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The Key to Online Customer Service: Empathy

Marshall McLuhan in the early 1970s
Image via Wikipedia

Although I respect Marshall McLuhan immensely, the medium is not the message when it comes to customer service. Merely being present on social media outlets does not in itself accomplish the primary goal of engaging in digital marketing: solving a business problem.

The message is the message, and when a problem occurs the primary message should be one of empathy. Even if there is absolutely nothing than can be done to mitigate the issue, a simple “I’m sorry” to start the conversation goes a long way.

A customer’s problem may require quite a bit of time to correct. Sometimes problems simply aren’t solvable. A direct approach, offering an apology before anything else happens, shows the customer that your company genuinely feels responsibility for the success of your customers via your products and services.

Empathy can also stem the tide of negative response before it even starts. An unsatisfied and angry customer has at their disposal many outlets online through which to vent their frustration. Review sites, social networking sites, Twitter and the like give customers a venue to get the satisfaction to which they’re entitled. Multiply the online actions of one industrious and upset user by X number of others, and suddenly your brand is facing a hurricane of negative sentiment.

If a large enough number of users take to the internet at large to air their grievances, your company’s search results can also be affected. If you’re not constantly offering updated content, and the overwhelming majority of conversation online is customer complaints, those complaints end up being the first thing people see when searching for you. You are no longer in charge or even being an active player in the management of your own online reputation.

Monitoring and moderation are critical, but these vital techniques are useless if you’re not offering the most basic empathy to jilted customers. Beyond that, the manner in which you offer that empathy is important. Does anyone believe the disgraced athlete or celebrity when they offer the stereotypical non-apology apology (“I’m sorry for any offense this occurrence may have caused”)? No.

Instead, even if you firmly believe you are in the right, a firm and direct “I’m really sorry this happened. Let’s see what we can do to fix this” will go a long way toward dampening the fires of rage. Take responsibility, be personable, and just plain care about your customers. Just maintaining a presence is not enough.

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