Brands take note: Online, customer service is all that matters

Mummy bloggers hold a lot of sway online. Like no other, the parenting blogger has a hugely supportive community of writers, all of them opinionated, and all of them with an audience of readers. In addition, they write about things that plenty of non bloggers want to understand better, like common parenting issues, and the best products to solve colic/reflux/teething/tantrums/sleep deprivation/bullying/etc,etc,etc… So we are often offered products to write about on our blogs.

Brands, no matter how cool their product is, live and die by what their customers say – amongst each other, and to potential markets not yet reached. Having worked in retail management B.K,* Mummy remembers all too well the customers who threw their weight around with threats – “I’m a CEO of a big company,” “I’m a journalist,” “I’m in the local WI,” or “I work for the Department of Health and can shut your business down.” It’s an arrogant approach, and smacks of bullying and ill-education, so she is loathe to do that when she has a problem with a product herself. She speaks to the provider in a measured fashion, and judges their credence as a brand on what happens next…

The journey of a customer complaint
Lets say you and your family visit a local pizza restaurant. They are busy, the service is slow, the food arrives cold, the wine is warm, the kids get fractious, and the special occasion is ruined.ย  You ask to see the Manager. Here is where the story splits:

Option A: The harrassed waiter says the manager is too busy to see you. You insist. You wait 15 minutes as your kids start mucking about and annoying other diners. The manager turns up, you start your list of complaints, he interrupts you to defend his situation. You try to keep your cool, but it’s not easy, he asks you to calm down or leave the premises, you ask what he’s prepared to do about your bad expericence and he denys it was all that bad. He claims you are being unreasonable. You leave, tell everyone you meet in the next 3 days about your disgust, and never return. The restaurant has conceded nothing, lost no profit from your actual visit, and chalks up a win.

Option B: The waiter apologises, explains that the manager is busy and offers you complimentary desserts while you wait. The manager eventually appears, apologises for the situation, explains that kitchen equipment is out of order and that staff have called in sick. He refunds the cost of your meal, and invites you to return another day at a 50% discount. On your return you are treated like royalty, the children are made a fuss of, and allowed to add their own toppings to their pizzas. You leave, a committed fan, and tell everyone you meet how great it was for weeks to come. Every time you return, he remembers you.

Social Sharing platforms are an essential place to get customer service right
Mummy’s work alter-ego recently delivered a social media training workshop to members of a business whose head office were reluctant to give them free rein with a Twitter account. She understands the dilemma – a desire to control what the public are saying about your product and avoid brand message dilution. This is Mummy’s red rag issue; as a retailer she believes all complaints about service should be embraced as an opportunity. An averagely satisfied customer may remain with you for years. A really impressed customer will champion your brand at no cost to you whatsoever. A great post this week on Creative Blogpool resonated and concurred with her; good customer service is free, and more effective than any kind of marketing initiative you could possibly create, no matter how many millions you spend.

Brands take note: How you handle a complaint dictates whether you gain a fan who will share your content with friends, or a confirmed avoider who will bad-mouth you at every opportunity. People are talking about you on social media platforms. Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest are powerful communities you can harness to spread your message for you, at no cost. But they can also bring you down!

How Tesco’s customer service let down a Mummy Blogger, and the business…
Recently Emily Leary, PR and Mummy blogger had cause to complain to Tesco. You can see the astonishing unfolding of events by clicking the link in this header, but suffice to say, it makes for a stupendous example of how businesses can get it so catastrophically wrong. Now, a cause for complaint is not unusual. Things go wrong – it is normal for even the best to fail occasionally. But how you deal with that initial error sees you triumphant or embarrassed. And how the blogging community embarrassed Tesco!

Here is how the sharing buttons on that post look today. Good for Emily, not so good for Tesco. But that’s not the last pixel in the picture. Due to the power of social media, and the community that she is part of, Emily’s Tesco post received 10,000 unique visits and 20,000 impressions on Twitter. One of her contacts, @Nickie72 retweeted the post; that tweet alone generated over 1000 visits to the story. Since then, Tesco and their shortfalls have been highlighted extensively in various media, including the PR Week revelation that they are the only UK supermarket to score negatively in terms of online sentiment.

