Social Support: Companies Are Teaching Customers To Yell At Their Friends

Update: I polled my microblogging network on which brands have supported them on Twitter, see which brands have ‘taught’ their customers to yell at their friends.

Recently, I started teaching puppy Rumba tricks beyond the basic sit and stay, I even made a video. How do I do it? I show him the move, then praise and reward him once it’s done. Repeat, over and over. Although customers aren’t dogs, (save for Purina and Dogster), we’re slowly training our customers that if they want better customer support, that they should say it loudly and in public –thereby influencing their friends.

[As companies accelerate their social support efforts, responding to customers in public reinforces the behavior of complaining to everyone they know]


An Increase In Companies Providing Social Support
The most notable example is ComcastCares who is more responsive to customers using Twitter than on the phone. Secondly, the recent customer service flareup reported by popular blogger Dooce forced the Whirlpool to respond to her when she wasn’t satisfied with support from the call center. BestBuy launched Twelpforce, a way for its thousands of employees to answer questions from anyone that has a problem. Want more examples? See these recent examples for B2C and B2B.

Three Opportunities For Companies To Evolve Customer Support
This isn’t just about rise of social tools, in fact, customers have had bad experiences before. The difference? Their voices were just limited to those they could tell in physical proximity. Rather than think of this as a threat, companies should see this as three distinct opportunities:

  1. Fix the root issues, beyond the customer vocalizations. Looking deeper, this isn’t about social technologies, it’s really an indicator that the support systems within these companies are deficient. In many cases, customers try the standard support effort, hit a wall, then seek other avenues for self-venting, help, or just sheer observations of their frustrations.
  2. Transform your support processes and go where customers are.Companies should continue to support customers on the mediums that they’re using (like social sites and soon mobile), as they are unlikely to change their existing behavior of being social and telling friends about their life and work experiences. Expect companies to grapple with outsourced crowdsupport in GetSatisfaction, UserVoice, Facebook Groups, Yahoo Answers, and community bulletin boards.
  3. Evolve your support systems to connect with the modern marketplace. Expect a rash of social CRM features, companies and solutions to appear that connect existing call systems, knowledge boards, and customer databases with the public web –closing the gap that was once the firewall.

In the end, there will be hundreds of companies that won’t care what customers think, or have their margins squeezed to tightly they can’t afford to innovate and may suffer the fate of any organism that doesn’t evolve in a changing environment. This is an easy fix: their competitors will listen in, and poach their unsatisfied customers.

Update: Jennifer Leggio extends the conversation, and sees the same trend