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Published January 9th 2013

Opinion: Social CRM Shouldn’t Replace Traditional Customer Service Channels

When I was judging on last year’s Social Brands 100 I was struck by how little actual interaction there is on corporate Facebook pages. This short personal experience may help shed some light on a few of the reasons why.

Effective communication with your customers is the life blood of your business – particularly if you are delivering luxury goods through a third-party courier. Understandably, effective management of online channels is a high priority for these businesses, but an experience of delivery failure over Christmas suggests that the customer care experience isn’t as encompassing as it should be.

We have a Secret Santa arrangement in our extended family so I was charged with buying a fairly expensive shower gel refill from a well-known brand – let’s call them Melting Down. This was ordered on the 17th to be delivered for Christmas all packed up as a gift and with a nice little card.

It arrived well after I took my Christmas tree down.

At first, it seemed fortunate that they had prepared for Christmas by employing a whole flotilla of nicely-spoken young women (interspersed with the occasional male) who had been well trained in dispensing sympathy and platitudes.

However, they fell down in two major respects.

Firstly was that they chose to partner with a courier who seems to perform very poorly. If you ever want to see a Facebook page totally full of abuse with no attempt to rescue the situation, you couldn’t find a more pointed case study. By contrast, Melting Down’s page is a love-in.

This courier tried and failed to deliver my parcel for 10 days straight meaning that I had to buy a back-up present and waste a lot of time trying to get some kind of resolution.

The problem is they used a courier who won’t use the phone – who go out of their way to prevent you talking to them by phone.

Now I’m not here to have a rant about the companies themselves – in fact Melting Down refunded me the whole cost of the transaction without me having to ask – but we can all learn from these classic mistakes.

I run a company also dependent upon mail-order systems which ships about 3,000 units during December. In a peak period, using couriers will inevitably involve mistakes: parcels that get lost, broken units and drivers who can’t locate delivery addresses. However, you should be prepared for it. You can’t afford to hang your customers out to dry for 10 days.

For all the fanfare surrounding the transition to online customer service, it remains imperative for consumers to be able to get hold of you easily by phone. All of our research shows that this is a key requirement that causes people to choose to buy from one website rather than another. If they can’t, you are laying up all kinds of collateral damage to your brand.

In the end, I did indeed manage to resolve this using Twitter, where both companies had a capable and responsive team deployed. However, if the companies concerned had an accompanying phone-based system in place, they would be able to resolve this issue across more than one front. In the eagerness to embrace social, it seems that some customers are getting left behind.

The digital revolution in customer care doesn’t mean you have to leave traditional platforms behind. Not every customer is as savvy as you, the reader, are likely to be.

Your brand depends on delivery, no matter how glossy it is or how premium the product. Bad experiences get told to the world, especially as there is a little sting in the tail.

Due to the wonders of remarketing, every time I visit an ad-supported site, I’m confronted by offers from Melting Down, a tactic thousands of companies employ to boost sales. Ensure you have a multi-faceted approach to customer service to establish this constant commercial presence as a welcome distraction, rather than a nasty reminder.

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