I was recently asked to speak at a conference in Germany, on the subject of Social Customer Care, and that got me thinking about the subject, and about how I (and my team) approach the subject. What a great way to bring my blog back to life, right?

So what is this phrase “Social Customer Care” that is used as much as the term “Shit-storm”? Did I miss something, some web 2.0 (or even 3.0) trend that passed me by? Or is this part of the “Internet of Things” that is spreading itself across the world? I don’t think so… in my honest and very personal opinion, it’s a bubble. But before I get stoned by my colleagues and peers, let me explain why “social” is a good thing for me and the hundreds of thousands of people across the planet who deal with customers on a daily basis.

When I grew up, in the UK and in Spain, in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s – correct, I didn’t consider myself grown up until I was way over 20, and I’m still not 100% sure – people purchased items or services in person, or via catalogue. This was way before TV-Shopping. If you needed your car repaired, you went to the nearest garage, and unless you were quoted an astronomical price or the person you spoke to was generally insulting, then you got your car repaired there. If you happened to be at home when your car broke down, then you may have called a few garages from the Yellow Pages (remember how much those things weighed?) and gone for the cheapest/friendliest/nearest.

Or maybe you purchased some socks, or a pair of Levis jeans, or a Sanyo tape recorder from a catalogue. Remember Littlewoods or Kays, Otto or Quelle for the Germans amongst you? Even Argos was innovative in the 80’s because they opened brick and mortar stores with catalogues! Imagine that! Seriously, imagine that today… A company opens stores across the UK, and when you go in, there is maybe 3% of their stock visible… instead, you browse laminated versions of their catalogue, fill out a scrap of paper with a 12 digit item-id, go to the counter, the salesperson (seriously, they called them salesperson?!?) then disappears into the back room, and gets your purchase. How quaint!

I am wandering away from the subject… What is “Social Customer Care” and why are so many companies scared of it? There is no such thing. There you go, I said it out loud. It does not exist. What exists is your customers possibility to voice his opinion. If that scares you, you’re in the wrong job.

Back in the pre-internet days, if your customer purchased something from you, either an article or a service, and was unhappy, then he would have clarified the issue with you. Or tried to. If you were bad at your job back then, then you probably don’t like the internetnow, apart from surfing. There’s a saying in the business world, that a satisfied customer tells one to three people of his great experience, dissatisfied customers tell approximately 10. It’s about time this was updated, here’s my educated guess, with no empirical data to back it up:

A customer that had a negative experience (with your product/service) is ten times more likely to share his thoughts than a customer that had a good experience.

With the steadily increasing availability of social networks (Facebook, Twitter etc) as well as review sites (Yelp, Trip Advisor etc) and of course theme related forums, your customers can and will voice their opinions. And so they should. Every time that a complaint is made public, which wasn’t possible before the internet was publically available, you actually have an opportunity to promote your company/business. Fixing a problem publically is good advertising for you.

This post may seem somewhat negative, but that is not the goal, so let me try and word this differently. If you are responsible for Customer Care or Customer Satisfaction or NPS or a similar satisfaction related position, the internet offers you a chance to prove how good you are. In the past, you would have made one customer happy by solving an issue on the phone, via fax or snailmal, and that customer would have told up to three people.

Your customers can now openly voice their opinions, and the general public is listening, whether you like it or not. How you react will shape how the public opinion goes. If you have the scope within your position to ensure that customers are happy, whether they are vocal on the web or not, and you use that scope effectively and efficiently, then you do not need to fear a shit-storm.

In a nutshell: Take care of your customers and listen to and act on their feedback and complaints, and your “Social Customer Care” will be as beneficial to your company as Customer Care that isn’t public.