Brand reputation. It’s something that’s talked about all the time, and something highly valued by companies. Being top-rated for satisfaction is something every company strives to achieve. One of the most essential pieces of a strong brand reputation comes from providing a quality experience that results in loyal, passionate fans. It is these individuals who provide great word-of-mouth marketing because of the devotion they feel to the brand, and these are the people who defend the brand in tough times. The Reputation Institute shows how consumers support reputable companies in its 2010 Global Reputation Pulse Study.
But what happens when someone has less than a high quality experience with a brand? What if employees have not been well-trained in customer service, forget a key piece of the training, or fail to use common sense? In today’s social media culture, people take to Facebook, Twitter, blogs and service/product review sites like Yelp to vent and share what happened.
An example: today, my friend David Neff had a bad experience with a chain restaurant in his hometown of Austin, Texas. You can read about it on Yelp. How do I know this? From his Facebook post. David is well-known in social media circles, and I bet it doesn’t take long before someone in a corporate position with the restaurant chain hears about what happened and about what he wrote. However, even if corporate tries to do the right thing, will that change David’s perception of the restaurant? What is the appropriate role for corporate to make right a situation that was handled poorly by the local restaurant? Clearly mending things with David would be helpful, but it seems that there also needs to be a strategy to improve the way the manager, and in turn the server, handles these situations on the spot. After all, had they provided a quality customer experience in the first place and resolved the problem, the outcome would have been different.
Poor customer service happens all too often. Another example: my brother and sister-in-law recently flew from Dallas to Atlanta for a weekend visit. They arrived at the airport early and asked the gate agent about taking an earlier flight. They were told that there were 14 seats available, but they’d have to pay $50 each to get on the flight. The plane came to Atlanta with 14 empty seats, and my brother has vowed to never fly the airline again if he can help it. If the gate agent had waived the fee and let them board the plane, my brother would be telling a very different tale.
It is nice to see companies get recognized for good service. A tweet earlier today tipped me off to a letter that Doug Ulman, the LIVESTRONG CEO, sent to Southwest Airlines to commend them for the treatment of their customers. This is the kind of praise that anyone who works in customer service – or in brand reputation management – would like to see.
Communicators who are active in social media have a key role to play in helping companies evolve their customer service. While there are plenty of examples of companies that are using social media to engage in customer support, there are many others – both for-profit and non-profit – that seem reluctant to jump into social media or are unsure of how to best utilize it.
Social media has clearly impacted brand reputation management. However, I strongly believe that quality customer service is equally important in on-site interactions as it is in online spaces. I often wonder if companies have become customer-service oriented in online venues at the expense of providing a good experience in the first place. Is it easier to resolve a problem while looking at a computer screen rather than at the individual? What companies do you think are getting it right by providing good service in online and offline venues?