure that’s realistic, but it sure should be the goal.

      • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

        @TomMartin Speaking of which, that’s why I like Net Promoter as a metric. It measures greatness, not “satisfaction”.

  • betsykent

    Hey Jay,

    I worked for a couple of companies over the years that operated in a “our customers are our enemies” culture. I hated that culture and I decided to open my own company which solved my problem. Perhaps because I grew up with a family business that catered to their trade in an old fashioned way, I never felt comfortable lying to cover up my employers’ inefficiencies or underhanded tricks designed to gouge the customer.

    Your point that customers and companies are using the same platforms, and in many cases the customers understand the platforms better than companies, is a very interesting one. Yes, companies can no longer hide behind the board room door, because for once, customers have public platforms on which to lodge their complaints. What I find interesting is that instead of getting nothing but criticism, customers are showing their love and loyalty to brands…a fact that I believe many companies never expected.

    How long this love affair will last is the question. A new generation of consumers is entering the market and they have grown up in today’s culture of customer service and public forums. Will they be as impressed when a company tweets them back as today’s consumers are? It remains to be seen.

    Bottom line: It’s a lot better being a consumer today than in the past, and a lot more fun being a company, too.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      @betsykent Great, great point Betsy (and congrats for doing your own thing and making a difference). I concur that most companies get more love than hate in real-time. Of course, most execs don’t let the good times deter them from their fear of public criticism. What they have to realize is that negativity is a net positive, because you “see” your own problems. Not a positive, a NET positive.

  • 40deuce

    Let me play devils advocate here for a second, @JayBaer . How fast is fast enough? Will there ever be a fast enough now?

    I make a point to respond to our customers as quickly as possible, but sometimes it’s not in 15 seconds. Sometimes I need to find an answer to respond with. Sometimes I’m sleeping (we deal with customers around the world, but I’m a one man team and I need to sleep at some point). My point is, not everything can be done as fast as customers want it done. Most of them know this too, but there’s still those people you can never make happy.

    I was speaking at a conference a few weeks ago and someone asked me if they needed to have someone watching their social media on a 24/7 basis. I told them that it depends on their company, where they do business and they though was appropriate for them. I think that most customers will be happy if you can respond within a reasonable timeframe (not 4 days later). Yes, it takes 15 seconds to send a tweet back to a friend, but sometimes providing real service can take a bit longer.

    These are just some of my thoughts as a person who partially does customer service through social media.

    Cheers,

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      @40deuce I agree that speed alone isn’t the end game, and ran a great guest post to that effect here this summer. But I disagree that most customers know that things can’t be done as fast as they want them to be done. It’s a circumstantial scenario. If you have a crisis, you need to be faster than if you have a run of the mill problem. If you’re really pissed, you want an answer more quickly than if you’re mildly irked. Ultimately though, all roads lead to responsiveness, and the VAST majority of companies aren’t answering AT ALL, much less in 15 seconds. You of course are the exception that proves the rule.

    • cbosch2003

      @40deuce@JayBaer

      I agree. If I call, I expect someone to answer the phone. But if I send and email or a Tweet I would expect a response within 24-hours. Not necessarily with the answer, but with a response of some sort.

  • http://paulgailey.com paulgailey

    Ever been mollified by the charming waiter whilst you main course was stil in the kitchen queue? – often a rapid response publically of “I don’t know, but I will find someone who can answer your query…” will suffice while middle-management CYA type emails do the rounds during 24-36hours. The challenge for the community manager is balancing the understandable impatience of the user versus the creaking yesteryear action inside the company. I’d say your window of opportunity to delight is as little as 20 minutes.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      @paulgailey I agree, and that 20 minute window shifts and morphs based on the degree of your ire.

  • Angelique

    Re: “…it makes it much harder for business to claim they need 4 hours to respond, when customers are responding to their friends using the exact same platforms in 15 seconds.”

    The same customers also know that it takes ten seconds to remove someone from a database, but it hasn’t stopped companies from claiming that it takes six weeks to remove you from a hard-copy mailing list.

    I think a lot of businesses are horribly understaffed. It’s totally standard for a company’s tech support to “get back to you within 24 – 48 hours.” As I said: Understaffed.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      @Angelique Really excellent point. A lot of this is about staffing. I have a post about that coming up next week.

