[I am preparing a larger series of articles on Strategic Communications. That work has sections on crisis and customer communications as a part of a core strategy. Working on that project made this topic spring to mind and I decided to not wait and deliver this little snippet now.]
If you have made your living in any aspect of the technology industry, you know that service and support are key. Where the industries of yesterday treat customer service and support as a lamentable overhead cost, we know that it is as important as delivering a high quality product or service.
Said frankly, people will forgive small bugs and inconveniences from time to time, but they will not forgive you quickly or easily for delivering a bad customer service experience.
Over my career I have worked for a customer service software company, been in charge of customer support and service teams, implemented service programs and solutions at the corporate level, and written who-knows-how-many KB articles, case studies, and user tips. Heck, on busy days I have even strapped on the ubiquitous headset and manned a desk with the professional agents. Almost as importantly, I have been a consumer of customer service and support for personal and now professional reasons as I run Art of the Message.
The point is that I have seen a lot of approaches over the last decade or so, and narrowly avoided making the same big mistake that I have now seen dozens of tech companies still making every day. I even witnessed how one of the largest players in the hosting space did millions of dollars worth of damage to their organization by making this one mistake.
Technology is like bacon
In technology, we correctly lean toward technology solutions. Not only does this play into our strengths, our experience has also been that technology solutions create many efficiencies. If you are a tech-geek/nerd you think of technology like bacon … it makes everything better, and more of it is even better still.
This over-reliance — let’s call it “faith” — in technology creates lots of issues for tech companies, including things like over-automation and distance. But both of these pale compared to the biggest mistake … using Social Media to deliver service and support.
I can hear some of you yelling at me already
The concept that using Social Media as a support channel is a "mistake" is heresy in some circles! After all:
Isn’t Social Media just a technology-driven channel?
Isn’t it just one more way to connect with your customers?
We have our Social Media feeds funneled through our support platform, so that's different, right?
What about all those studies that say customer loyalty is built by allowing customers to contact you in the way that they feel most comfortable? Doesn’t Social Media make them feel comfortable?
Sure … all that is true, more or less. But if you are using one or more Social Media platforms as a point of initial or primary contact for service and support you are actually operating at great risk.
Let’s create a hypothetical case
Let’s say you have services running on 100 cloud nodes and each node serves 100 customers for a total of 10,000 customers. The data center is notified that a critical issue has developed affecting one node. There is no time for a maintenance window or notice. Let’s examine the potential issues.
Issue #1 - Perception
Almost instantly, some subset of those 100 customers will be posting “site down” messages to your Facebook page. They will keep coming back to your Facebook page for information and posting the question, “Any updates on this?” Each time they ask for an update their post is pushed back to the top of your timeline ... mulitplied by 100 customers. No matter how quickly you restore that node, every customer who follows you on Facebook (or Twitter, or whatever) will see this relatively minor issue as a major network interruption as each customer posts and refreshes many times.
Think you can hide and delete posts on the fly? No one is that fast. They could also be receiving email notifications when you post, which makes deleting problematic. And besides, deleting posts can be seen as deceptive.
Issue #2 - Contagion
Even customers who are not on the problem cluster can “assume” that they need to check in on it and then blame you for anything that is wrong with their site or service. The more people who see other people having issues, the more the can become concerned and convinced that they are having issues too. I have seen customers reference network issues in completely different datacenters in their assumption that they are being impacted by a known issue hundreds of miles away.
The issue becomes a psychological contagion … and like a hypochondriac watching a medical show on TV, potentially hundreds of customers will be certain that their bad website code or poor showing in Google Analytics is caused by your crappy infrastructure … all in the time it takes your tech to swap a few drives.
Issue #3 - Limitation
If you (or anyone) posts too many times in one 24-hour period, it will be assumed that you are a spammer or that your social page has been hacked. You could be throttled or cut off.
For example, Twitter allows 2400 tweets per day, but they count semi-hourly. This includes retweets and replies (it used to be 1000 per day). That means that if there is an outage, you will only be able to respond to 50 per 1/2 hour on average. Direct messages (DMs) are still limited to 1000 per day total. If you are using a Social Media automation platform, there are limits there too that vary depending on whether it uses a REST API or not.
The larger your base, the greater the risk. The point is, it doesn’t matter how many resources you throw at your social media account during an outage when a throttle kicks in. And when it does, your customers will think you have become unresponsive and talk amongst themselves while you wait out the clock.
Remember in the lead-in to this article I mentioned that one of the largest hosting companies in the world lost millions of dollars because of this mistake? This exact thing happend to them.
Issue #4 - Documentation
Have you ever tried to find a specific tweet on a specific topic from a few weeks ago in a busy Social Media timeline or feed? Perhaps the second biggest mistake that tech companies make is NOT using a professional ticketing system to data mine their operations for revenue, trends, and troubleshooting their systems and networks. But that is a different article all together.
Issue #5 - Continuation
That big issue with the hosting company I keep referring to was about three years ago, and to this day I can pull up their Social Media feeds and screen grab all of the crazed, screaming customers that buried their pages. Bloggers and the industry media were doing just that for months on end — referencing the outage and quoting the angry customer base. And certain, more callous competitors were mining it for their own Social Media and email marketing campaigns.
Social Media is wide open and permanent. Running a professional support operation on it is like casting your dirty laundry in bronze and placing it in the town square. If someone wants the dirt on your company, we all know where to look.
Issue #6 - Contention
There are software tools out there that can mine all manner of information from various Social Media accounts. If you have “trained” your customers to come to you on social media when they have a problem, you must assume that your competitors have this information. They can even reach out to your recently dis-satisfied customers through the same social media channel you are trying to support them through. All Social Media platforms are in the advertising business these day, and directing all of your customers to that channel directs them into the advertising range of their targeted.
You want happy, satisfied customers posting to your Social Media pages and "liking" your links and memes. You want customers with issues to open support tickets.
Solution … yes
There are lots of ways to use Social Media channels as a part of your overall customer service and crisis communications strategy. But using them as a primary path of interaction is not one of them. In fact, it might be the biggest mistake you can make. Some companies have learned this important lesson, many have not.
If you are looking for a more detailed explanation, want help in creating a strategy or crisis plan, or if you need to find a way to get your customers to gently transfer "migrate" from Social Media support to a better way, send me a note … it’s what we do and we’re happy to help.