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Are Online Complaints Hurting Face-to Face Customer Service?

It makes me ask the question—is the preponderance of negativity in social media having an effect on the face-to-face customer service we receive? Maybe it’s just a fluke series of unfortunate customer service experiences I’ve had, but lately I’ve been wondering if having online social venting outlets has had a serious trickle-down effect on the in-person customer service we’re getting. A number of my friends and coworkers have lamented about the similar incidents this week. While there certainly are a number of positive, productive online posts, forum discussions, “likes” and the ever popular tweets about store, brand and product experiences, anyone who has poked around even for a minute in the social arena knows there’s plenty of “witching with a capital B”, as my mom used to call it, going on.

On one side of the coin I think it is healthy and useful that there are places to share problems and information to help buyers beware. But on the other side, maybe all of this public negativity is starting to have a detrimental effect on the brick and mortar side of the business. It feels to me like store clerks are feeling deflated and making less effort than before. Bad news does travel faster than good in most organizations, and like it or not, a complaint, online or otherwise, is going to be shared with employees faster and with more emphasis than a kudo.

The most dramatic example I can share was during a recent purchase I made at a clothing retailer. During checkout I was asked if I wanted a free issue of a magazine. I said yes and assumed she put it in my bag. Turned out I was automatically signed up for an annual subscription, with one free issue, that would be automatically charged to my credit card. I happened to catch the fine print on my extra long receipt at home and immediately went online to vent to my Twitter and Facebook friends and then send a complaint to the company through their various corporate website channels. I of course was looking for the social validation from my digital friends of how I had been wronged.  It’s what we do now right?

The retailer did the right thing and cancelled the billing and their corporate response and follow up were very reassuring, keeping me as a customer. A few weeks later I happened to be back in the store and the same gal was there ringing me up and openly begged me to go to this link on the receipt and give a positive review of my visit to their store and her service. She openly explained how this store had received some negative reviews and complaints and they needed to boost their store rating and as the manager she would really appreciate my positive feedback. I had no doubt I was the cause of her store’s pain and was counting my blessings she didn’t recognize me!

My experience with this is not common, thankfully, and most companies would be horrified to hear of the inappropriate over-share of information to a customer. So how would you answer the question—is the preponderance of negativity in social media having an effect on the face-to-face customer service we receive? Have you had similar experiences? Is there a backlash? I’d like to hear what you think.


Tags : social media

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