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 the posts and Tweets, that they do accurately represent the voice of customer and that the complaints are accurate and well-founded. 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.
These set of attitudes with social media reflect the cliché “the customer is always right.”
Nonsense. Balderdash. Rot.
The “social customer”—like any other customer—is not always correct.
Just ask anyone who deals with customers i.e. the public: counter/front desk/retail staff and contact center agents. And they will tell you that a fair chunk of the complaints that they get from them are not valid: either from misinformation e.g. about hours, offers, prices and features or mishandling i.e. they didn’t read the instructions. Customer tech support experts guesstimated a long time ago that some 75 percent of calls received by support centers can be classified as "RT(F)M". Namely did they “read the (friendly) manual”?
Moreover, in most instances the individuals making such inaccurate complaints are cranky and obnoxious. Too many of them are trying to get discounts or other financial gains and will bluff and scream to get what they want.
And to top it off those obscene customers are more often than not the marketers’ sweet spots, the ones that outfits are fighting to attract and retain. These are the affluent and influential, the ones who expect forelock-tugging and kowtowing from others below their station. They are accustomed to bullying and lying (outright or by omission) to get their way even for the smallest purchases: techniques no doubt used well in their professional lives. They not surprisingly treat customer-facing staff like serfs. These individuals get a perverse satisfaction from haggling over pennies. For them winning no matter how trivial or upsetting to others, is all what counts.
Of the customer abuses product returns are the worst. Too often the goods are returned damaged not because of flaws but because the customers abused them. One of the biggest scams in womens’ apparel (I know people who work in that industry, I started out in the "needle trades") are customers buying expensive outfits then returning them several days later, whining about the color, fit and quality—when what they did was to “borrow” them for a wedding, job interview, important meeting etc.
Individuals' behavior on social media is no different than that on the other channels. Anyone can go and post and Tweet a comment. Whether these are accurate, have value or are not part of any scams is another question altogether. There is so much muck out there that it takes an immense amount of precision sifting to get to those messages that are worthwhile e.g. a “United Breaks Guitars”. Alas in too many cases the social statements can be distilled to “(fill in the blank) sucks”. The volume of dreck and trivia on Facebook, just to name one example is so high that there are users like my wife have practically given up on it.
Rarely do I comment on sites. There are only so many hours in a day to deal with sifting through this information and commenting and responding in kind. I will though when I am looking to buy products and services visit review sites and sift through them. I have a well-developed nose for paid puffery, dealing as I do with PR flaks and having been one myself.
The one great advantage of the social channel as opposed to in-person and contact center phone is that there is a briefly-opened window in which the winners can be sorted from the whiners sight unseen. Here are two excellent indicators for such analysis: sentence construction and word choice. When one writes in proper sentences one has previously thought through what they are going to say. When the language selected is in the midrange between formal and informal, reflecting conversation and conveying the right amount of emotion to the matter being dealt with, it indicates authenticity rather than canned responses.
There are a growing range of social media monitoring and sentiment analysis available. In sourcing, specifying, purchasing and configuring these solutions firms should consult with those who work directly with the customers i.e. in-person and contact center staff.
Moreover, and equally more importantly firms should ask the sales associates and the agents what they can do to minimize misunderstandings and complaints. Like clearly posting business hours, applying the KISS principle to offers and terms and above all making, delivering and pricing the products and services right.
After all it is those who interface with customers who know more than anyone else in the organization when the customer is (and isn’t) right. And it is they who will have to deal with the customers directly—in their face or over their screens--before and after they post on social media or read the comments of others.