When Social Media Collides With Plumbers’ Customer Service

From Media Vine Marketing

There are still so many companies that allowed the social media revolution to pass them by. I am having regular conversations with a variety of business owners from solo lawyers and insurance brokers to start-ups, mid-sized companies and larger corporations.

For all intents and purposes, we are in the post social media era. Social media marketing is now part of the larger marketing mix, and it’s here to stay.  What that means is that companies must engage all customer-facing services and orient employees to what social media is all about. I’m talking about impression here; what first impression is your company sending to prospects who engage your company verbally?

  • How is your company projecting its brand via good old website marketing, search engine marketing and social media marketing?
  • Does your company website have good navigation and information about the products you’re offering for sale?
  • Is your site optimized so search engines can crawl your information and inform potential customers about your products?
  • Do you have the necessary social media icons on your site so people can connect with you on social media channels (or the interwebz, as they’re now known)?

Yes, yes, yes, and yes? Awesome.

Here’s the kicker…think about your frontline customer service team and those who answer phones. Are you extremely satisfied with your representatives tasked with selling to social media savvy consumers? If you’re still confused about what I’m getting at, let me tell you a story about what happens when customer service collides with, in this case, plumbers’ customer service.

My hot water heater is 10-years-old, and rather than wait for an emergency, I decided to be smart and buy one before a crisis. Knowing nothing, I began web research for local plumbers from which I could buy and install.

I learned a little and selected a plumbing company that had a decent website with Facebook icons, testimonials and simple navigation. Armed with my information gleaned from a Google search on “how to buy a hot water heater,” I dialed.

To my chagrin, the man who answered the phone was chewing cud, he had a sleepy drawl that was anything but professional. He said, “huh? huh?” every time I spoke. After repeating myself a number of times, I asked my final question, “Do you carry XX brand of water heater because your website says you do?” And, the coup de grace…”nope, but we can order it.”

I went to Lowe’s.

This is the absolute missing link. Companies are doing a great job impressing upon consumers that they are social media savvy. What’s wrong? The disconnect arises when consumers engage with companies and the customer service teams fail to live up to basic marketing standards. When the website and social media channels indicate a company is savvy, there is an expectation that customer service should meet or exceed that standard.

Here are a few pointers to consider if your company is falling into a collision trap:

  • Encourage (read require) all employees to read, learn, and recall the company’s website when a customer is on the phone.
  •  Messaging is critical for anyone on the frontlines, and this platform needs to be shared with those in social media as well as in customer service.
  •  Train company employees, especially those responsible for customer service, to be knowledgeable about social media and what happens. Teach them how new leads come in!
  •  Get back to the basics with phone etiquette and customer service. That plumbing company lost my business forever (the man on the phone told me $1000 to buy and install a hot water heater; that price wasn’t even close to what I paid.)
  •  Consumers now have an expectation; they want high-end customer service to MATCH the impression a company gives on its website, SEO and social media channels. When that fails, prepare your customer service teams to know more than a customer about your company’s products.

I know there are many companies doing this well; got any stories to share?

 

 

16 comments
lauraclick
lauraclick

You are so right with this, Jayme. Companies can have the best marketing and social media presence in the world, but if they over-promise and under-deliver, they will lose every time. This is why training and communication is so darn important. I hope more companies get this message!

ShakirahDawud
ShakirahDawud

You know what I liked most? How you put "good old website marketing, search engine marketing and social media marketing?" Good old. Indeed. I just want to add that because it's now such a casual thing, it's all the more likely to be foiled--the same way all other marketing is--by customer service.

robbunting
robbunting

Great post Jayme and some excellent comments from others. While several great (and completely valid) points have been made regarding the importance of being consistent in customer service and commitment to social media engagement, to me the bigger issues are CARING, and WANTING TO INTERACT. Does the business really care about their customers and in doing a great job, or are they just interested in making the sale? Does the business want to have a working relationship with their customers and provide helpful information to potential customers (even if it costs them a sale, such as saying "actually Ms. Soulati, your water heater might not need to be replaced yet) or does the business just want to get paid regardless of the level of service they provide? To me, if a business doesn't want to interact and engage with people on Facebook, Twitter or over the phone, maybe they should not be in that business in the first place.

New England Multimedia
New England Multimedia

I wanted to share a great customer service story about an auto repair and tire business who was killing it last summer with their social media campaign, relationship-building, and website. I was going to name names and drive traffic there, too! Sadly, it appears someone else has taken over their social media management and totally dropped the ball. There's zero evidence of a social media MARKETER at work. It breaks my heart, because they were so amazing last summer, I was going to write up a blog post about everything they were doing right. They even got our business. They did everything right.

