Customer service in a social media world

Customer service has always been an important priority for businesses – at least as long as there has been competition. Customer service can distinguish companies offering similar products at similar prices from each other – especially when that service is an integral part of the product.

But customer service has become even more important in a world driven by access to social media. Now a bad experience with a company is not only something you complain about with your family and friends, but can instantly become fodder for your online postings, whether it’s on a blog, on social networking sites, or on Twitter. With so many cell phones that allow people to access the Internet, it’s hardly surprising that more and more customers are likely to take advantage of this opportunity to rant. And these rants have borne fruit: 25% of searches for the World’s top 20 brands turn up user-generated content. Further, online product recommendations have been shown to be influential in predicting consumer choices.

In my own experience, airlines seem to provide the perfect example of a scenario in which customer service is of vital importance. The actual product – a flight from one location to another – is relatively similar, and with the advent of price-shopping sites like Kayak or Travelocity, finding the cheap flights becomes easy. However, customer service can prevent someone from considering an airline, especially when another has roughly the same flights and prices.

I’ve travelled via airplane more than usual lately, so I’ve had the opportunity to experience this for myself. Recently, I used Delta again, and the experience will certainly serve as a deterrent. Not only was my flight extremely delayed for what seems like a preventable reason – they flight was returning internationally and had to go through a security sweep – the communication with what was happening to the customers was extremely poor. When we finally took off, many of us had missed and were in danger of missing our connecting flights. They did little to help the customers, refusing even to contact the gates for close connections to alert them of our presence or letting those with a close connection off the plane first.

This experience made a big impression on me – and now, through social media – I’m able to share that impression with a wide variety of people. I’m sure everyone has their own horror stories and triumphs with airlines – and I’d love to hear some of them. Have other people shared their bad experiences with a brand or service online? And do they let those experiences color their future decisions? For me, the name “Delta” has a strike against it in my book – so unless their options are significantly better, I’m looking to take my business elsewhere.

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