Many of us can recall a story about poor customer service that went viral on the Internet. (Think United Airlines and guitars, or Federal Express and computer monitors.) These negative stories have become legends. Unfortunately, we don’t find as many stories going viral about outstanding quality service.

In addition to these legendary stories are more day-to-day examples of how online information has changed the face of service. Nearly every company, product or service has information and opinion about it circulating on the Internet. This includes a wide range of commentary on the level of service and service experiences you provide. And it may even include outside sources, completely unknown to you, who provide service for your products.

I encountered this recently when trying to solve a problem with a technical device. I looked for a solution on the company’s support website, but there were only simple “how-to’s” for using the product – and very little about solving issues when the product was not working. Then I did a wider web search and found a multitude of helpful resources – but none from the company itself.

These outside resources quickly helped me solve the problem – awesome!  But in the process I also learned how frequently others had encountered the same problem, what new or lurking problems I might run into, and the frustrations many users had experienced when getting repairs or replacements.  I also found a thorough review of competitive products that were serving users better. I chose to keep the device I have, but I did seriously consider exchanging it for a competing product.

The service I received from sources outside the company was fantastic. I solved my problem and learned a lot along the way.  Why couldn’t the company have done the same thing? Solving problems is an ideal opportunity to build greater loyalty and educate customers. We cannot control everything that is said on the Internet about us, but we can offer a compelling online service structure and service message.

I decided to check two other companies where I am a customer – a bank and a furniture maker. I tried to find answers to service questions I have had in the past to see which was more effective – the companies’ websites or information available elsewhere on the internet. To its credit, the bank had a robust help site and much to offer through a site-specific search. (And I did learn about some new fees I was not previously aware of!) The furniture store’s online support was basic but it was fascinating the number of other sites with positive reviews and even better “how-to” instructions than the company offered itself.

So what to read lessons have I learned, and what can you apply?

1. Service mindset and service attitude are experienced electronically, and not just in person. Many companies concentrate their service improvement efforts on in-person or over-the- phone communications but may not realize the full impact of the online mediums. You may have the best service people in the business but if your error messages and support sites are too technical or unfriendly it may not matter. You may have the best service guarantees in your industry but if users are finding all the answers they need from other users on the web it may not matter.

2. It is vital to keep your help website, FAQs and customer forums current. Continually updating these resources to address the most current enquiries, issues and concerns will keep customers on your site and in your care, and not give them a reason to look elsewhere.

3. Provide useful education for customers as you help them solve their problems. Providing solutions and adding more value in the process generates greater loyalty.

4. Use a range of online media to connect and support your customers. This includes your websites, social media, YouTube, chat and electronic support documentation. Discover where your customers congregate online and meet them there.

5. Create online videos that are service-oriented, user-friendly, and helpful for your customers. Video is the fastest growing area of content on the Internet. It’s a vibrant medium that easily goes viral. It’s where you want to be useful, visible, and engaging.

6. Pay attention to what your customers are saying on other websites. Search regularly. When you see a problem trend or major service issue being discussed, add your voice to help address it.  Acknowledging problems, apologizing and offering a fix are far better than ignoring the issue. (This is how Federal Express quickly turned a negative viral video into a public relations opportunity.)

7. When you see someone else providing better service for your product than you are, learn from it!  When “power-users” offer sound advice online, incorporate it! Seek permission to add their comments to your own, appreciating their contribution and creating a richer and more fulfilling experience for everyone.

You cannot control all the information about your company, your services and your products on the Internet. But by paying attention to how you and your customers communicate online, you can upgrade your service and keep your customers loyal. Positive service stories may not be the stuff of legendary viral videos, but the service you provide online can become the source of many positive solutions.

2 replies
  1. Dan Haygeman
    Dan Haygeman says:

    Nicely written article, Jeff

    You asked, probably rhetorically, “Why couldn’t the company have done the same thing?” (That is, giving the quality of support and service that you found through other, third party, providers.)

    I have a current experience that answers that question. My wife, Nancy, bought me a long-awaited remote controlled helicopter for Christmas just two months ago. The machine is a delight! I looks cool, it flies amazingly, it is stunningly engineered, weighing less than an ounce, the packaging is carefully designed as a storage and carrying case and is completely alluring, the batteries are amazing new technology, and their email customer support only lags a few days but provides accurate help.

    The issue is the manual. Not only is it poorly written, it gives redundant information, is missing clarifications that are important when flying, and generally makes the proud owner question whether this was a good idea.

    So why couldn’t they make the manual say as much for the product quality as the packaging or product design?

    I believe they could have, but they did not because they were blind to the possibility of doing so. The story I made up is that all or most of the key players in this company are engineers. Probably the notion of spending the sort of money it would take to have a well written manual shows up as completely ridiculous. . . “The manual is just a legal document that contains all the disclaimers; anyone competent enough to fly this thing will figure it out without reading.” I’ll bet an engineer would have difficulty seeing that some otherwise intelligent novices who want to fly this thing are going to REALLY NOTICE the manual as they work to wade into a whole new domain.

    So that is my story: they can’t do it because they can’t see that it matters, and resources being finite, lets spend them on what really matters, the product: from concept, to design, to prototype, to production, to packaging, to distribution. . .and, “Oh yeah, I guess we need a manual”.
    Dan H.

  2. Andrea
    Andrea says:

    Jeff… you are absolutely correct. The power of social media cannot be overlooked. Technology has created the ability for one single annoyed customer to alert thousands of potential or current customers at the stroke of a computer key.

    I took to the social media sites recently on a rant, over a really poor piece of service from one of the major parcel delivery services. They must do a good job of watching – or else it was just coincidence, but either way, I received a phone call, and a fantastic service recovery within an hour. GREAT stuff!

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