Glorifying Customer Service

Is social media just a waste of organisations' time? Should marketers be doing better things with


Is social media just a waste of organisations' time? Should marketers be doing better things with their time ... like booking TV ads?

Simon Young says social media requires a brand new skill set that is part call centre and part broadcast.

"Organisations will need to get more hyperlinked and more customer-centric."

* * *

Back in June, the National Business Review ran a Hazel Phillips’ column titled “Had Enough of Social Media”? (You can download a PDF of it here - thanks David!)

In a stinging polemic against the faddishness of social media, Hazel says social media is “highly time consuming, and turns marketing staff into glorified customer service representatives”.

Oh no. We can’t have that, can we? Marketers actually interacting with customers. Just imagine.

But Hazel has a point (one good point in the midst of a lot of misreading of what social media is all about). Time is the most difficult resource to manage. Ideally you want the right people spending the right amount of time on (this part’s important) the right things.

Are the right things TV ads? Database mailings? Market research? Social media? It depends. All of it depends on two things: the organisation’s objectives, and what’s going on in the world around us. It’s all very well to have a company objective and a strategy to achieve that, but if it doesn’t reflect reality, that objective won’t be worth much. It needs to reflect the context you’re operating in.

The thing that many organisations struggle with is that social media requires a brand new skill set. It’s part call centre (responding to customer queries and complaints, reflecting the brand’s values but putting a human face on it, having conversations in real time) and part broadcast (reaching large numbers of people, being publicly visible, needing storytelling talent to engage an audience). Previously, these skills - and the people with them - have been kept separate.

Marketing communications has largely focused on the telling part: “messaging” customers to drive a desired behaviour. Customer service has been seen as the cost centre, a fairly lowly part of the organisation. Sadly, call centre operators have been treated as replaceable parts, while the opposite is true - how many brands have been rescued by a single customer service rep who actually gave a damn?

Social media offers large organisations the opportunity to bring marketing and customer service closer together, and smaller organisations the opportunity to do customer service well without a call centre.

But it doesn’t happen automatically, and the status quo will not survive this change. That means that yes, job titles will need to change (my favourite is “tummler”) and maybe a few egos will be bruised. Organisations will need to get more hyperlinked and more customer-centric (in reality, not just in name). (David Armano has some pretty pictures on "social business design" which need quite some explaining, but worth persisting.) 

And ironically, it will often start in just one department - or with just one individual. For a whole organisation to want this transformation, they have to see it. So it takes foolhardy, courageous heroes who will ask for forgiveness rather than permission, to try something. In our courses, we try to make it as safe as possible, but in any organisation there is a feeling of risk - of facing the unknown.

But it’s a good feeling, facing the unknown. It’s far better than the alternative, being unprepared for the unknown. So here’s to the future - a future where marketers are, in the best sense of the word, glorified customer service representatives.

(Thanks to gadl for the photo, which reminds us that time is a precious resource)

Written by

sy social media consultancy

3 Aug 2010


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