By Julien Foussard, Co-Founder, Iron Web

Instant Response

Five years ago a customer could write a letter of complaint – and it would have limited impact on the business. Today, a poor online experience can be shared immediately on an open forum, Twitter or Facebook, and can quickly go viral. The negative impact on a brand is immense.

Just take the recent Comcast experience – a customer records a dreadful conversation with the call centre when attempting to cancel a subscription; posts it online; and not only does it go viral on social media, but is also picked up by traditional media networks. The impact on that brand’s reputation as a result of one call centre individual’s activity is devastating.

Today’s digital generation reach for social media first when looking to interact with a brand. The experience is shared with the world before an incident is raised directly with the company. Indeed the first indication of a potential problem is more likely to be picked up on a brand’s Facebook page than it is within the call centre or customer services desk.

Customer Service Experience

So what does this mean for brand management and improving the customer experience? Of course, the better the customer service, the less the demand for crisis driven eReputation management. There is much less need for the eReputation team to swing into action to respond to a flurry of negative Twitter posts if the company’s customer services team is operating well.

Problems will always occur in any business – whether logistics driven delays in product delivery or supplier created product or service quality issues. No company is going to achieve 100% positive experience for every customer. When crises occurs it is therefore essential that both eReputation management and customer services work together.

Integrated Model

Today most large brands have some form of eReputation management – either internal or outsourced. But this team is working in isolation. Of course, actively scanning online forums for negative comments and taking proactive action is important. But these individuals rarely even consider engaging the customer services team in this process. Why?

When it comes to the quality of customer relationships, the buck stops with the customer services team – that team needs to be actively engaged in every aspect of the customer interaction; via social media, telephone or email. How can the customer services team respond appropriately to an individual with no overview of the activity on social media? Indeed a customer services individual is at a massive disadvantage when a customer is likely to have a more up to date picture of the current comments and postings – the chances of an appropriate response are severely reduced.

The cost invested in eReputation management is wasted if the customer service is not good enough. Step one – improve customer service. Step two - improve eReputation management and ensure both disciplines work effectively together.

Integrated Activity

In order for a brand to survive it must have in place efficient strategies for managing crises. Clearly, continual surveillance and 24/7 monitoring of all online discussions and forum posts that mention the business is now essential to gain immediate insight into any potential problems or issues within the customer base. While the eReputation management process can work to moderate and respond to comments and highlight more positive corporate messaging, at the same time the customer services team needs to be made aware of the issue and be ready to respond.

Effective crisis management requires an embedded eReputation manager within the Customer Service team crafting responses to support customer service staff and minimise problems but also actively addressing any online comments to minimise brand damage.

For customer services, it is essential to have the right scripts and, in the case of a crisis, it is the right tone of voice that is by far the most important aspect. Why? Because in these cases the customer wants more than anything else to air the grievance; to feel the complaint has been heard – and accepted. The worst response would be for the customer to feel fobbed off – they will be straight back on social media to share the experience; again!

For customer services teams this also means knowing when to step away from the set scripts to ensure a customer’s specific needs are recognised and met; it means making a heartfelt apology for the problem straightaway; it means admitting there is a problem – and explaining why; and it means being able to offer the customer some form of recompense, such as money off vouchers in the future. But it’s important that this is not a half-hearted gesture; treat customers like the intelligent adults they are.

Without the right tone of voice used in tandem with clear insight into the on-going social media activity, organisations will without doubt experience a rapid escalation of problems and achieve the level of crisis experienced by companies like Comcast.

Consumer expectations continue to rise and the speed with which social media can fan the flames of customer complaint can take even the most experienced customer services teams by surprise.

In the next five years, the companies that will flourish are those that tie together call centres and online reputation management. To have a conversation and a dialogue directly with the customer which is informed directly by his or her online commentary and experience will enable real quality of customer service. Those companies that fail to link these two vital parts of the business – customer service and e-reputation management - will sink without trace!