Paul Holmes 21 Aug 2011 // 2:48PM GMT
Via my friend Keith Smith of Darwin, an interesting article at Chinwag uses a recent Facebook-related customer service mini-crisis at Lastminute.com to draw some lessons about customer service in the social media age. Briefly, a member of the US military serving in Afghanistan booked a flight home via Lastminute.com. When his leave was changed, the company refused to change his booking or refund the money. His mother posted to the company’s Facebook page and the company responded more slowly than some users would have liked, triggering a series of angry posts attacking the company—and some defending it. Chinwag draws a number of conclusions, none of which I disagree with and some of which I have written about: 1. With Facebook, customer service is 24/7 2. Social media marketing and customer service are now one and the same 3. The social media customer is not always right 4. Don’t delete content willy-nilly I’d add a couple of other lessons. The first—and I may have mentioned this before—is an extension of the second point, above, which is that in the social media age, customer service has to be part of the broader public relations function. If public relations is responsible for managing the relationship of an organization with its stakeholders, and the reputation of the organization overall, there is simply no way to do that job without taking responsibility for customer service. Cases like this one demonstrate just how quickly the perception of poor customer service can turn into a reputation crisis and threaten the quality of its key relationships. The second is that best practice companies empower people at every level of the organization—and those on the front lines of customer service in particular—to make decisions that safeguard the organization’s reputation and relationships, using the organization’s core values as a guide. This latter point is particularly true in the social media age. The Lastminute.com case indicates not only that customer service is 24/7, but also that people expect an immediate response. When there isn’t time to run a complaint up the chain of command, rank-and-file employees need to be empowered to make decisions themselves. That means one of the first responsibilities of the communications department is to make sure that those employees understand the values of the organization; recognize how their interactions with customers and other external stakeholders can impact—positively or negatively—the organization’s reputation; and believe that they make decisions in accordance with those values to enhance relationships and reputation.