When it comes to social customer service, most companies are hacks


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Henry David Thoreau observed: “For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil, there is one striking at the root.”

I thought about how this quote applies to many companies’ social media strategy. These companies are breathlessly “hacking at the leaves” of customer acquisition with their social media strategies rather than artfully honing in and “striking at the root” of customer retention.

Over the past several years, a majority of my attempts to provide feedback to brands on Twitter – pertaining to a recent product or service experience – were completely ignored. According to this blog by social media strategist, Jay Baer, I shouldn’t be surprised. (In the article, Jay cites research by Maritz Research and Evolve24 that revealed, of 1,298 Twitter complaints, only 29 percent were replied to by the companies in question.) In my case, when I returned to the company’s Twitter page after not hearing back, I saw that while they ignored my feedback, they found time to post a promotional tweet about their exceptional product or service quality.

Whenever a company uses a social media channel like Facebook or Twitter to blast a promotional missive to its legion of anonymous fans or followers, it’s largely “hacking at the leaves” of customer acquisition. Will someone really click on the link, access the discount code, and purchase the product? Perhaps the company’s analytics suggest that, on occasion, someone does. But are the recipients of these marketing messages really qualified prospects or, better yet, actual customers?

You might say that if they’re fans or followers, then certainly they’re qualified prospects or actual customers. Otherwise, you reason, why would they choose to follow the brand’s account in the first place? But look at your own behavior. Are you a qualified prospect or current customer of every brand you follow on social media? I follow Ferrari but I assure you that I’m not a qualified prospect. I also follow numerous coffee, wine, and beer brands that I’ve never purchased. I’m a fan of fast cars, coffee, wine, and beer, but that doesn’t make me a qualified prospect or current customer of these brands.

Now, here’s the irony: In each case when I reached out to brands on Twitter, it was clear that I was a customer:

  • In one case, I expressed disappointment in the way a local Xenith rep failed to deliver pre-ordered football gear in time for the start of the 2014 season. What I expected: Empathy. What I got: Silence.
  • In another case, I brought the unprofessional behavior of a supervisor to the attention of Smashburger. What I expected: Interest. What I got: (imagine the sound of crickets chirping)
  • In a third case, I shared a photo of an improperly made pizza with Papa Murphy’s. What I expected: Problem resolution. What I got: Nothing.

I cannot stress this point enough: In every case, it was evident that I was a real, live, paying customer! And in one case, I even offered indisputable photographic evidence. Still, no one bothered to acknowledge my feedback.

It’s well documented that current customers are infinitely more valuable than the anonymous masses of prospective customers to which companies market. According to Gartner, 80 percent of future profits will come from 20 percent of existing customers. Research by Bain & Company revealed that increasing (existing) customer retention rates by 5 percent increases profits by 25 to 95 percent.

Additionally, existing customers are much easier to sell. Market Metrics determined that, while the probability of converting an existing customer is 60 to 70 percent, the probability of converting a new prospect is only 5 to 20 percent. It just makes sense that consumers are more receptive to companies they already know and trust as customers.

Even so, it seems that a majority of companies would prefer to bombard hoards of anonymous prospects with promotional messages than respond to their current customers’ feedback. With all the evidence supporting the value of existing customers, it’s mystifying that so many companies choose to squander resources “hacking at the leaves” of customer acquisition rather than directing them toward “striking at the root” of customer retention.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Steve Curtin
Steve Curtin is the author of Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary. He wrote the book to address the following observation: While employees consistently execute mandatory job functions for which they are paid, they inconsistently demonstrate voluntary customer service behaviors for which there is little or no additional cost to their employers. After a 20-year career with Marriott International, Steve now devotes his time to speaking, consulting, and writing on the topic of extraordinary customer service.


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