Now a days, every John and Jane out there has a smart phone nestled on their hip or a tablet snug in their bag. It’s the ‘Information Age’– a technology–fueled world where easy access to the internet has placed the consumer in control, and we, as business people, need to learn to adapt.
Recently, there has been a dangerous shift in the way that many businesses obtain feedback on their performance, from direct customer feedback in the form of comment cards and online surveys, to a cheaper method– social media. Social media is a vast and horrifyingly influential frontier that is perpetually evolving, where anyone from your eight year old neighbour to your eighty year old mother can comment on your business. It has become a popular form of collecting feedback due to its low-cost and simplicity, frequently not taking much more than to sit an intern in front of a computer and have them monitor the company’s Twitter account and Facebook page.
While social media is certainly a low-cost way of collecting feedback, there are a number of negative consequences that many business owners do not seem to be taking into account. Sure, a positive review posted online looks great for the business; hundreds of thousands of people may see it and want to try your product or service, but equally, what if it’s a negative review that is posted? Hundreds of thousands of potential customers may no longer be willing to give your business a chance.
Then, there are the legal ramifications caused by the fickleness of social media and privacy laws. The prevalence of lawsuits between employers and employees over unlawful firing or defamation continues to grow, and now you’re adding a wild card into the equation– the unpredictability of social media. What if a customer posts a negative review about an employee, even if the employee was just doing what they were told? You now have a disgruntled employee who can’t shake this negative review hanging over them on the web and they might, rightfully, blame you for encouraging this type of customer feedback. It could effect the employee’s ability to find a job in the future, which, in extreme cases, might come back to haunt you in the form of a lawsuit. Some say any publicity is good publicity, but when publicity is scaring away customers and impacting employees’ rights, I think our definition of “good” differs.
The best way to prevent these negative consequences is to cut it off at the source by obtaining direct customer feedback. Smart phones have made posting online instantaneous, meaning you have very little time between a customer having a negative experience and posting about that experience online. An upset customer is looking for an audience to vent to, so why not be that audience? By providing outlets like comment cards in your establishment or online surveys on your website the customer is more likely to express their dissatisfaction directly to you rather than broadcasting it to the world. Direct customer feedback, like comment cards, lets the customer know there is someone listening and that their opinions are appreciated. Rather than their complaints ricocheting around the web unanswered for all the world to see, wouldn’t it be more beneficial if they were sharing details about how well your company handled them? By responding directly to the customer you can properly address the situation and control the message…anyone in public relations will tell you the importance of controlling the message.
Technology has taken us forward in leaps and bounds, but it will never replace a real face-to-face or voice to voice conversation with a customer. Try it, you might be surprised what they have to say.