Matt Stockton

mattstockton@gmail.com
Customer Service and Social Media - is this the New Advertising?

A few weeks ago, my trash can broke. It’s one of those where you press a foot pedal and the top opens up. A small pin that connected the foot pedal to the mechanism that holds the top open had snapped. I figured that it was the end of the trash can, and I would just have to get a new one. Before I ran out to the store, I quickly checked the website to see if I could order a replacement part - It turns out that I could…and it was free…and it was shipped to me… free, arriving within a week! In a world filled with terrible customer service, I was astonished by how great the service was from SimpleHuman. Here is the text of the email I received from them:

Thank you for your inquiry and apologize for any difficulties you are experiencing with your can. It sounds like you need a new hinge pin. We have changed the material of the hinge pin from plastic to metal to prevent future breakage. We will be glad to send you that part free of charge. Please allow 5-7 business days for the delivery of your replacement hinge pin. Your order will be shipped via USPS to the address you provided on the online form. You will also receive a confirmation email when your order has been processed and shipped. At simplehuman, we stand behind our products 100% and are working to offer the best possible service. We hope that our products can continue to serve you well for the years ahead.

Is this for real? Yes it is, and it made me happy enough to take the time and write a blog post about it. Several things about this experience are interesting to me. For one, this is an incredibly cheap way for them to make their customers happy. The replacement part probably costs less than $5 to produce, and the postage to ship it to me was under $2. There are obviously other costs associated, but overall it is very cheap. This great service directly affected the opinions of only 1 person (myself) – however, I would argue that given the increasing reach and ease of adoption of social media tools (Twitter, etc.), customer service (both poor and great) can have dramatic effects on a large set of potential customers. It’s no secret that people like to complain about customer service when it is horrible — we’ve all heard our friend’s stories of 2-hour support calls, or being transferred to 8 different people in 6 different countries while just trying to get a simple question answered. But I believe it is so easy now to contribute content socially via Twitter and other tools, that consumers will actually be willing to rave about good customer service as well — and this will impact the purchasing behaviors of others.

Knowing this, some companies will be able to use top-notch customer service to their advantage and as a viable advertising alternative to flashy, expensive ads through normal media streams (my guess is that SimpleHuman doesn’t have a huge advertising budget). After only being on Twitter for a few weeks, I’ve seen my fair share of Tweets in the form of ‘Wow, X company is great because they did Y’ , or ‘Excited for my morning cup of coffee at Z, I love that place!’ – I think these types of social micro-advertisements generated by consumers will start to carry more weight, particularly as social media goes mainstream.

On the other hand, there are plenty of negative micro-rants out there (e.g. ‘<Insert Company Here> sucks because <Insert Reason>’ is a good template) – and companies will have to find a way to mitigate the risks of these attacks destroying their reputations. Some companies have already figured this out…

There are many companies on Twitter who actively respond to customer complaints and recommendations. In this BusinessWeek article, some companies noted as being on Twitter include Dell, GM, JetBlue, and Whole Foods. There are also several documented examples of consumers receiving almost immediate customer service after posting negative comments on Twitter (one person notes being contacted immediately by a Customer Service representative after posting a comment about a software problem).  I did a quick search on Google and found many other intriguing avenues for consumers to get customer service in a relatively effortless and ‘social’ way. One of the more interesting sites I came across was GetSatisfaction.com , a site that aims to remove the boundaries between people and companies to form a mutually beneficial relationship without the typical customer-service hula-hoops (‘press 1 for help with your <X>)

This brings me to the three main points I want to make: * Consumer-driven micro-advertising in social media is real - If you are a company and you haven’t started managing your online reputation in social media yet, do it now…before it’s too late. Twitter is hitting its Tipping Point - I challenge you to search Twitter for any major company name - Tweets will show up! (to test this theory, I just searched for CarMax, first entry I saw:  “bluedogexpress: Carmax offered way below KBB.com fair price.”  — See what I mean? You can use this media avenue to your advantage — or if you ignore it, it can explode in your face. * Opportunities exist to help big companies deal with social media, and they will be profitable - This is new stuff, and it’s only going to get bigger. Companies will need help in getting this right, as managing online reputation can be a delicate challenge — I see ‘Social Media Consultant’ as a potentially popular and profitable job title in the next few years – so study up. * You have the power to make companies better - When you call a company and complain, they don’t have a big incentive to respond. When you (constructively) criticize companies through social media outlets, and thousands of other people see it - companies have a huge incentive to respond. Use this to your advantage.

So whether you own a company, work in advertising / marketing, or are simply a consumer of goods — the game is changing all around. How will you use it to your advantage?