Just stop for a moment and think about what that term means to you. What images does it conjure up in your mind? A smiling and pleasant clerk in a store, restaurant or other business? A busy call center with people fielding multiple customer phone calls? Getting help from a live chat operator or email representative? How about having your question or issue responded to on social media? Yes, make no bones about it, social media is the new frontier of customer service. So much so that we must be calling it “social customer service.”
A Historical Look
For a long time, traditional customer service was delivered via phone only (in part because there were no other options aside from physically going to a business). At first, the “operators” were more or less only that. They answered calls and processed routine tasks like returns and exchanges.
Over time, however, things began to change. Companies began to realize that the interactions that their customer service agents were having with customers were actual marketing and branding opportunities. How well (or not) a customer’s issue was handled could have a direct impact on that person’s view of the company—and whether or not they would choose to refer the company to others or to do business with that company again. Customer service isn’t just a drone task, it’s a huge part of branding and marketing. This reality hits home even more as competitionincreases. Consumers almost always have other options so they do not have to tolerate sub-par customer service.
At the same time, other modes of delivering service entered the stage. First it was email and then live chat. Brought about not just technological advances so much as consumer demand, companies everywhere scrambled to integrate these modalities into their service offerings. Doing so became yet one more competitive differentiator and potential branding tool. How quickly as well as how effectively companies could resolve issues became the way to stand out in the crowd.
The Next Frontier
Once again, the winds of change are a-blowin’. Social media has long ago moved from fad to norm in so many parts of people’s lives—why not customer service as well? Isn’t the whole point of customer service to service customers? Shouldn’t that, by definition, happen when and where customers want it versus when and where companies want it? And where are customers these days? On social media.
Consider these facts:
- In 2010, 25% of businesses looked to social media to deploy customer service. By 2020, that number is expected to rise to 90%.
- 33% of consumers say they have used social channels for customer service at least once. 18% say they do so regularly.
- 20% of Fortune 500 companies routinely engage with customers on Facebook.
These statistics give some look into the growing importance of social media as a customer service mechanism. But, in addition to considering this, we should also consider the harm that can be done by not venturing into this new frontier. It’s a known fact that people will take to social channels to share their experiences—good as well as bad ones. Negative reviews on sites like Yelp are not the only online commentaries about which to be concerned. There is nothing to stop someone from making a post on Facebook, Twitter or another platform that positions a company in a less-than-lovely light.
Of people who used Twitter to comment about a negative experience with a company, 58% never received a reply from the company in question. That’s a lot of companies leaving their brand reputations in the hands of other people. That’s a lot of damage that can be done. That’s a lot of opportunity for companies who want to do it right.
Challenges of Social Customer Service
While social media offers tremendous opportunity and power to companies as a customer service vehicle, doing it right is not easy. This is in part because of the need to continue to offer service via other channels at the same time. This forces businesses to balance a lot of things. So, while social media should be looked upon as the frontline of today’s—and tomorrow’s—customer service, it must be done based upon a solid plan that addresses the potential pitfalls.
Following are the five areas in which too many companies fail when adding social to their service menu:
Integration with CRM and Marketing Databases
Failing to do this is missing the point of using social channels for service. As noted above, social media gives companies the ability to more effectively control their brand reputations. A strong brand reputation is an integral marketing tool.
By simply answering a question online and moving on to the next one, the marketing potential is completely overlooked. Conversations and customer information from social customer service interactions must be fully integrated into sales and marketing databases. This keeps the conversation going in a way that allows the customer to be nurtured for future business.
Consistency of Voice and Service Quality
Every company has a personality and an associated “voice”. Managing that and ensuring consistency in whatever that voice is can become harder as the number of channels grows. Social media may also provide additional limitations like word or character count that further add to the hurdles here. The voice that is used directly reflects and impacts the level of service that a customer experiences. Controlling this is therefore vital to service delivery and brand reputation.
Understanding the “Place”’ for Each Channel
Particularly with respect to social media, there are some times when a conversation will need to be taken offline. This may be to protect sensitive or private customer information or to more effectively work with an unhappy customer. Companies need to train reps when and how to do this—and how to close the loop back on the original social channel. One note of caution—some businesses divert conversations away from social channels too quickly. This also should be considered as finding a middle ground is important in this area.
