How to keep the humane side of moments of truth in online customer relationship

Summary : even if social media are a good means to make the humane side of the company more visible in the customer relationship, online relationships still struggle at making the most of moments of truth that are key in the service economy. As a matter of fact the human factor plays a big role in such moments and has a big impact on the value felt by the customer. To make up for this lack, it’s important to “put employees on stage”, even occasionally, or to mix online and offline experiences in order to create the feeling that will impact what customers will feel and how they’ll subjectively value the service. But there are two requirements for this to work : an actual service that can be valued and the right culture to behave this way.

When a company uses social media as a channel to manage customer relationships, it could be for different reasons. Because they need to be where the customer, when he’s there. Because it increases responsiveness. Because they make it easy to track weak signals that are about the company but are not directly send to her. Because they make the relationship more humane and more engaging. Let’s focus on the last point.

Nothing is more impersonal than a company that tries to communicate. And things aren’t even better when a company tries to interact with her customers. At best you get  a cold message delivered through an anonymous voice. At worse you get a ticket number from the customer service department. In fact things can get even worse when the rules of traditional communications are applied to customer service, what often happens when the communication department starts to try to take care of customers for the only reason they own the social media channel. Using a channel they own to deliver things they don’t master often leads to catastrophes (remember….it’s all about multiplexing). Sometimes, some manage to cross the chasm and, behind the interaction, you don’t feel the cold corporate mechanism but someone who takes care of you. That’s what I call an online guardian angel. This kind of qualitative interaction that make customers feel that, behind the customer relationship/service job there are fully engaged and committed people is more likely to happen on social media than anywhere else. It’s impossible to have the same impact with a contact form. Some may say a phone call should be better at that…but most of time you’ll be answered by someone working at a call center who has nothing to do with the company in question, only following a script to try to answer you. Most of all, you’ll have to fight with the vocal server for a long time to manage to talk with a real human being.

Despite of that, even with the help of social media, online relationships are a true challenge for organizations. When you’re in front on someone, in real life, you can se her attitude, motivation, attentiveness to do something for you. During these moments of truth you can feel more than the corporate customer service policy : you can feel the personal committment of the whole staff. Or not. So, even if some companies ask their employees to sign with their initials the message they publish on the enterprise twitter account, there’s still something missing. Something to compete with these moments of truth when they happen in real life.

Hence the idea to “show” the employees from time to time. Of course it’s only a communication performance around customer relationship that can only be one-shot but they aim at showing this commitment on customer satisfaction. As a matter of fact there’s one thing to be kept in mind : in the world of service, the perceived value matters more than the objectively delivered value. Impressions are essential.

In some ways we can say that Lipdubs, that were very popular a couple of years ago, were a clumsy try in this direction. But they did not deliver any message, any value proposition. But, with time, we began to see more clever and relevant ways to create the “moment of truth” effect on an online interaction.


The best example comes from KLM and their famous “KLM Surprise” campaign. The principle is very easy to understand. When a passenger flying KLM locates himself in an airport with social media, the KLM crew tries to learn more about him through his profile(s) on social media to find a gift that would please him…and offers the gift as the passenger was boarding. As they say in this video, there’s nothing like bringing smile on people’s faces with a simple gesture. It’s obvious that passengers who experienced KLM surprise as well as those who followed the initiative on the web valued these gesture at a very high level. Remember : impressions and feelings beat everything when it comes to service.

It seems that KLM perfectly masters these logics since they recently took another initiative. Their idea was to say “KLM answers every tweet and post in person, in the hour, night and day”. They obviously managed to highlight the “in person” things (or should I say “In people”…). Answers to twitter or facebook messages send to the airline where written with a kind of human alphabet, with signs carried by a team a 140 crew members.

This is the kind of message customers received (you can watch all there messages on the  KLM channel on Youtube )

And here’s the backstage…

If we have a closer look we can say that everything that matters can be found in this initiative. Service because it’s what is put on stage. Employees engagement and commitment because they are playing the key roles…and a message that says that customer service is everyone’s job in the company. Then the corporate values and culture : not every airline has the culture to try such a thing. Most of all, when you see some messages and consider the whole things, you can understand who KLM is and what’s peculiar to them.

Then I decided to play the game and asked them to summarize their vision of customer relationship in 140 characters. And I get an answer. In 6 characters : Engage !

This answer brought some thoughts to my mind.

The first is about what we mean by “engage”. For many, engaging on social networks only means getting in touch with customers and having conversation. That’s nice but has no value if execution does not follow. At KLM, “engage” means being by the the customer’s side and not only engaging with him but for him.

What leads to my second point. Such a campaign is nice, people will remind of it, but it will works because KLM’s social logic is to use social media to execute well known processes. Here conversation and engagement are not only used to deliver a message : they initiate actions inside the organization to solve customers’ issues. There are still not that many companies that use social media not only to talk but to listen and reverse the flow to make  internal processes responsive to external social signals. If KLM can afford such an operation that’s because they did a hard work these last years to make their customer service socially responsive…and the market knows it very well, considering KLM as an european and even world leader in this field, maybe the leader among airlines. Social media can make things shiny but won’t help if your customer service is poorly designed.

That said…let the KLM crew have a little fun. Well deserved…


Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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