Small Business Tip Tuesday: Social Media is Not About Marketing

by Ken Mueller on November 29, 2011 · 14 comments

Happy Grocery

Image by Terry Bain via Flickr

Forget Social Media and marketing. Toss it out the window. It doesn’t work.

At least it won’t work if you approach Social Media solely from a marketing mindset. It isn’t television. It isn’t radio. It isn’t print.

Instead, you should focus on something entirely different, not only with Social Media, but in everything you do in your business, both online and offline: Customer Service.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday I saw two commercials that indicated to me that big businesses are perhaps starting to understand this. I think most small businesses already do understand this but need reminders.

The first commercial was for Chase Bank’s Sapphire card, which promises cardholders that when they call for customer service, they will get a real person right away, as opposed to getting stuck in automation land.

The second commercial was for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and focused on the company’s policy of authorizing any employee to fix a customer’s problem, regardless of whether it was in their job description or not. All employees have the authority to “make it right”.

Please understand, I’m not commenting on how well they follow through on this, because I haven’t done business with either of these companies. And I’ve heard both positive and negative about both companies from friends who have done business with them, but you could say that about almost any company.

But to have that focus on customer service, and put it out there publicly, is bold. In this day and age, the moment either of them falls down on the job, you better believe their customers will be taking to Twitter and Facebook to blast them. Overall, these companies are making strides as they seek to make a commitment to great customer experience and wear it on their sleeves.

And this concept certainly isn’t revolutionary, and has been known by smart business owners since the dawn of time. Even my friend Dave Warren, of Dave’s Ace Hardware in Wisconsin, understood this concept back in 2006 when he handed his employees a document entitled “You Are Empowered“:

As complete as this booklet is, and as many updates as I add, it will never have the answer to every situation that could possibly arise.  Fortunately, every member of the Dave’s Ace Hardware team was hired for personality, intelligence and common sense.

In many businesses, problems are passed from one person to another like the proverbial hot potato while the customer helplessly stands by, shaking his head in disgust.  In most cases, a fair solution could have easily been found by the first person the customer came in contact with.

In all instances, you have my blessing to handle any customer service issues on your own.  The only requirement is that you treat each customer as you would want to be treated “if the tables were reversed”.  Sometimes it takes an investment in time or money to maintain our reputation for extreme customer service.  I am willing to make that investment.

You can be assured that I will publicly support any special level of customer care that you deem appropriate.  In the rare event that my true opinion of your action differs, I will only share that with you in private.

Should an appropriate resolution to a specific situation not be readily apparent, then and only then, should you refer the issue to a manager.  Dave’s Ace customers have come to expect a higher level of service from our more empowered team members.   Let’s not let them down.

Dave get’s it. Do you? Are you willing to go as far as Dave, Chase, and Enterprise have gone?

Oh, and by the way, that whole marketing thing? Remember, word of mouth is your best friend. Treat those customers right, and they will take care of that for you, and Social Media will be part of the mix. Be social, provide great customer service, and the marketing will follow.

As an aside, head over to Enterprise’s Facebook page and check out the Enterprise Way tab. There you’ll find a great series of commercials and videos which highlight their values, particularly in relation to their customers and employees. They really seem to do a great job of using Social Media for Customer Service, rather than being overly marketing-centric.

How are you providing great customer service and customer experience? Are your customers talking about you and telling others about you (in a positive way)? How are you using Social Media as part of the overall equation?


First - Ken, great post. I love the idea of customer representatives being empowered. Frustration levels only sky rocket out of control when a customer gets passed around from person to person. Most of the times it's that very action that can cause a very small problem to become a big blow up that ends with the customer threatening to take their business somewhere else.

Not to be a buzzkill but I think this campaign will blow up in the faces of companies like ERAC. I've never done business with Chase, so I can't comment on that, but I did spend four years working in the rental industry. There are certain things that these management trainee's will not have the power to fix - like an off-airport location that is out of vehicles due to a holiday rush. While it's a great message from a kind of business that is typically known for the "sorry I can't help you" kind of customer service my opinion is that they have set themselves up to have some real problems with this kind of marketing. Even as an assistant manager of a store (and left alone to run it by myself many times) there was an entire list of things I was not able to do without a manager. I just hope their solution isn't "let me call the competitor down the street" (which was something my store experienced a couple of times)



I wrote my "Empowered" policy after one too many experiences witnessing people having to repeat concerns to clerk after clerk only to be passed off to a store manager who finally ends up solving their problem. Most every time it was something that could have easily been handled by the first person talked to if only the clerk had been given permission to use their own common sense to begin with! I didn't ever want my customers to have to endure such time wasting foolishness.

KenMueller moderator

@davesace Well, I applaud you on this one. It makes so much sense. Plus, it has the added bonus of letting your employees know that you trust them. I hear so many businesses say they don't want to get into social media because they don't trust their employees. And as I've said so many times before, that's not an employee problem. That's a hiring problem, a leadership problem, a culture problem.

KenMueller moderator

@ginidietrich I think you are in the minority on this one. And I think in the end, if push came to shove, you'd still prefer the company that did the job well and did it right. Not having rented a car in over a decade, I have no experience to really compare Enterprise with anyone else though.


@KenMueller Not in this case. I get that the key differentiator for Enterprise is their service, but I really just want my keys and to get out of there. Typically I'm renting a car after many days of travel and I don't want to spend an extra 15 minutes at the rental car location as they handle me with kid gloves.

I much prefer Hertz. I used to prefer Avis...until they didn't try harder.

rhonda hurwitz
rhonda hurwitz

@ginidietrich I guess I'm a cheap date:) Besides the ca rkeys, they handed me two free bottles of water, a smile and a little bit of chit chat and that's all it took to make the difference.

rhonda hurwitz
rhonda hurwitz

@KenMueller@ginidietrich Hate to disagree with you, Gini ... I rented from Enterprise in October and was blown away by the service. For my it made a difference and earned loyalty.

KenMueller moderator

@ginidietrich I get that. I just mean when something goes wrong and the car isn't there, etc. I'm the same way in many cases. Gimme what I ordered and leave me alone.


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