8 Symptoms Of Social Schizophrenia

A few months ago, I tweeted about one of my posts post called XFINITY Is (Unfortunately) More Of The Same. Immediately afterwards, a nice woman from Comcast replied to my tweet and tried to change my opinion. This type of social media outreach is not unusual for Comcast, which has made a name for itself over the last few years with an active presence on Twitter.

Comcast, however, continues to receive less-than-stellar (I’m being nice) feedback on its customer service. The company managed to come in 125th and 126th out of 133 companies in Forrester’s 2010 Customer Experience Index and ended up in 3rd place on MSN Money’s 2010 Customer Service Hall Of Shame.

So Comcast reaches out to strangers on Twitter, but doesn’t service customers very well when they contact Comcast. Something seems out of whack.

My take: Unfortunately, this type of behavior is becoming more common as the wave of social media excitement continues to crest. In order to better understand this disorder, I’ve given it a name — “Social Schizophrenia” — which I defined as:

Providing levels of service in social media that differ significantly from service levels in other channels

Does your company suffer from this ailment? Answer the eight questions below to diagnose the symptoms. A single “yes” may indicate that your company has Social Schizophrenia.

  1. Does your company have poor customer service ratings and aggressive goals for social media?
  2. Does your company treat people with “influential” social media voices better than it treats other people, even good customers?
  3. Has your company invested more in social media outreach than it has invested in improving its traditional service organization?
  4. It is “cooler” in your company to be part of the social media team than it is to be a part of the customer service organization?
  5. Are employees reaching out in social media more empowered to solve customer problems than other customer service agents?
  6. Does your company’s social media team have more headcount than its voice of the customer team?
  7. Does your company have separate organizations handling social media complaints than it does handling complaints that flow through other channels?
  8. Is more than 20% of your company’s customer experience strategy focussed on social media?

Does this mean that companies should stay away from social media? No. But social media efforts can’t be used to mask poor service. If your company delivers poor or inconsistent experiences to customers, then fixing those problems should be the primary focus of your efforts. Eliminate poor experiences from happening; don’t chase down social media complaints after the fact.

If customers do run into problems, companies should take action when they complain directly to the company — embracing the five elements of my C.A.R.E.S. model for service recovery: communication, accountability, responsiveness, empathy, and solution. Once this is in place, companies can add social media outreach to the customers that fall through the cracks.

The bottom line: Use social media to augment, not avoid, the delivery of great service

About Bruce Temkin
I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, marketing, interaction design, customer service, and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

8 Responses to 8 Symptoms Of Social Schizophrenia

  1. Alan Williams says:

    Great point Bruce,
    This is a classic example of the power of the silo/specialism over the whole. How many times do we see specialist functions (often because they are “of the moment”) growing a life of their own almost independent of their own organisation? This example of social media, however, is probably the very best example of where it cannot be successful because organisations are no longer what they say they are but rather what other people say they are. No amount of “masking” will change this and a more productive approach would be to develop a social media strategy as an integral part of the overall service strategy.

  2. It’s more like bi-polar disorder. Extreme highs around the latest/greatest “in thing” = social media. Extreme lows around hard grunt work = customer service. Customers who are “serviced” by companies experimenting with the most recent trends will find their experience all glitz and no substance. Caveat emptor!

  3. Great post Bruce! I think we have all experienced this yin yang or “schizophrenia” service. What you have described is a symptom of inconsistent customer experience that we see on many levels. Great product with poor customer support channels, or great customer support channels with poor product, or as with your example, inconsistent customer support channels. I know you are targeting the social media channel, however your message applies to the entire customer experience. It is the sum of the parts that is essential, no one piece of the experience can augment the other. Avoiding or masking quality and consistency with product or support channels comes at a very high cost. It puts companies at risk of losing even their most loyal customers.

  4. Best Buy is a great offender here, also. From first hand experience, I know their wonderful ability to resolve customer issues through social media. But I also know their woeful inability to resolve those same issues at the in-store customer service counter

    • Charlie says:

      I agree. My boss tweeted to their executives after getting no where with the representatives she spoke to on the phone, and her problem was immediately rectified. Why don’t the people in the store have the ability, and the will (but that’s another blog post), to fix her situation.

  5. Lorne Pike says:

    Great post, Bruce. Twitter and other social media can certainly bring tremendous value to a company and its customers, but as you’ve said, only when they’re part of an overall consistent customer service process. To use a sports analogy, we may get new uniforms and even a few rule changes when a new season comes along, but the way we get points and win the game remains the same. That’s where our focus has to stay.

    I think Andrew also makes a great parallel, with the nod to bipolar disorder. Overall, the post was interesting enough that I used it as the basis for a post of my own. Thanks for giving us something to think about!

  6. Hazel Nieves says:

    Bruce this was so on the money! I had a similar experience with Charter. When I could not get satisfaction from the customer rep I was on the phone with for 40 minutes, I went to Twitter and Facebook and posted my unhappiness about their service and in 10 minutes I had one of their social media watch dogs contacting me and he solved my problem in 20 minutes. This is just insanity on the companies part! I still was not a happy camper I had to resort to social reps to get help. Too many chiefs and not enough brains is the way I see it in most of these companies. Thanks again!

  7. deb eastman says:

    As always Bruce, you nailed it. Social media is the new “in thing” and with that comes funding & resources. Customer service is an age old problem, probably starved of the right level of investment in the quest for cost savings. It’s interesting the companies don’t look at the financial impact of churn and negative word of mouth when making cost cuts.

    Everything said above tells the story. I would add two important points as well when looking at your social media strategy as a fragment of your customer experience.

    1. do you know who these “tweeters” are? are they profitable customers that matter? are they even a customer?

    2. how many of your customers are participating on twitter? what about the other 99% that use good old fashion word of mouth to tell others how bad their experience is?

    3. what process do you have in place to bring the issue uncovered in twitter into your investment prioritization? are you addressing the systemic issues that create the tweet in the first place?

    Social media should absolutely be a listening post. But without the holistic view of the customer you may not be addressing the issues that truly matter to the market segments that most impact your business. And you certainly don’t have trustworthy data from which you can base investment decision and improve the customer experience for all.

    So does this mean “comcast cares” only if you tweet?

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