As corporations tentatively embrace the idea of direct-to-consumer marketing techniques via Social Media, they are likely to be encouraged by the warm reception they receive online. Really, it’s not as scary as it’s made out to be, and as we’ve noted in the past the Risk Of Ignoring will be inescapable for most Big Brands.

But, we’ve also talked about how “Customer Service is the New PR.” That was a major theme not that long ago, yet it seems to have receded a bit. Don’t be fooled. It will come back, with a vengeance.

Here’s the thing: you start to get accustomed to Red Carpet Service. You tweet, “Comcast Sucks!” on Twitter, and you get the royal treatment from @ComcastCares. You moan about the “Blue Screen of Death” online and someone from Dell asks, “Hope that’s not one our machines that just crashed? Can we help?”

As a consumer it feels GREAT to be taken so seriously, and to see such a rapid response.

However when the person treated like a STAR online is subsequently treated like a SCHMOE when they dial the #800 line, the “disconnect” is all the more egregious.

The brand enthusiast created by great online experiences becomes an even bigger threat when they become disgruntled by the lack of attention paid to all other customer service channels: “Treat me like a STAR one day, and give me a nightmarish experience the next day, just because I’ve reached out via a different channel? F* you! I’m gonna tweet about this — you are a fraud!!”

The message: you can’t be great at Social Media if your service sucks. But that’s just the beginning of the nightmare.

Let’s say that as a company you’ve decided that you will try to do a few things well in Social Media, i.e., you will actively monitor and enthusiastically respond to bloggers and Twitterati, because they are deemed most impactful. How do you synch up what happens online in Twitter (etc.) with your existing Customer Service systems??

“Who is @TDefren? Is this person a he, a she, a customer, a prospect? How do we figure out that @TDefren is a customer? How do we figure out that @TDefren is Todd Defren? What’s his phone #, email, credit card #, the last 4 digits of his SSN? Has he called before? Has he tweeted before? Has he blogged about us? Commented at another blog? When? What did he say? Was his issue resolved?”

This raises obscenely difficult backoffice CRM issues. But within 18+ months of your decision to take Social Media Marketing seriously, I predict you’ll feel an overwhelming need to put a laser focus on all aspects of Customer Service. The mandate will come from below, from the people you’ve impressed online.

But don’t think of all this as “obscenely difficult.” Think of it as “doing the right thing.”

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