The customer experience is the next competitive battleground

Word Count: 636 approx

Type: Magazine Feature, National Business Magazine

Headline: The customer experience is the next competitive battleground


Providing customer service online in the form of community management—or whatever buzz word it’s called these days—is really not that complicated. It’s just like providing customer service off-line with one exception. Everything you say is recorded for all time.

What is a customer? A customer is anyone your business has a relationship with. This includes suppliers, contractors, team members, employees, stakeholders and of course, the general public. Everything about your business is for the customer. Jan Carlzon (ex-CEO of the SAP group) once said that “If you’re not serving the customer, your job is to be serving someone who is.” And that’s the gosh-dang truth of it. Your customer service efforts must be consistent across the scope of all of these customers, and throughout all levels of your organization. You must provide stellar customer service. Even to the customers you wish would go away.  Especially to the customers you wish would go away.

In moderating social communities for clients, I get asked A LOT to remove someone because the client doesn’t like the comment/question/remark. I explain, this is not the nature of customer service—online or off.  There are exceptions of course, for instance if someone is abusive, provides personal information on a team member, spams you with their links to sexy singles, or cusses you out like Oprah fed up with Lindsay Lohan’s antics. But, the reality is, you can’t please everyone all the time. It’s the nature of business. This is lost on the general population when it comes to their personal needs and wants. Social sites have made it really easy for folks to gripe publicly when their emotions are high and tempers are flaring. And this is the moment that requires the greatest amount of customer service. It’s an opportunity to be awesome.

One of my clients has been having some trouble with an ex-employee who (after more than a year after his departure) is still ranting his blues online—and in every forum he can click through. Since we don’t own social sites, and stifling someone’s “voice” is a huge no-no, what do you do? Be awesome!

Providing service to customers online can be an intricate web of fast-moving parts. And this is where your experience with customers come into play. Sometimes a troll is just a troll. See if for what it is, and do your best to ignore it. Trolls are looking for reactions. They want something from you. Don’t give it to them. But an ex-employee is more than a troll. It is someone who spent their day-to-day inside your business and has a parting message to give. If that employee doesn’t feel that they’ve been “heard” then the ranting will continue until such time that they do. The ratio of the ongoing problem is relative to the size of their audience versus their emotional investment. You may think that it’s an unjustified lashing out over spilled milk. But I assure you, there is more to it than that. Underneath the anger and company bashing… is hurt. And you know what? It’s never too late to acknowledge and listen. Really listen.

Instead of reaching out to silence the hysteria with a cease-and-desist from the legal team, why not invite the ex-employee to a meeting where he/she can be heard? It’s important to be apologetic, genuine and acknowledge that they feel wronged in the ask. Value the insights that this ex-team member can provide. It’s possible that there are/were legitimate concerns and allowing yourself to be open and vulnerable to the anger might just give the ex-team member the opportunity to heal, and give your business the opportunity to grow—and be awesome while you’re at it. Bill Gates knows that “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”