Adam | Customer Experience
Adam | Customer Experience

This is a really interesting post Jayme, because it is so opposite the typical small business. Usually with SMB, they don't have the polished social media/ web presence that reflects their core business well. Here, you had the inverse, a slick web presence backed up by an organization (or at least an employee) that did not live up to the promise of what you saw online.

As @ccallanan mentioned, the idea of congruity is important, and as you point out, the setting of expectations and the subsequent relation of those expectations to performance is key. I like to look at this process holistically, which is to say your social media/web presence is but the first step in a total customer experience.

Great customer service story! Now, make sure you save that other one for me. :)

ccallanan
ccallanan

This post raises the very important issue of congruity. Businesses' social media approaches, marketing approaches, business plans, values, and actions should ideally be congruous. I see this in the legal field all the time. Small firms feel the need to get on to social media (rightfully so), but without a plan and making sure the communications and accessibility online match how you do business, it makes me wonder: is it better to not be on social media at all if you are not ready for it (and just own it), or to be on social media and have a disjointed approach or experience for your consumer.

Neicolec
Neicolec

Very good point, Jayme. I think you're absolutely right. I think every employee should understand the marketing messaging, key assets, and overall strategy. Every employee is a marketer and also a customer service rep. But companies need to provide them with both the information necessary and a sense of urgency.

I'll bet this smaller company paid someone to do their website a while back, and has mostly forgotten about the website since. And I would be surprised if they paid someone to set up their social sites, too, and bought some Facebook fans, and have largely neglected, it now. Maybe posting once a day. An FB page has become just another checkbox in the "web presence" list. It doesn't mean much, these days.

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR moderator

 @ShakirahDawud So sorry to have missed this and you, Shakirah! Thanks for saying.

 

When things become rote...they also become forgotten or sloppy. Companies need to uphold all touch points and especially the frontline interactions that are LIVE and uncontrolled.

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR moderator

@robbunting Woah. How traditional of you! ;-) Great reminder, Rob, that caring (with a bit of passion, might I add?) comes first! One would think a plumber kinda needs new leads and when one calls from a PPC campaign who is hot to buy (or, gasp, be told you have time to wait, Lady), would be handled with some TLC. Great to have you here, Rob! We should catch up soon!

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR moderator

@New England Multimedia That is a frustration for you and them, I'm sure. I wonder if anyone tracked the analytics from last summer to see how much business they got compared with Q1 of this year? It seems someone has to know there's a huge difference and it's a problem for their business?

I spoke to a 20 group of Auto Collision Repair Facility business owners re social media a few years back. They are ripe for our services, and there are so many doing it poorly. But, as said in the comments here...if your business isn't ready with a solid marketing foundation, then don't jump into social media!

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR moderator

@Adam | Customer Experience@ccallanan Sorry, Adam, this one just came out last night as I was trying to write something totally different! I know I can repurpose this one for you, too, and say it differently. I do have the other one all set to edit again and send over; it's all yours!

Not so sure the website was "slick" that I saw; however, it rang a few bells more than the other site I looked at without any social media presence or the basics I look for in website features.

So, what you're saying is that SMBs often lack the impression and the customer service? Ala what Neicole said, there are so many suppliers offering these services now and SMBs are buying; but what happens when that contract runs out? The disconnect. Thanks, Adam!

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR moderator

@ccallanan Thanks for stopping in to share! I appreciate your thoughts. I work in the legal sector daily, and you raise an amazing point. If someone is not engaged themselves first to see what social media marketing is all about, then they will have no concept.

Consider what you just said...if a law firm, e.g., jumps in to social to get on the bandwagon but the messaging platform and the inside foundation is awry, then the social media aspects will be, too.

Before something new is added to the marketing mix, it's really critical to ensure the house is in order. Maybe we need to write a post on this, huh? Small businesses have so much to accomplish; it's challenging to make sure it's all "congruent" as you rightly said.

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR moderator

@Neicolec I think you hit it, Neicole! There has always been a disconnect with customer service and social media, IMHO. I have run into it too many times...fascinating about small businesses and how they manage all of these moving parts. The front-line people are THE MOST critical to overall success, but they're forgotten.

New England Multimedia
New England Multimedia

@Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing@Adam | Customer Experience@ccallanan We've seen that with a contract running out, and then a sad fizzle on the part of the business who doesn't pick up the reins. It's awful to go to a Facebook Page, Twitter profile, or blog and see a ghost town where there was once a community.

But I understand the money crunch and staffing issues, too. I feel badly for SMBs with this problem. Social media management takes a marketing and PR mindset, and can't be handed over to just anyone on staff.And let's face it -- most SMBs are accustomed to a marketing budget spent on print ads, television ads (if they use them at all), and direct mail campaigns. Trying to convince them to back off on those in favor of social media marketing (because they can rarely afford to ADD it to the list) is a tough sell in a tight economy. Change is a scary thing for people.

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