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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Is ‪' # ' and social media changing the dynamics of ‪customer service?

Is it goodbyes to the old method of toll-free calling for customer service (and being placed on the hold-music)?
Image credit: Creative adaption by Natarajan Ganesan
For the uninitiated, "A hashtag is a type of label or metadata tag used on social ...". That is how the definition goes when you search the internet; and it gets even more geeky and confusing.
In plain-speak, its just a way where you use hashtags - literally, the symbol # on your keyboard - followed immediately by the word you wish to draw attention to. Before I get distracted into the nuances of hashtags, let me quickly get down to the topic i.e. how the use of the same is possibly changing the landscape of customer relations from big companies.

Its just that I have been seeing that from my recent experiences ... One was with a travel website I booked with, and the other was an airline. Both gave me a really hard time. There were sudden itinerary change/s (on their part), lost baggage/s and what not! Instead of the routine #toll-free call that we all are accustomed to; I happened to #hashtag them on their social media page, followed by a crisp one-liner as to why I am not happy with them, and the specific trouble I am facing.
The responses were almost instantaneous followed by a routine 1-1 response - via social media, of course. But at least there was a purposeful 1-1 interaction with the team. I also did the usual phone method in-tandem, and we all know how it goes (mostly the reason why I chose the 'music logo' in my image, and how they are possibly fading in importance). All of this however, does not speak for, in anyway, if the customer issue is handled to your satisfaction; it is another point altogether.
What got me thinking was, if this was the trend being set in customer relations by big companies. The way I got the responses looked as if the company had devoted a main chunk of their customer relation efforts on the social media accounts as opposed to the regular toll-free call approach. After all, this means less hands behind the phone, right! Maybe! Or is it that the marketing and customer relations all around are beginning to realize the virality of the negative experience/s by customers in their trusted circles?
Whatever it is, the landscape of customer-relations certainly is being defined by their presence in social media. A casual internet search reveals this. Customer service using Social Media accounts may not be far into the game but their logistics might certainly be a tempting consideration (maybe worth a discussion for an #HBR write-up).
Regardless, certain basic rules of communication do exist -
  • You cannot, of course, go on your own baseless/emotional tirade.
  • Hashtags with #CompanyNameSucks OR #CompanyServiceIndifferent is OK, so long it is followed by a specific message justifying it e.g. my cable services are still not up etc. 
  • Following up with a good review or a #ThanksCompanyName may not be a bad idea (if your issue is settled, of course).
What are your experience/s. Feel free to chip in ...

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