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Thanks for complaining

01 Feb 2011

I was having dinner in Sydney recently when I overheard a conversation that went something like this: Diner A: "I had a terrible trip over. The airline was overbooked and tried to bump me from my flight. I had to fight tooth and nail to keep my seat.”Diner B: "Did you complain?”Diner A: "No.”Diner B: "Why not?”Diner A: "I’m not going to waste any more of my time on them, I just won’t fly with them again.”That airline has no way of knowing it just lost a customer. For every customer who complains, there are many others like Diner A who decide to buy elsewhere – and they probably warn others off too.As potential customers are more likely to trust word of mouth than any marketing promises an organisation makes, it is critical to understand what customers are actually saying.Social media our customers a fast-paced, interactive forum in which to express their views about our brands in real time, to the whole world. And we have a new way of listening.New Zealanders are prolific social media users. Nielsen’s 2010 Social Media Report shows 1.8 million Kiwis interact through social media sites.Rather than just telling one friend, imagine if Diner A had shared his experience on Facebook, potentially with hundreds of friends. And if he’d tweeted about it, how many of his Twitter followers would have passed it on by "retweeting”? But look at it another way. For the first time ever we can now hear what our customers say about us, without having to ask! And we can act accordingly.Interestingly, research done for call centre software producer Zeacom shows almost half of New Zealanders prefer to use web chat, email, texting/SMS or social media when contacting a company, rather than the more traditional methods of phone, letter or physically visiting a branch. Zeacom’s research shows it’s the younger customers too – the customers of the future – who are more likely to prefer these online communication channels.So New Zealand businesses need to become experts at communicating online, in real time. And they need to learn how to encourage customers to say nice things about them on Twitter, Facebook and other social media.I’m not yet aware of any New Zealand organisations that are doing this particularly well. SMEs, which are more nimble than corporates, have taken to Twitter with gusto while many larger organisations appear to have put it in the "too hard” basket.Given what call centre technology can do, it doesn’t have to be difficult, however. Technology can "listen” to what is being said online and queue these comments in real time to an agent. So if we can do this, what do we do with it? How about starting with a simple "thank you”? Here’s a hypothetical scenario: A customer tweets how much they love their new Fisher & Paykel Dish Drawer. This tweet is "heard” and queued to a live agent in the Fisher & Paykel Contact Centre, and delivered to an agent in the "Thank You Queue”. The agent researches the customer through the CRM and learns the customer bought the Dish Drawer last week, then calls, emails or messages the customer, thanks them for their positive comment on Twitter, saying how much Fisher & Paykel appreciates their business. Imagine the goodwill that engenders.It’s good for the Contact Centre agent too. It is hard work taking negative call after negative call, for eight hours – I know, I’ve been there. Imagine the impact on morale when your agents receive a prompt from the "thank you” queue. They know they’re about to make a call that is going to be a pleasant experience. A positive and rewarding environment results in happy staff and happy customers.In my experience, for every 1% increase in agent satisfaction there is a 2% increase in customer satisfaction as a knock-on effect.On the flip side, I’m sure we can all recall a situation in which an organisation didn’t handle a complaint well, but those organisations don’t understand the power of complainers. We need to be grateful when customers take the time to let us know about this problem, rather than spouting off to their friends.Social media gives us the opportunity to hear complaints in real time, handle them immediately, ensure they don’t affect other customers and turn the complainers into advocates.We should also queue negative comments in real time for an agent to handle, thank customers for taking the time to post their complaints, and go into rescue mode and deal with the issue.  If customers are passionate enough to complain, they are potentially passionate enough to then post positive comments when their complaints are handled well.Social Media is a fantastic tool for listening to, and engaging with, customers and Contact Centres have a real role to play in making the most of this.Listen in real-time, handle it immediately, thank the customer for raising the issue and treat every post, positive or negative, like gold.