A Personal Story
It’s hard for me to believe with everyone so connected on social media that some organizations still don’t understand the importance of customer service.
As small business owners, we know first hand how our social connections can give our customers power. If they like something, they’ll share it online with their friends. But piss them off and they tweet, post and share it with anyone who’ll listen their story.
So let me tell you my story.
I recently had an incident at my son’s school. My son Jake doesn’t attend public school. He goes to one of the charter schools in our area.
The fact that they handle our school experience differently than the other elementary schools in our city is one of the many reasons that this incident upset me so much.
I’m not going to detail all the bits and pieces of everything that happened that day. This isn’t a “she said this,” and then “I said that” which then turned into a “then this happened” which just led to a “are you kidding me?” story.
No, this is a story about my personal experience with an organization lacking in the customer service department.
After having a long and exhausting week of dealing with some things in my personal life, I made a simple request of Jake’s school.
It was nothing that would have disrupted the school. It would have taken one of the many women in the front office no more than 10 minutes to accommodate my request.
And yet no one was able to help me out. Nor could anyone give me a legitimate reason why they couldn’t help me.
After going round and round with not one, but four women in the front office for 30 minutes, my frustration level took over. I’m at an 8 right now ladies, you don’t even want to see me at 10.
So instead of continuing to argue with them, I walked out of the school building.
Later that evening, I settled down, reviewed the school’s handbook and sent an email to the school’s principal to explain what had happened. I didn’t use any derogatory words or made any inappropriate demands. I shared my frustrations and asked the principal for some clarification about how to fix this problem.
The principal emailed me back the next morning with what looked like something she copied from her school manual on how to respond to parents. It felt like a template where she just dropped my name into the first line after the word Dear.
I shook my head at that point. I realized that the principal wasn’t going to do anything but back up the women in the front office. It was a losing battle to continue this conversation anymore.
And like those before who dealt with bad customer service, I’m telling anyone who will listen to my story.
Customer Care is Now Known as Social Care
With the rapid growth of social media, your customers have more opportunities to share their positive or negative experiences with your company. They can tell if you’re listening to them by the way you respond to them online.
I realize that you can’t be everywhere, reading everything about your company. I get that. But there are things you can do to protect your company’s reputation online.
Take a look at these suggestions about how you can handle your customer care in the social space:
1. Make it personal
Everyone’s situation is different. Take the time to find out what’s going on before you respond with a ‘cut and paste copy’ of something in a handbook.
Remember my situation? I was frustrated and not one person in that front office treated me like I was more than just a stranger who wandered in the off the street.
2. Use your customer’s name
When you respond back to their complaint, take the time to address them by their first name. If you’re only seeing something like a Twitter handle, take a few moments to click on their link to go their site. I’m sure you’ll find a name or at least some way to address them.
Again, in my situation, not one person called me by my first name. Even if they didn’t know my name, a simple, “I’m sorry, can you tell me your name again? I’m drawing a blank,” could have helped to diffuse the situation. I was addressed as YOU.
3. Respond quickly and resolve offline
The best way to make sure that nothing slips through the cracks is to turn the social site notifications on your phone. If someone has posted something on your Facebook page or tweeted you a message, you’ll get it quicker than if you wait until you logged back on after dinner.
Respond back with a short message, telling them you’re sorry for what happened and then give them your email address. Dealing with customer issues doesn’t mean to start a shouting match in the middle of your Facebook feed.
Show them that you want to help but you prefer to discuss sensitive issues offline.
4. Listen to what they have to say
I realize that this may a tough one. No one wants to be yelled at or take the brunt of someone’s anger. But sometimes, people just need to get it all out.
Sometimes people just need to be heard and know that you’re listening to them.
Ask questions to help you understand their frustration. You may find that they’ve uncovered an issue with your website or your wording on a sales page that confused them.
Think about this – they may not have been the only ones upset with your company but this person was the only one who contacted you. Try to take your defenses down and take the time to hear what they have to say.
Old Fashioned Customer Service
As we become more socially connected, we’re spending more of our time operating our business online. But customer service should always rely on old fashioned human interaction, whether it’s with a personal social message, on the phone, in an email or if they walk through your doors.
I realize that we can’t always control what people will say about our companies but you can do your best to manage their experiences.
I still get upset every time I think about what happened at my son’s school.
My son has been attending this school for five years. One of the women knew me so well that I don’t have to bring in my ID to check my son out for a doctor’s appointment.
They had no idea what I was dealing with in my personal life or why this request was so important to me. But after five years, you’d think that one person would have taken the time to ask me what’s going on.
Just one person who would have taken the time to listen to my story. Just one person to say, “I’m so sorry, let me see what I can do to help you out.”
My son’s school had an opportunity to create a moment of goodwill with a loyal parent. Instead I walked away feeling frustrated. I felt like I was just a number or worse, a parent of a number in their building.
Think about my experience with my son’s school. Something that could have taken ten minutes of their time, turned into a bad impression of not just the women in the front office but the whole school’s administration department.
And that’s just sad.
PS Have you signed up for my Social Media with Strategy online course? It’s FREE and you’ll learn more tips about where and how to connect with your target audience. What’s stopping you from learning more about how to find your inner social media-ness?