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Customer Empowerment based on hype and hope -- basically an illusion, says customer service author, Robert Bacal

Check out the book on the British Amazon site Check out amazon for complete information on the print edition In Canada? You can get this from within the country via The Kindle version can save you tons of money, and you can read it on almost any device with the free reader software Buy the PDF from us and save BIG. And, yes you can print it out or view it on a screen.
Bacal's Interviews

Customer empowerment through social media. It hasn't happened and it's an illusionWhere Do You See Customer Service Going This Year (Customer Empowerment)

Q: There’s been so much talk about how social media is changing customer service, and in particular a number of experts have suggested this will be the year of the customer — that customers will become way more powerful and that will result in much better customer service as companies realize the impact of poor service. What do you think?

Robert: First, I’ll say this. There are over 500 million Facebookers and similarly large totals of people on Twitter and LinkedIn. When you factor in what we’ve had for years, blogs, complaint sites and forums, and review sites like on amazon, what you have is way more than a year of  “social media” power. The outcome? Nothing. I see no numbers and no data to indicate that customer service has gotten better. In fact, the numbers suggest service is worse than before, something I’ve said over and over again.

Q: Could you clarify that last bit?

Robert: When you add additional customer service channels and you don’t put resources in (at a high cost) to staff them, what happens is that you spread your customer service resource THINNER. Thus in general service gets worse. It’s really simple. Companies aren’t willing to add to costs.

Q: What about the claims of customer empowerment?

Robert: It’s bunk. The whole line of reasoning is based on a number of superficial assumptions that don’t hold true. For example, people are assuming that now that customers can express themselves in social media, that this will cause changes. Having an opinion, and sharing it online don’t mean anyone reads it, or is influenced by it. The result is that it appears there’s influence and power but there isn’t.

Q: But the line of reasoning goes: People who go to review sites (like for restaurants or hotels) can read the bad experiences of others and stay away, and that means individuals have power.

Robert: Have you ever looked at tripadvisor or Yelp, or even amazon. For 99.9 percent of establishments, there will be both positive and negative comments, even about the same place at about the same time. One person has a great experience. Another not. Certainly if some hotel has universally negative comments, that would have an effect, but you don’t see that with legitimate hotels. You do see it for fleabags and hourly hotels, and that’s good, but that’s only a fraction of circumstances.

There’s another problem, though. While there may be millions of comments made about a lot of companies, the number of comments made about any single one are still small. The readership for those comments is also very small. Are you going to read 500 reader comments for a book that’s sold on Amazon? Of course not.

Power to shift customer service or anything, such as racial inequality in the 60′s comes from organized, coherent and consistent action from a mass of people. Individuals except for the exceptional (like Martin Luther King) have no more power or influence AS A RESULT OF SOCIAL MEDIA, as before. We’ve had review sites and forums for years. It doesn’t impact.

Q: So, are you saying that to have an impact requires collective effort by a large number of people, and that that can improve customer service?

Robert: I can see that’s possible, but it isn’t happening. I can imagine if 10,000 Comcast customers, having gotten disgusted with their service, organized a boycott, that Comcast might respond by addressing any problems. I only choose Comcast here because, like many large companies they are rated poorly on customer service. It’s the same for all large companies.

I’d also think that local small companies would be more responsive, if only because mobile devices can theoretically affect customer choices on the fly.

Q: Do you have a “bottom line comment”?

Robert: People want to feel empowered and the social media gives the impression they have more power, because they feel power is equal to expressing an opinion. It’s not. In fact there’s other reasons why it isn’t going to happen, and it’s what I’m working on. I expect to release a book chapter for Kindle and other e-readers on just this topic and explain in depth why it isn’t going to happen.


About Company

Bacal & Associates was founded in 1992. Since then Robert has trained thousands of employees to deal with angry, hostile, abusive and potentially violent customers. He has authored over 20 books on various subjects, many published by McGraw-Hill.


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