May 242010

Social Media: the Next 800 Number?

At RKG's 3rd Annual Client Summit, Josh Greene of 1-800 Pack Rat delivered a terrific talk on Social Media outlining the advantages of a well-done program, some tips for doing it well, as well as some of the headaches involved with going social.

We'll share more of Josh's thoughts in a later post, along with tidbits from our other outstanding speakers.

There are many different components of social media, so I'm limiting my commentary here to social media as a vehicle for communicating with customers.

Whom does this really benefit? At first blush, the benefits fall primarily to the consumer. No longer do customers have to call a service center to report a problem, or fill out a form online; just shout out your complaint on Twitter or Facebook and the social media monitors will come riding to the rescue. The first few times it happens, people are blown-away and impressed...thereafter it's expected.

Enhanced ease of communication certainly helps businesses as well. Product and service reviews can be tremendously helpful provided the firm has resources dedicated to gleaning actionable information from those reviews. And, businesses would rather hear complaints they'd otherwise miss and have a chance to rectify problems rather than losing a customer silently with no explanation.

Like a great many issues, though, the question is: do those benefits outweigh the cost of monitoring? Right now, certainly yes. Those firms who can execute a social media communication strategy comprehensively and with follow through will stand out from the crowd.

I wonder though, is this just another 1-800 number for businesses? Those of us with grey hair remember that in the 1970's, companies that had a toll free number gained a significant competitive advantage over companies that required customers to make a long-distance call. That competitive advantage was short-lived as every other company followed suit, and pretty soon the toll-free number was simply an expectation that cost companies money without, perhaps, generating additional sales.

On the other hand: maybe every time we make it easier to communicate we eliminate friction and grease the skids for future revenue. Perfect ability to react to each of our customer's thoughts of the moment might lead to material incremental business.

I suppose, like any other aspect of customer service, the ability to "spoil one's customers" is just one more way a business can differentiate itself from its competitors, and perhaps customers will be willing to pay a bit more for that benefit.



5 Responses to "Social Media: the Next 800 Number?"
What an interesting idea. I can see where social media does draw comparisons to an 800 number. Being that it is free and an easy to use way of getting through to some sort of machine. I think it is a very fair question to ask.
John says:
Social media is an efficient and responsive method of communication right now because it is new and not yet broadly used by the consumers. So right now the ones who do use it are able to get great service. But there are costs associated with the service just as there are with phone calls. Continuing your 800-number comparison, as it is more broadly adopted and the cost to service the requests rise, will we get longer "on hold" times (anybody remember trying to call an 800 support number in the late '90s?) and eventually the computer equivalent of phone trees and automated responders which try to avoid allowing you to communicate with an actual human (how about talking to your credit card company in the early '00s)? The overall cost may be lower now since bandwidth costs less than phone time, but the labor cost to service the requests isn't really that much different.
This is analogous to the Red Queen-- always running faster just to stay in the same place. Pretty soon going social may not be a choice any longer, but simply a part of survival.
Thanks for your comments, gentlemen, it sounds like I'm not totally crazy, at least in this case :-)


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