Some recent marketers were commenting that social media can be a compelling means to gain more customers through good customer service. However, the devil is in the details.

Customer service is a field that means a great deal to me, because I have been developing and teaching customer service training programs for senior executives and frontline employees since the 1990s, and have studied the subject with field-level as well as academic interest. Customer service can make or break a brand, and can also derail the most expensive and most creative marketing campaigns if customer service lapses are too tragic.

Some people imagine customer service as an area you can “fix” by simply training frontline employees to be pleasant to customers and placate every request, reasonable or unreasonable. At the same time, the rise of social media increases the complexity of customer service whereby anyone with a social media capable phone, tablet or computer, can communicate requests (however far-fetched) and complaints. People seem to be more willing to voice their complaints online because they feel a sense of “safety”, hiding behind a keyboard and screen, without the confrontation face-to-face with a service provider, human being to human being, feelings meeting feelings.

And yet, customer service is not just about a good attitude and courtesy extended to paying customers. It entails the back-end processes and systems. I have observed, as a process and service quality consultant in my earlier years, that even if frontline employees are willing and happy to be nice to paying customers, the back-end systems and processes may derail their best practical and emotive efforts, and invariably, demoralize them to quit altogether.

Imagine this. If a famous brand has poor inventory control, or even the lack of, and poor supply chain systems, with crippling workflow processes that impede the progress and empowerment of frontline employees, any courtesy or smiles extended to paying customers will be utterly useless, because orders cannot be fulfilled, sales are lost, repairs or replacements can’t be adequately addressed, and so on.

Marketing is a seductive field because it is front-facing to the public, and companies may be more easily persuaded to put more priority in that area. However, it is equally important to have a working, or better yet, a compelling supply chain and workflow system that lubricates the entire sales and support process (e.g. enterprise resource planning or ERP systems), such that every customer order is fulfilled, every request easily relayed and answered promptly, and every stakeholder in the workflow process adequately informed on time with dashboard access. This is not some pipe dream or science fiction. Many successful companies have all these in place. And yet, there are still some companies which are struggling along without well integrated back-end systems and workflow processes.

Customer service is not a bandage or an afterthought. It should be tightly integrated with the entire workflow and the supply chain process. No amount of creative marketing firepower can rescue dysfunctional back-ends, and tragically, customer service lapses will become a mainstay. Therefore, while teams are working on great marketing campaigns or exciting product development, remember to look into work processes and the supply chain too.