It’s not a secret that I’ve been involved in the internet for quite some time, almost all of my life. The one thing that has interested me in the last five years, is how social media and online interaction has changed the way many businesses, large and small, simply DO business. It used to be you called a person, or sent something in the mail, or the BBB, but today, it’s all about Facebook and Twitter.
I’ve been reading the saga of one such story from a popular artist among con circles who fancies traveling to theme parks and blogging/tweeting about them to her followers. Her recent trip to a theme/water park in Pennsylvania generated quite a bit of internet traffic when she reported that after paying $15 to park in an overflow lot, she didn’t even get inside because of the long lines and possibly at-capacity allowed in the park. Besides not accurately stating this, they did not refund her parking also. Like many folks would, she mentioned this on their official Twitter account and never received a reply, and it was only after a force of internet folks on Twitter crashed down on them, did they respond saying they only took comments and complaints from their web site. They wrote back a response citing “park metrics” and other things that amounted to “Well why aren’t you Captain Hindsight?” and did not, at the very least, offer her a refund of her parking.
It’s a slippery slope in today’s always-connected world for businesses to compete under mostly traditional customer service models. Many companies are not used to the “slashdot” effect of the internet, or the “trolling” aspect of the internet, will find it very difficult to compete in an environment that is instantaneous. One customer’s experience can be known to the rest of the world even before they leave the establishment. Restaurants and cafes are probably the most susceptible to this type of “mystery shopping” because of apps like Yelp which allow their users to locate an establishment, rate it, review it, and become “Kind of a Big Deal” there. Other businesses, like retail outlets and specialty shops, aren’t targeted as much because the products they sell are from other companies, people who have issues with something will take to that companies site, though they may not be spared from their general service or atmosphere. The most targeted companies by far however are service providers, like Comcast, AT&T, or your local electric company. We’re so entrenched in our modern lifestyle that any time it is disrupted, we feel the need to lash out. It can be troublesome for small businesses because even a single negative complaint can potentially end their business, no matter how warranted or unwarranted it was.
But at the same time, it is important that businesses learn to embrace social media and the social heartbeat of society. Because we’re always-connected, we’re always checking our phones, our email, Twitter, Facebook, and the like. We’re moved and driven by instant information, hot deals, word-of-mouth from friends, and more. A successful business used to have teams of marketing people working around the clock to ensure their brand reached as many people as possible, but today, one person can achieve the same result using the power of the internet. All that theme park would have to do is hire one person to watch their social feeds and convert encountered complaints into something they can forward to their supervisor to look over. They don’t need to be given the ability to issue refunds or other administrative functions, it’s just like what a CSR would do at any customer-facing company. For most people, it’s not about what freebies they’re expecting to get, they expect a response, from a real person and not a canned response used to reply to the hundred people that complained before them.
“Ye Olde Customer Service” may be a dying art in today’s day and age, but I think it can adapt and survive to fit the inter-connected world so long as it understands that people do not like to be ignored, or thought as “just another number” in a large pool of facts, figures, and metrics. It’s actually for this reason I largely boycott Zynga games, because to them, games aren’t games, they’re databases for harnessing information about you, especially when it comes to your money.