Customer Service from the Bottom Up

We often hear about that service that needs to start from the top down. The adoption of social media has taken this a step further as CEOs and other high level staff members share their thoughts and opinions and give the common consumer access to these leaders who they have never had access to before. Certainly, a manager’s commitment to customer service is crucial to good customer service.  If the CEO and management team don’t truly embrace and value customer service it is impossible to filter through the organization.

With that being said, we have to be aware that senior management being passionate about customer service doesn’t mean they have to or can respond to every customer complaint through social media channels.  If the common consumer needs to talk to the CEO, weren’t there three layers or more of people below him that couldn’t solve the problem? We are seeing many organizations focusing on authenticity and accessibility from the top, forgetting the products, services and layers of people below.

Scalability is impossible if customers go straight to the top every time they have an issue. Customer service needs to start from the bottom and go on up if a company has any desire to grow or to maintain a satisfied customer base.  I have trained and managed employees who work in large call centers and in retail centers .  These employees are on the true front line for customer care, yet they are often the lowest paid and least likely to be adequately trained.

Having a one-man social media customer service superstar is really a band-aid for a larger issue that needs to be addressed.  Consumers want to be able to reach out on social networks to resolve problems but scalability and the mass adoption of social networks mandates that companies rethink who is handling their social media efforts.  While the CEO needs to be involved and share his voice, passion and vision, he can’t solve every customer problem.  It can’t be a special social media swat team who doesn’t understand the inner workings of the company. There needs to be a layer of front line employees who can address consumer issues intelligently from every communication methodology.  Guess what?  This isn’t a summer intern either. 

Search Craiglist and you will find numerous  opportunities for “social media interns.”  I wrote about this before but it continues to amaze me that a company would hand over its reputation to an untrained intern or an untrained company employee who has no idea:

  • How to represent the company, the brand and it’s mission
  • How to resolve the problem
  • Where to go for help when they get stuck

In a weak moment, I gave in recently and called an airline directly for assistance booking a hard to get flight to Quebec.  The flights were challenging and within just a few moments, the airline representative got rather annoyed with me.  I am quite patient with call center employees after having worked in call centers and having handled many nasty accelerated manager calls on numerous occasions.  I requested she be patient as we tried to find an acceptable flight. Instead, she told me she was unable to help me and that I should call Travelocity or Expedia.  Good bye. OUCH.  Really?  Well, guess what?  That is exactly what I did.  Expedia was quite willing to help me and off I will go to Quebec.  I could have complained on Twitter and gotten my issue resolved, but I shouldn’t have to.  Social media can’t replace basic customer service.

Social media is not a one off special project.  Understanding and adoption of the tools needs to be spread throughout entire organizations, not handled in a silo as a cute little project.  I spent years focusing on “churn”- existing customer turnover.  It is far more expensive to earn a new new customer than to keep an existing one. The creation of social media has caused massive changes in how we communicate but it hasn’t changed age-old principals.  Customer service needs to start from the bottom up.  Nothing can beat a quality product or service that speaks for itself combined with a trained staff that knows how to address a consumer’s needs- no matter how they choose to communicate.

“Arming employees with knowledge, guidelines, rules, objectives, and expertise and accordingly empowering them to participate on behalf of the brand and greater mission, creates an efficient, influential, and community focused organization that stays in sync with stakeholders.” Brian Solis, Engage!

Before you can create an army of consumers passionate about your brand or products, you have to start internally.  This means creating a quality product or service and testing it endlessly while simultaneously creating an army of trained employees passionate about your brand, the company and most importantly your customers.

The best way to mitigate a social media crisis is to create happy customers who have nothing to complain about.  This starts at the front line.  This starts at the bottom.