Are you a social media fiend? More inclined to tweet or post to Facebook than pick up the phone or shoot off an email? If so, you may also be a bit of a sucker when it comes to customer service.
According to a new report from American Express, consumers who have resolved a customer service issue via social media at least once in the last year are willing to buy "significantly more" from a company than those who routed their complaints through the more traditional phone or email channels. Experts attribute the finding to the fact that consumers feel loyalty towards a company if they receive good customer service, and it's easier for a company to engender those good feelings over social media.
Customer service "is not about being perfect, it's about the response" said Deborah Mitchell, a clinical associate professor of marketing at Ohio State University, in an interview with Smartmoney.com. "People like to feel like the company was proactive in responding, and bent over backwards to fix it."
But why does a consumer feel more warm and fuzzy towards a company -- even a company they contacted due to some sort of customer service problem -- when interacting over Twitter, for example, than email?
Speed, for starters. "No matter what problems come up, nothing trumps being there for people, exactly when they ask for it," writes Leon Widrich on SocialMediaExaminer.com, a popular business blog.
Twitter can also create a more personalized experience, according to Widrich, through incorporating names and individual photos of company employees, in turn making the company "more approachable and human" than a giant, anonymous corporation.
If this is news to you, it isn't surprising to American Express. "Delivering outstanding service creates impassioned advocates and can serve as a powerful marketing weapon for companies," said Jim Bush, an AmEx executive vice president, in a statement.
And the best corporate advocates are the social media fiends, according to the report. While only 17 percent of consumers have turned to social media at least once in the past year to resolve a customer service issue, "this relatively small group of consumers is extremely engaged and vocal," conclude the researchers.
These consumers "are willing to pay a 21 percent premium at companies that provide great service," conclude the researchers. "They also tell three times as many people about positive experiences [with the company] compared to the general population. Ultimately, getting a service right with these social media savvy consumers can help a business grow."
But if companies are using social media to hook customers, consumers are also leveraging it for their own benefit.
Last summer Peter Shankman, entrepreneur, founder of Help A Reporter Out, and well-known steak-lover, jokingly tweeted to Morton's Steakhouse, while boarding a plane bound for Newark, "Hey @Morton's - can you meet me at newark airport with a porterhouse when I land in two hours? K, thanks. :)" Much to his surprise, when he landed a Morton's representative was waiting for him with "a 24 oz. Porterhouse steak, an order of Colossal Shrimp, a side of potatoes, one of Morton’s famous round things of bread, two napkins, and silverware," wrote Shankman on his blog, adding, "I. Was. Floored."
Shankman, who has over 130,000 followers on Twitter, "immediately" tweeted what had happened, and like that, Morton's bought itself not only customer loyalty from Shankman, but also some very cheap, and very powerful, marketing.
Reflecting on the experience, Shankman wrote, "Customer service is no longer about telling people how great you are. It’s about producing amazing moments in time, and letting those moments become the focal point of how amazing you are, told not by you, but by the customer who you thrilled. They tell their friends, and the trust level goes up at a factor of a thousand. Think about it: Who do you trust more? An advertisement, or a friend telling you how awesome something is?"