Social Media Acceptance Must Come from the Top

NEW YORK—When it comes to social media, some companies "get it" and have grabbed opportunities to be early adopters and have a presence on the front lines. However, many businesses have yet to get on board and be a part of customer conversations. 

Natalie Petouhoff, CEO of the Executive's Success Acceleration Firm, spoke of the critical importance of making social media a priority during the final day of the Customer Service Experience conference. Petouhoff commented Wednesday that social customer service sometimes doesn't garner the same rate of importance as other business imperatives.

"We suffer from the Rodney Dangerfield effect," Petouhoff said. "What that means is that we just don't get enough respect in customer service. That can mean that you're not empowered to have the right budget, to do the ordinary things you want to do, and now you're asking for social media."

Petouhoff pointed out that there is still a divide between early adopters and innovators versus those with a business-as-usual mentality.

"Companies are built in silos," she said. "People know their job and they know their sphere of influence and they can't really influence other things. It's going to take really creative CEOs to understand what we're talking about.

"Our job [with social media] is to pitch needing more budget, more resources, more software, or [management] is not going to just say yes. Our job as chasm crossers is to articulate the business case of why social media matters...I think that as...customer experience people, we actually know what people are doing. We're talking to them on a daily basis and it's our job to create that relationship at higher levels so they get it."

To win that respect, it's important to start at the top of the company food chain and begin conversations with CEOs. Petouhoff said that she believe that CEOs, for the large part, don't really understand the connection between social media and customer service, and oftentimes will push it down to lower ranks, to chief marketing officers or customer services managers. Unless a CEO really understands social media, customer service will be mediocre.

"To me, social is listening, and you're responding and engaging," Petouhoff said. "It's really simple. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The question is, do the executives get it? I don't think that they do. I think that CEOs think that people are just sharing family photos [via social media]; they don't see the business revenue. If [CEOs] actually understood that you can increase revenue and decrease costs with social [media], they'd shoot themselves in the head when they look at what they're doing."

It's critical for CEOs and other C-level executives to pay attention to social media outlets, Petouhoff pointed out. What's on Twitter is public, and if negative conversations are happening concerning your company, it could spell real trouble. There's what Petouhoff calls the witness factor; because there's a witness—thousands of eyeballs following conversations about companies on social media—businesses need to change their behavior. Everything is being seen in social networks—what's working, what's not working, and what would be better. Customer service is like the canary in the coal mine, Petouhoff said.

"It's so important to be in the conversation," she said. "Are you monitoring [social media]? Is anybody saying anything about you? If they're not saying anything about you, that's a problem because now you have no voice and you're invisible. Are people saying positive things? You want to take advantage of that, you want to find brand advocates. If it's negative, you need to handle that [as well]."

The combination of customer service and social media is here to stay, and CEOs who are asleep at the wheel risk their brand, reputation, and customer loyalty.

"These trends are happening," Petouhoff said. "If the CEOs are sitting in their offices and people are blowing wind up their skirt and telling them how fabulous [things are], they might not ever realize the [importance of social media]. We have to let the CEO know what's happening because if they're not being prepared to make the shifts that they need to make will see businesses completely disappear. Customers will go if they don't have the experiences [they want].

"When you look at the number of [reviews], whether it's on Yelp or Amazon," Pethouoff continued, "what companies don't realize is that those reviews or comments are like cave paintings;they last millions of years, [they're] permanent, and in many cases, you can't take them back."