Social Media and Customer Care Managers, Part 2

Jan 23, 2008 10:29 PM  By

Social media and word-of-mouth marketing now have a big impact on the customer care industry. Last week we looked at the social media landscape, defining concepts like blogs, vlogs, and podcasts. Now we’ll focus on what social media means to your customer care group.

There is more than one way to get a negative message across with social media. Some of the nation’s largest companies, including Comcast, AOL, and leading homebuilders, have had their reputations put on the line through blogs and YouTube when their customers decided to take their frustration to the Web.

Comcast is one of the nation’s largest providers of cable, entertainment and communications products and services. Like any big organization with a wide customer base, Comcast has a multi-tiered customer care program on which it places high priority with a substantial financial investment.

It only took 58 seconds during the summer of 2006 to jeopardize Comcast’s multi-layered customer care program.

One frustrated customer chose to express his disdain with Comcast’s service level by videotaping a Comcast installation technician who decided to nap on the job. In the 58-second video, “A Comcast Technician Sleeping on My Couch,” uploaded on YouTube, the customer shows footage of the technician asleep on his couch.

To make matters worse, the customer states that the technician had been on hold for over one hour waiting for a customer care representative from his home office to assist him with some on-site installation difficulties.

YouTube is not the only form of social media that has jeopardized the reputation of a company. Many national homebuilders, who are currently dealing with a severe housing slump, are now also experiencing an additional negative trend – the proliferation of social networking sites which detail the negative experiences of homeowners who believe they have been sold poorly constructed products.

One 39 year-old single mother from Alabama created a MySpace page called “StopBEAZERHomes” (www.myspace.com/stopbeazerhomes). Through the lengthy dialogue on her site, her experience of poor construction, illness due to mold, and corporate ignorance are chronicled for all to share. There are options for other people to post their thoughts and experiences on her page, as well as share in a community forum of open discussion.

On www.crapconstruction.com, focused on Beazer Homes, bloggers can post their negative thoughts and comments against the company and advise others to avoid contractual agreements with the national builder. While the site is focused on Beazer Homes, there are other areas of the page where bloggers can post messages about other contractors.

In these instances, companies have found themselves faced with negative publicity that is difficult, if not impossible, to control or dismiss. Just a few years ago, the negative customer experience had a limited scope for how far it could travel. Today, the only thing that can limit the reach of a customer is his or her own initiative.

While all of this may sound disheartening, do not let it paralyze your organization with fear. In the world of social media, with some proactive initiatives, the pros have the potential to far outweigh the cons.

For instance, even Comcast has had great success in using social media to its advantage–in a way, counterbalancing the bad. In June 2007, Comcast opened a virtual theme park and entertainment and expo complex, Comcastic Island, in Second Life, the popular social networking “virtual world” launched in 2003.

Comcastic Island features a high-speed race track, a jet ski water way, and a jet pack aerial obstacle course. These venues allow visitors to race against other avatars in Second Life for the fastest time. The entertainment and expo center will feature museum exhibits focusing on “speedy” things and performances will be made by various artists–both of the Second Life and the real world.

It is within this virtual world that Comcast will reach out to their customers to enforce their marketing messages, but also run trials on new products in their digital cable and digital voice offerings. Second Life customers will be able to provide interactive feedback–both positive and negative–, which will help Comcast serve its customers better in the real world.

Disney, often thought of as an innovator and leader on many platforms, acquired the rights to “Club Penguin” on Aug.1, 2007. Club Penguin (www.clubpenguin.com) is one of the fastest growing virtual worlds for kids. Similar to Second Life, children create penguin avatars that can converse, participate in group activities, and furnish snow-covered homes with currency they earn inside the world.

This is a site parents trust and encourage their children to become engaged in. For Disney, it is not only an opportunity aligned with their strategy of using technology to create and deliver high-quality entertainment, but also an opportunity to learn more about what children love and enjoy in an effort to bring them more of it.

McDonalds launched “Open for Discussion” (http://csr.blogs.mcdonalds.com), a blogging site dedicated to corporate social responsibility, focusing on topics such as environment, people, community, responsible purchasing and balanced, active lifestyles. This daily blog features the thoughts of McDonalds’ executives, led by its vice president for corporate social responsibility Bob Langert.

McDonalds wants to learn and improve its business practices, but realizes this cannot be accomplished without listening. While McDonalds understands there will not always be consensus between the company and its customers, the restaurant chain encourages the open dialog to solve new problems in this ever-changing environment.

So what can social media for you? The first step to leveraging the social media uptick and its large potential for the customer care industry is to educate yourself about social media, its brief history, its many players, and its impact. Get going and become a resource in your organization for a world that many have not taken the time or interest to explore.

Next, work cross-functionally in your organization and develop a program that positions your company positively within the social media landscape that lays the groundwork if and when negativity strikes. While the show is still new, it is better to learn your lines slowly while making gradual strides than to be thrown in on center stage with an audience of millions during a crisis.

Linda Schellenger is president of Telerx, a Horsham, PA-based customer service outsourcer.