    • http://socialbutterflyguy.com/ djwaldow

      @Angelique I’d like to second/like/+1 what you said. I do think that staffing – understaffing – often plays a big role. In addition, companies are often bogged down by process. I’m not talking about good, healthy process. Nope. I’m referring to the “this is how we’ve always done it even if it sucks and is not good for the company or the our customers” type process. And, yes, I did consider hashtagging that quote and putting it all together as one word.

  • http://www.woodstreet.com/ jonmikelbailey

    Couldn’t you have just said “harmful”? ;-) The deleterious effect of big words.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      @jonmikelbailey My Mom has like 14 Master’s Degrees in English. Can’t help it.

    • http://socialbutterflyguy.com/ djwaldow

      @jonmikelbailey Embarrassed to admit that I had to google “define: deleterious” – Nice.

  • http://www.sosyalmedyacci.com/ sosyalmedyacci

    It depends on the company. There are many companies that use twitter, facebook etc. only for marketing process. I can give you a cool company that satisfy their customers. This company called Deltaairlines. Their team answer almost all complaints

    I think, social media is agreat tool to understand the perception of customers.

  • timallik

    Hi Jay! While I think Twitter has a lot of great uses, I don’t think Twitter is an optimal channel for customer service. There was some technology invented about a century ago called the telephone that works really well for that purpose. The shortened news cycle certainly has an impact on crisis communications, but that’s only a small part (hopefully) of any company’s communications strategy. Rather than getting burned out by hyperactive overreaching, I think companies should focus on producing high quality (rather than quantity) content and then pace themselves by setting realistic goals given time and resource constraints. The most important part the equation is the discipline to follow through with the plan you set. Here’s a blog post I wrote recently about the topic that I’ll share with you: Content? Distribution? Nah -The Most Important Social Media Asset Is Discipline.

  • timallik

    Hi Jay! While I think Twitter has a lot of great uses, I don’t think Twitter is an optimal channel for customer service. There was some technology invented about a century ago called the telephone that works really well for that purpose. The shortened news cycle certainly has an impact on crisis communications, but that’s only a small part (hopefully) of any company’s communications strategy. Rather than getting burned out by hyperactive overreaching, I think companies should focus on producing high quality (rather than quantity) content and then pace themselves by setting realistic goals given time and resource constraints. The most important part the equation is the discipline to follow through with the plan you set. Here’s a blog post I wrote recently on my blog about the topic that I’ll share with you: http://timallik.com/content-distribution-nah-the-most-important-s

    • arevolutionofone

      @timallik

  • http://www.san-diego-marketing.com/ San Diego Marketing

    Social media should really be a staple department on a business brand. They should at least have one person manning the communication lines, in order to appear in touch and dedicated to their services and delivery.

  • MelanieKissell

    I’ve had a love affair with words since the first grade, Jay. “Deleterious” — way cool. Can’t get enough of those 50-cent words! LOL

    The name of the game in customer service, customer satisfaction, and customer loyalty is …

    Take care of your doggone customers!

    Online or off, customers aren’t dancing the jig, turning cartwheels, and singing your praises when put on “hold”.

    No matter how many alleged super duper shining star social media gurus tell me otherwise …

    Word of mouth advertising is and always will be your best friend and your biggest ally. So when it comes to customer service (via social media or in the real world), ya better perk up your ears and listen carefully to the words coming out of the mouths of your customers!

  • cjmemay

    Customers don’t wait on hold because they misunderstand call centers, they wait on hold for 25 minutes because they don’t have another option.

    I see very little difference between phones and social network tools like facebook and twitter. Yes, some customers may know how to use facebook and twitter (and telephones too), but very few will know anything about managing customer service departments using those technologies, so why would they expect a difference?

  • eswayne

    This sounds like a similar lesson to what Google published in their “Zero Moment of Truth” book – we have to cultivate a deliberate community that creates conversations our customers find before we ever get to the point of responding, because that’s where the real decision is made. The best communities can afford some delays from the brand, because the community will actually answer itself – call it the “white knight effect.” Commitment, consistency and timeliness are certainly the building blocks for a brand’s social reputation, but the building being built is a thriving brand community.

  • hospitalityfan

    Love this post! I believe the above applies to organizations that have a desire and a commitment to be great only! All others fall into the category of your 10/11/11 post: “70% of Companies ignore Customer Complaints on Twitter” – another informative post! Love your analogies!