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:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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 email@example.com.
To connect with Jim, click here.