Does social media give people unreasonable expectations?

Not so long ago if you had a question for, or a problem with, a company you had a few recourses:

  1. Call their 800 number
  2. Write them a letter
  3. Visit their store/office
  4. Complain to the BBB (which is essentially pointless, let’s be honest)

And it used to be that a person who has a good experience tells 3 people, but someone with a bad experience tells 10 (or something like that).

But now that’s all been flipped on its head.

One upset consumer couldn’t really affect things that much. Maybe they tell a few friends but really, that’s about it. Now though, with the social amplification powers of blogs, Facebook, Twitter and all the rest, every complaint becomes a crisis management exercise.

I’m not going to talk about the power or value of social media as customer service (for that, check out Josh Bernoff’s new book Empowered, which I had the privilege of peer-reviewing before it was published), but rather what that empowerment has done to consumer expectations.

Example: A consumer posts on a brands Facebook page at 7pm on a Saturday night with a question. 17 hours later when no reply has been received (on a Sunday afternoon), that customer posts again saying “You didn’t respond. I thought this was your job.”

Does this person really deserve a reply – on a Sunday afternoon? Is that a reasonable expectation? 15 years ago, if you had a question for an international company and wanted to get your question answered on a weekend you were out of luck (excluding some industries like airlines, credit cards, etc). But now, because this person’s comments are going to be out there for all the world to see, should companies be staffing people around the clock to answer questions 24-7?  At what cost? What premium would you be willing to pay on the products/services you use in order to ensure that someone is checking their Facebook page all night on the weekends (and don’t forget how much people hate outsourced customer service, so it had better be an American replying to those wall posts)?

I (obviously) love social media. I love that it connects consumers and brands in ways never before seen. I love that it allows collaboration between consumers, marketers and brands. But I think as consumers we need to be realistic about what these companies “owe” us in social media.

Brands need to be listening, but consumers need to be patient.

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About Ezra Englebardt
Account planner, digital nerd, marketing guru, tweeter, facebooker, occasional blogger, cyclist, snowboarder, mountain biker, social media junkie and avid reader. CU-Boulder and Boston College alum. Frequent guest speaker in Boston-area universities.

One Response to Does social media give people unreasonable expectations?

  1. wendy says:

    Certain members of my family used to have pissing contests over who got the best of a company’s customer service department – the bigger refund, the free replacement, the friendliest service,etc. Some of the stories are truly legendary, like when my grandma successfully returned a 30 year old clock radio to Sears and received a modern replacement. Or, as you know, when my father returned a bad melon to Whole Foods without even having said melon in hand. It takes a lot of determination, shrewdness, and yes, a good amount of cheapness, to achieve results like that. I find that kind of effort to be truly worthy of congratulations, awe, disbelief, and maybe even a bit of delighted disgust. These days, complaining to a “customer service rep,” most often the company’s underpaid, untrained intern, to receive reimbursement or apology may make things easier for the masses. But in my mind, it carries very little of the swagger of the old-fashioned interactions between company and customer that required some level of skill from both parties.

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