Governing Authenticity

waitressI was recently discussing best practices and technologies for delivering customer service through social media, and someone asked me how companies could possibly deliver customer service and support at scale, in social media, while maintaining the authenticity that is the hallmark of social media. I replied, “They won’t.”

I don’t think that authenticity is a critical component in successful customer support through social media, and here’s why:

One reason that authenticity matters for individuals in social media is because inauthentic behavior eventually leads to inconsistent behavior and loss of trust. Ultimately, therefore, consistency is the key to successful engagement in social media, and the ethereal authenticity only matters to the extent that it impedes consistency.

Consistency is also critical to delivering a branded customer experience — especially for companies delivering services across multiples channels, such as web, social media, phone, etc. For example, when I phone a call center for help at a given company, I want the same great experience every time. Yes, it’s great when the agent has a nice personality, but the experience shouldn’t vary too much.

The same will be true of customer service delivered in social media. For example, if I want to interact with a company via Twitter, I don’t want my experience to depend on which agent I get. I want the same experience, every time.

At a given company, if every agent on Twitter uses the same voice (written voice), tone and language, that’s great! I don’t need or want every individual agent to be “authentic”. I want the company to be authentic (that is, consistent).

So, when people ask how companies will ensure authenticity at scale, I think it will happen through tools, training and standards — just like large-scale customer service always has. And customer-centric organizations will not focus so much on agent authenticity, but company authenticity, just like large-scale customer service always has.

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