Social media platforms allow customer networks to be bigger, faster and better organized. They increase the downside of getting service wrong and the upside of getting it right.
The effects are both direct and indirect. Zappos generates so much buzz with its fantastic service experience that the company can spend significantly less on marketing than its rivals. This virtuous service cycle spins faster because we get to trumpet our delight on Facebook.
In other words, social media improves service by making the market for peer-to-peer opinion more efficient. This is good news for good service and bad news for bad service. End of not-so-complicated story.
Here's what makes the phenomenon interesting — you get to play along. You get to drive awareness and loyalty and other good things with a whole range of new digital tools. The larger discussion about social media has focused primarily on this opportunity, as have the venture capital markets. Promising start-ups like Endorse are in the game of helping you become a better architect of the social chatter.
But the opportunity doesn't end there, on the revenue side of the business. Social media make it easier and cheaper not just to acquire customers, but also to partner with them operationally, to collaborate with customers to make your service model work even better. Here are three ways that social media can improve service delivery:
Service recovery. When UPS screwed up a delivery for us, we Tweeted about our frustration. It was much faster and more intuitive to communicate with the company in this way — using tools we use all day, every day — than to wade into the customer service infrastructure that UPS had designed for us. This impulse is a very real opportunity for organizations, as it was for UPS, who responded immediately and effectively. Engaging customers on these platforms means that you can measure, surface and fix service breaks with unprecedented speed and accuracy. In addition, you get to display your responsiveness in a highly public forum, which doesn't happen in a call center.
Service improvement. We recently heard about a Boston-based chef who engages anyone who writes a Yelp review about her restaurant. She sees the process as an easy way to get constructive feedback from her most demanding customers, the ones most likely to make her better. This logic holds for any company. Social media create smart, low-cost ways to bring the right customers into your improvement process. The voices who self-select to broadcast their advice tend to be valuable in other ways, too, less price-sensitive and more willing to pay a premium for good service. Partnering with them makes sense on a whole bunch of levels. You get better; they get invested.
Customer training. The Wall Street Journal recently ran a delicious piece about restaurants Tweeting the names of no-shows. The story was cathartic for any company that's been the victim of a social media rant, but it also highlighted the hidden value of social media tools — they also give you one more lever for getting your customers to behave. Perhaps no service business we know of asks more of its customers than Bugs Burger Bug Killers. BBBK became a sensation by guaranteeing complete customer satisfaction (i.e., no bugs, anywhere) in an industry where everyone else promised to do their best. But BBBK clients have to work hard to get this outcome by radically changing their maintenance and cleaning procedures. BBBK used Twitter to help keep customers on track, prompting them with targeted reminders like when to replace the dumpster.
Social media changes the service game by creating stronger incentives to get it right. But these platforms also give us new ways to influence our customers — not just to help them pull out their wallets and tell their friends about us, but also to partner with us to make service even better.
We believe that companies are just beginning to unleash the full potential of social media. What does the future look like? What are innovative ways you've seen social media used in organizations?