I fell out of love with social customer care. It felt like it was going nowhere…perhaps in reality, I was going nowhere. I hear Esteban in the background saying – told you so! I felt like the same old stories and case studies were being churned out by the same old experts and vendors. I include myself in that mix, we/I got stuck in some kind of a ‘seven steps to social customer care’ time warp, that lasted about five years. There were the predictable variations on a theme – three steps, five steps.

I wanted someone to rock the proverbial boat. I wanted a vendor, any vendor, to come up with something novel. HelpSocial tried to do that. I wanted some kind of self-proclaimed guru to come up with something controversial. But all that seemed to happen was that people became highly creative and inventive in the art of constructing attention-grabbing headlines for their blog posts; the content remained the same. The same story told over and over again. The same quest over and over again – scale and ROI – and yet no one really ever had any answers.

United Breaks Guitars, giffgaff, #Twelpforce, KLM, #Tweetserve… great stories, but we needed new ones. Not just new, but different, ones that pushed boundaries, ones that challenged the very existence of the contact centre. Ones that challenged. I wanted organisations to truly rethink customer service and design innovative services with the characteristics of social in mind. But it never really happened. Even now, the only real examples IMHO where companies have designed with social in mind are Best Buy and #Twelpforce, O2 and #Tweetserve, and KLM and #HappyToHelp; all between 2009 – 2014. That’s five years ago. KLM has largely been a lone beacon of hope. But the challenge is too large for one company to bear alone.

Vendors simply tried to make their social customer care platforms look more like an inbound email queue by the day. The technology had changed, but everyone forgot to try to change the service model as well.

Twitter and Facebook, in turn, made the use of their channels suddenly far more appealing to organisations clinging on to the coat tails of the contact centre, by offering up to sacrifice the very cornerstone of what makes social customer care, well…social. They placed on a silver tray the very characteristics of social – openness, authenticity and transparency, and no one raised even so much as half an eyebrow: they offered organisations the ability to take conversations out of the public domain and into a DM as quickly as possible. They were letting organisations off the hook. Organisations embraced it, breathing a collective sigh of relief.

Twitter and Facebook had the opportunity to truly disrupt the service model that emerged with the mass production of the Model T Ford and the thinking of Frederick Taylor, and hasn’t essentially changed since. There was a time I thought Apple might save customer service from itself, and in the same way that it brought simplicity of beauty and innovation to the cellphone, do the same for customer service. My hope is that Google, perhaps Amazon, may be the light at the end of the tunnel; but my sense is that Google or Amazon would only do it inadvertently. But actually, my belief is that for the customer service model that exists today to truly change, it will take a fundamental shift in the way the knowledge base is viewed. Only when the knowledge base is freed up might a profound change in the model take place.

But why couldn’t it have been me?! I lost interest. The passion was gone and I mentally left social customer care. I was tired and jaded of playing the ‘Cluetrain Manifesto’ record over and over again. You were tired of hearing me play it. I know. Many of you are asking ‘What’s Cluetrain?’

So here I am, the forgotten old man of social customer care, ready to wake up again. I’m still cynical, I’ll still be critical, I’ll still be scathing of consultants and gurus who peddle the same stories that they were telling five years ago. That’s a challenge to me as well; and if you find I’m telling that same story, you’ve every right to be critical of me. And why am I saying this? Because, quite simply, I think we/I can do better, should do better, have an obligation to do better, not for the sake of it, but because there is a ‘better’ out there that we should all actively aspire to. Complacency in our thinking, in our advice,  in our writing, is a scourge that we must all fight off. As social was the catalyst that disrupted customer service, so too must we reinvent ourselves and our thinking. Otherwise we too will become that self-proclaimed guru, peddling lipstick fit only for that proverbial pig.

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