Proper Staffing Levels
Reasonable or not, customers expect virtually immediate responses to their requests for help. Users of social customer service are said to consider a 1-hour window a reasonable response time. Sadly, most companies average a 5-hour response time. If a customer wasn’t already disappointed when they logged their request, the most likely would be after waiting that long.
Think of it like overbooking a flight. Even if they get a free airline ticket out of the deal, travelers are never happy with this scenario. Proper planning is required to avoid such a backlog.
Integration of Customer Service and Social Media Teams
Perhaps the most daunting task of all for companies today is figuring out exactly where social customer service “lives”. Is it part of customer service or is it part of social media? Clearly it’s a bit of both and yet it is neither. Social media teams “get” social media. They know how it works, they know how to maximize air time on each particular channel. But they don’t necessarily know service. Customer service teams, on the other hand, “get” service. They live and breathe it. But, they don’t know social media in quite the same way. Social customer service is doomed to fail unless this gap is effectively bridged.
With all of these challenges to face, it’s no wonder that so many companies have yet to venture into the social customer service foray. However, taking this approach is almost as bad as implementing social customer service poorly. The best approach is to learn from others’ mistakes and create a program that addresses both customers’ needs and companies’ bandwidths.
Answering the Social Customer Service Call
Fortunately it is possible to “do” social customer service right. Companies that do this enjoy a valuable competitive advantage along with a stronger hold on their social reputations and brand images.
Here are the four essential steps to making this happen:
Setup the Channels
Companies should identify what platform or platforms they wish to deliver service through. Being realistic here especially when just getting started is important. It is better to select only one platform at first and perfect that before adding others than to launch 2, 3 or more and not be able to keep up with it all. Along with this step comes figuring out how to integrate customer information received from the social channel into sales and marketing systems from the back end.
Train Customer Service Reps
Never assume that just because most people use some form of social media in their personal lives that they automatically know how to use it at work. Provide ample training on the channels to be used as well as how and when to take customer conversations to other channels. This step could see a conversation moved to live chat, email or phone depending upon the circumstances.
During this process, clarify that reps should respond in some form to every comment or question—even positive ones. Just because a customer doesn’t have a “need” does not mean they don’t appreciate a response. A simple “thank you” to someone who gave positive feedback shows that person and others that you care about customers.
Essential tip here—always go back to the social channel on which a conversation started to post a summary. Not doing this lets people believe that the issue was completely dropped or not resolved. Customer service reps should already be up to speed on a company’s brand and voice but use this time to offer refresher training for this important element to service.
There are many tools available that allow companies to track social conversations. This not only aids in brand reputation but in ongoing feedback and training of service agents. It can tell a business if staffing changes are needed and even provide insight into changes that a company could make that may reduce service issues.
Review and Revise—Regularly
Like any other “program”, the results should be continually reviewed and used to make enhancements along the way. Feedback should be taken from customers as well as the social customer service representatives themselves—these folks are on the front-line and they can be very useful in ironing out some of the kinks in a new process. You wouldn’t create a marketing plan without simultaneously setting up a metrics program and reviewing that so why would you fail to track and review the progress of a function that literally “touches” your customers?
Social customer service is perhaps one of the most beautiful marriages of service and marketing that could exist. It is simultaneously 1:1 marketing and 1:many marketing because social media is the ultimate fishbowl, you could say. Reps serve 1 customer at a time but many others are watching. Everything that a company says and doesn’t say on these channels tells customers and prospective customers a lot about what matters to that business and how customers fit into that.
Coming Soon to Your Company?
There is no question that social customer service isn’t just coming, but is here. Many companies are already offering it and some are even excelling at it. The biggest question could perhaps be—will yours be one of them?
This blog was written by Jim Iyoob, EVP Customer Experience and Operational Excellence for Etech Global Services. For more advice on creating social media content that encourages engagement or if you would like to learn more about Etech, feel free to contact at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To connect with Jim, click here.