Matt Williams: clever feedback is fine but it won’t solve the customer experience problem on its own

In my last piece on this site I explored one of the most overused buzzwords in the industry – content.

Well for this week’s column, here’s another topic we all love to obsess over at the moment – feedback.

You can’t attend a conference these days without hearing about the importance of a ‘test and learn’ strategy. And every leader stresses the need to embrace the maxim that “it’s not about whether you fail, but how you respond to that failure.”

For what it’s worth, I think that’s a pretty good adage to live. And the industry could do with a lot less ego and a lot more haste.

Naturally, social media has become a haven for customer feedback. A lot of it is heat-of-the-moment complaining, when the red mist supersedes any sort of logical thinking, and you take to Twitter or Facebook with cathartic glee to moan about your crappy broadband speed, delayed trains or a company’s poor delivery service. But that often doesn’t make it any less damaging to a brand’s reputation.

In reaction, plenty of brands have mobilised crack Twitter teams, training them up to provide incisive, witty, real-time replies to appease angry customers. Indeed, plenty of companies have won awards for doing just that. Tesco Mobile (below) frequently hits the headlines for its clever Twitter responses, which not only builds bridges with the angry customer but enhances its all-round brand reputation too.

And I thought it was interesting to note earlier this month that Twitter itself published a 122-page Customer Service Playbook, which aims to “help businesses improve their customer service efficiency by taking advantage of the quick and personal nature of the medium.”

This is all well and good. But it’s really only half the battle. Sure, social media provides a great platform to strike up better and more accessible relationships between brand and customer. But where does it go from there?

Too often now brands are putting on this great front of house show, but are rarely joined up enough to ensure that they’re providing the resolutions in the background as well.

At Partners Andrews Aldridge, we talk a lot about effortlessness. We’re in an age where people live the way they want. They’re in control. They’re empowered shoppers, brand controllers, impatient and constantly connected.

So organisations need to respond by providing a seamless journey throughout the customer experience. You can have a great social media team, but if the cycle stops there then the problems are only going to keep arising. And the social team in question are just going to have to keep coming up with more inventive ways to appease their angry customers.

In a way, that’s a big responsibility for the client. They must recognise this issue and ensure that theirs is an organisation where marketing is joined up with the rest of the board, that problems are acted upon and the digital experience is refined throughout.

But I’d wager that it’s also the responsibility of agencies, as their roles begin to change too.

In an ideal, modern world, agencies are partners to their clients, not just a simple supplier. They can and should be responsible for a brand’s overall digital offering, not just there to devise a set of witty tweets, or come up with a couple of clever YouTube films that they hope will go viral.

A strong social media presence is always part of a good answer, but it’s never the whole answer. Brands need to be constantly evaluating their entire digital offering. Is the user experience seamless? Is the website’s content valuable and engaging? Do customer issues genuinely get resolved, or just pacified?

Being able to deliver a great customer experience is far more preferable to being able to just talk a good game. That’s when things really work. That’s when things truly become effortless.

And with their emphasis on insight, creativity and customer engagement, agencies have a more important role to play here than ever before.

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About Matt Williams

Matt Williams is head of content at Partners Andrews Aldridge.