On the whole most people are pretty honest and will not go to the efforts described to game the system. But to me the question gets to the heart of how strong your CRM foundation is, whether you view a customer’s social activities in isolation from everything else and whether your culture and organizational structure aligns to fixing customer problems quickly and transparently.
Take the organization that sets up a social media customer care operation completely disconnected from the rest of the customer-facing business. Without any customer data or insight the temptation would be to prioritize service given to customers who light the biggest fires. Customers who shout the loudest and who have the largest number of Twitter followers & social “klout” (neither of which necessarily bear any value whatsoever to customer lifetime value). In this scenario it’s easy to see that if the reward mechanisms make it worthwhile, a small number of customers will learn that to get better service (or perhaps compensation) they should build up their followers and complain vocally and repeatedly. The disconnected organization will simply keep fire-fighting and rewarding that behavior.
With a strong CRM foundation and an integrated approach however, we could see a different scenario. Firstly connecting a customer’s social activities to their CRM profile allows us to view the customer’s history, value and segmentation. We can therefore apply appropriate business roles to deal with the customer within the context of their profile and the interaction. We stand a better chance of knowing whether the angry customer shouting at their friends on social networking sites is in fact a loyalty customer with a genuine problem who needs help, or a serial social gamer trying to cheat the system.
The CRM foundation also covers people and organizational aspects. In particular the shift from inside-out to outside-in. Gaming the system can be prevented though effective and transparent handling of complaints, only possible with the right organizational set-up and culture. This is a lesson that United Airlines seemed to learn after their United Breaks Guitars episode. Following the high profile PR disaster United saw many customers trying to create copycat viral videos and blogs complaining about service issues. They seem (at least from the outside) to have adopted a policy of jumping on these sparks quickly and try and be transparent in acknowledging their mistakes and trying to do what they can to fix the problem.
Customers themselves can also help prevent gaming the system. An empowered community like GiffGaff’s can encourage self-moderation i.e. customers not only fixing each other’s problems but also calling out trouble makers from the community. One of the early mantras of the Internet was that “no one knows you’re a dog”. This is perhaps no longer valid as Google today displays your history online for everyone in the community to see. If this is a topic that interests you I suggest you read Michael Wu’s Building the Community Platform blog and check out this great post by Mark Tamis on “incentivizing community participation”.
I suspect that social customers gaming the system will be an emerging pain point for organizations setting up social media customer care operations. These organizations can make their lives much easier by building a strong community and by building on a strong CRM foundation. What do you think?