Extra-special customer service…
Contrast the Tesco story with a post here on Mediocre Mum about her local toy shop, Cuthberts. A small business whose owner is active online and engages with customers and locals alike to develop online connections that yield him goodness knows how many referrals. If you click on only one link in my post, make it this one, and you will see how far some businesses are prepared to go in the pursuit of customer relations. As a result, people remember Cuthberts, know they will get what they need there, and recommend them extensively. PR executives and brand representatives may like to take note here:

Bloggers even write posts about them, with follow links, for nothing!

A new way of liasing with Mummy Bloggers is surely coming (*starts whole debate which will no doubt lead to another controversial post*) and brands need to be very aware of the power of social media in that relationship.

 

*BK – Before Kids

28 thoughts on “Brands take note: Online, customer service is all that matters”

  1. And the baffling thing about it all is that it’s just simple common sense – I think that’s why I get so annoyed when some companies get it so wrong!

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  2. Anyone remember Mary Portas Tv show about customer service, where she was a disguised mystery shopper, filmed her experience and fed back to HO? The CEO and other directors ALWAYS claimed to have great customer service, to have given their staff training, support and materials to offer the best customer service possible. Sad fact is, the staff, on the front line must have employer and brand loyalty themselves before any of it works. This is where brands fall down. Not in their mission statements, customer charters or training manuals, but in real life employees who are expected to deliver the brand whether that is face to face, on the phone or via social media.
    PS. Well said, Actually Mummy x

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    • Thank you, you are completely right. I just wonder what it is about british business that mostly cannot convey that passion to the front-line staff. I do wonder if we are too control freak to entrust people to use thier initiative

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  3. Great post, you’ve hit the nail on the head. And you’re so right, you shouldn’t have to mention that you’re a CEO/journalist/blogger/MP etc. to get good customer service or an apology when things go wrong. Like Mammasaurus said, a lot of it is common sense stuff

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  4. Great post! Really well written. Emily’s experience was really unfortunate with Tesco and they clearly had the opportunity to make it better. I think they have major communication issues both with their customers and internally. That’s why I too had to break up with them. Too much drama for me.

    You’re right though that all brands should take note – that the experience we have is often more important than the transaction itself. And – in general Customers are willing to work with the company on helping getting the problem fixed… Customers are telling companies what they need and want – they only have to listen.

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    • It is just so easy isn’t it??? Makes me wonder if people are blind! They seem to see it as some kind of competition

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  5. I couldn’t have said it better my self! (though I tried: http://mettemitchell.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/to-make-mistakes.html)
    Mx

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  6. It’s an odd thing reading this because not only am I a blogger but I also respond to consumer complaints as part of my job in a small company. I always try to go the extra mile. We often not only reimburse the cost but also visit the customer to bring them a gift of some products. The thing is when companies get too big to do that kind of thing, they employ more and more people and those people aren’t as invested in the brand or the business and the customer service tails off.

    If anything, as a result, I think it’s much harder to do customer service when you’re big, so if anything it shouldn’t be a surprise at all when the big guys get it wrong.

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    • But I wonder if it is head office beaurocracy or local apathy? I remember as a child, my parents suffered food poisoning. They checked the bin the next morning and found that the inside of a can of fruit was rusty. They called Tesco, where the tin was purchased, and by the afternoon there was a man from Tesco on our doorstep with a bag of goodies, including a cream cake. My mum bought that same cake every week for months from Tesco, and stayed with them until she moved and the local supermarket wasn’t Tesco. Really simple gestures produce such incredible loyalty!

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  7. It truly amazes me how companies can still handle situations so poorly. It is far easier to lose customers than gain them especially in this age of social media.

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    • Indeed, but it is actually easier to convert an averagely happy customer to a committed fan! So why wouldn’t they? Baffling! Thanks for commenting

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  8. Great post! I’m an English mum, but I live in Sydney.. its an intresting time to be blogging in Aus as brands are only just picking up on the power of the blogoshere!
    I’m a new follower via the Blow your own blog horn linky ๐Ÿ™‚
    Cx

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  9. Oh I missed this one when you wrote it. Great post and really interesting. Hope the companies are starting to take note.

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  10. Great post Actually Mummy! I completely agree and share your frustration. I had a stint in retail and worked in advertising/social media for a while and agree that brands need to take more notice of their customer service in social media. Lovely to meet you virtually btw ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply

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