zombies

I’ve spent most of my career in sales and marketing and have been fairly obsessive about customer satisfaction. But it occurred to me that some of my long-held beliefs about keeping customers happy have expired. Social media zombies have turned the world of service upside-down. Maybe it’s time to take a new look …

How the rules have changed

A few years ago, I was in charge of re-inventing a customer service department for a large company. During the process I searched for all the help I could get from experts and published best practices. The most important paper I found came from the University of Michigan Business School. They studied the cost versus benefit of trying to achieve “100% customer satisfaction” and came up with two important conclusions:

1) The cost of satisfying most customers is very low. Most people simply want to be acknowledged and assured that the problem is being addressed. Just good, normal business, right?

2) The other conclusion was that less than 2 percent of your customers are probably “haters” who will never be satisfied no matter what you do. They will try to “game you” for more goodies, harass you even if you respond, and just be an annoying pain in the patootie because that is how they get attention.

zombies 2The researcher’s conclusion was that in most cases, it is economically unwise to try to shoot for 100 percent customer satisfaction because an inordinate amount of your resources will be tied up in that difficult 2 percent. The implication is — go ahead and lose them because they are too expensive to maintain.

Unfortunately that advice is probably no longer valid because in an era where every person can publish, post, and tweet. The haters may very will control the conversation. They don’t go away. They attack, attack, attack …. like social media zombies.

You can no longer ignore them. Every business needs a solution for that 2 percent they used to be able to ignore.

Neutralizing your zombies by keeping your house in order

If you have reliable products and good customer service, you’re probably not going to be getting scads of zombies hating you on the web. A study I completed for a large company in the hospitality industry showed that .02 percent of their Facebook comments were negative – that is two hundredths of a percent. Hardly anything to lose sleep over and that is fairly typical if you have your house in order.

But what if you DON’T have your house in order?

One of the themes of this blog over the years has been the importance of establishing a company culture that can support the openness and responsiveness required by the social web. That is not always easy.

Another one of my clients has been paralyzed by fear over the possibility of negative comments. They were so fearful in fact that their competitors were zooming by them and their investors were getting frantic. They brought me in to help figure out a strategy.

I spent the first day trolling around their customer service department. This was the heart of the company and I needed to learn how the customers connected to them and if there were potential opportunities for solving customer problems through a social media strategy.

What I found shocked me.

Creating your own zombies

The service center was highly efficient and skilled at handling customer inquiries until there was a serious problem. If a complaint was escalated to a supervisor, the customer waited on hold an average of 10 minutes and it was not unusual for people to wait 30 minutes or more if they did not abandon the call! Perhaps before the days of the social web, a company could get away with this, but in this era, every angry customer waiting on hold is a potential zombie. What do you think they are going to do while they are waiting all that time? Complain on Facebook!

My advice was for this company to do nothing about starting their Facebook page until they could address this serious customer service issue, which they did.

98% is not good enough

Another customer of mine had introduced a new product and it became a sensation. The company was aggressively adding capacity and working like mad to keep the shipments going. They were proud that under the circumstances of overwhelming growth, they had achieved a 98 percent on-time shipping performance.

zombies 3Is that good enough?

The company was shipping 2 million units per month. If 2 percent of the shipments were late, that means 40,000 people were unhappy. According to the university study I referred to, about 2 percent of those dissatisfied customers will be “haters” who receive some psychological benefit from making a company miserable. That means they were creating 800 new zombies …. every month!

You would expect that a lot of these haters would start venting about their late shipments on Facebook and Twitter.

And that is exactly what happened.

They complained and complained and complained. It was ugly. The social media undead kept battering them relentlessly, wave after wave. The company became so overwhelmed by online complaints that their customer service department could not keep up, which made it even worse. Within a few weeks, the Facebook page had become a cesspool. My advice? Shut it down, solve the shipment problem, and build a customer service strategy that could handle the toxic 2 percent.

This is a big deal … and expensive

This is the new reality of our world. Even five years ago, the University of Michigan professors were probably still correct. But today, there is little room for error, isn’t there? Even a few dissatisfied customers can hijack a brand conversation. Even serving “reasonable” customers is a challenge. Social Habit research discovered that people expect brands to respond to a social media complaint within an hour, 24 hours a day.

Are you ready for that?

It seems to me there are vast implications for zombie-proofing your business in this environment, What are you seeing? Are costs going up? Customer expectations? How are you adjusting?

Illustration: Edited version of Fanboys versus Zombies magazine

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