Why Social Media is the New Customer Service Channel (Part 3)

The following was originally posted on the Avaya site here.

In my first post of this three-part series, I covered the basics of customer service and social media. The second post made the case that social media is the newest customer service channel and that it needs your attention. Below is the third and final post in this series on protecting the brand by providing customer service in social media.

There is encouraging news that companies see the need to move into social media as a customer support channel. In fact, 80% of companies were planning on utilizing social media as part of their customer service strategy by the end of 2012; something they know is important as 62% of their customers are already there (source). While companies are moving to this space, that does not mean they know how to approach the problem.  Here are my recommendations on how to proceed.

1. Go with Speed

In most sports, the faster an athlete executes plays, the better the results. The same applies to monitoring for issues online. If an employee can quickly address a problem, they can prevent the complaint from becoming a public relations disaster. Rather than waiting to build the brand’s overall comprehensive social media strategy, the contact center team should create a Twitter handle and target a few of their contact center agents to handle contacts, preferably those that are already engaged in social media themselves. If no such agents are available, consider targeting tech-savvy agents, most likely from a younger demographic, who will be able to quickly grasp social media concepts. An escalation plan is also important, as customers can be unpredictable, in particular after a poor experience. Agents should not be afraid to pull in more experienced personnel to assist.

However, one caveat to “going with speed” is being prepared.  Bradley Leimer of Mechanics Bank stresses banks should not set up a presence on a social media site unless they are equipped to deal with customer expectations in that medium. “Once you’re on a platform, you’ve got to be ready to go (source: Crosman, P. (2010, July). Social Butterflies. Bank Systems & Technology , pp. 33-34.).” A study by A.T. Kearney found that in 2011, 56% of the top fifty brands didn’t respond to a single comment on their Facebook pages. On Twitter, brands ignored 71% of customer complaints (source).

2. Engage a Social Media Manager

Simply being a user of social media does not qualify someone to manage a company’s social media program any more than a driver of a car is qualified to lead the release of a new car platform. A proven Social Media Manager will have a track record of not only creating professional Facebook pages, but also coordinating engaging programs that increase the number of online followers, turning many of those followers into champions of the brand. This role not only coordinates social media activities between the marketing and support departments, but also provides guidance and process to teams on how best to perform their function in the new channels. While Facebook and Twitter are the clear heavy-hitters of the industry, an experienced professional will know which other channels to pursue depending on market requirements (LinkedIn, Google+, Pintrest, YouTube, blogging, etc.). With this broad knowledge base, a Social Media Manager can develop a strategy for how to manage the overall brand(s) of the company in this new marketing channel.

3. Collaborate on a Social Media Strategy

While past customer service interactions were mostly one-to-one, actions on social media are all public, thus handling a complaint is not just customer service, but also branding/marketing. As such, the marketing, social media, and customer service teams all need to collaborate on the company strategy

A comprehensive strategy should start with the company’s purpose for using social media:  a mission statement that serves as the commander’s intent for all involved in social media on behalf of the company. Whenever an employee or hired agent acts on behalf of the brand, they should understand not only the tactical purpose of their efforts, but also the company strategy. While understanding that a blog post can convey needed information, understanding the larger intent is vital. For instance, a goal that their blog should drive traffic to the website from users who would not typically interact with the brand, would guide the author to include keywords and links to mentioned topics, thus increasing the odds that the blog post will be picked up by as many people as possible.

The social media strategy would outline what sites to be used, which tools will manage content and how analytics will be collected, reported, and then actioned. A good strategy is based on researching which networks customers use and find the best match to reach the customers effectively.

4. Selectively Respond

It is important to evaluate the context of a brand mention and decide if it warrants a response. A one off complaint about the temperature in a company’s retail store does not deserve a response. However, a negative review of the company by an analyst or a legitimate complaint from a customer should be addressed as quickly as possible and within the same channel (Twitter, Facebook, etc.). “Generally the best practice is to acknowledge the issue on social media, but to move attempts to resolve the issue offline,” said Gartner’s Carol Rozwell (source). Determining the right hours of operation is important as well. A small Mom-and-Pop-Shop may only need to staff their presence during normal business hours, but larger companies like an airline, need to staff their social media desk 24×7 because social media users expect real-time response rates.

If the group handling “mentions” on social media cannot handle all relevant comments in a timely first-come-first-serve fashion, then they should consider prioritizing them.

5. Prioritize Responses

Given the cost to the business of customer churn, one approach to prioritizing is to determine if the user is an existing customer and focus on her. Another approach is to use the person’s social influence to determine whom to respond to first. One such rating service is Klout which measures a user’s network reach and their ability to leverage it on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Pintrest, WordPress, and many more. Many social media tools, such as HootSuite, enable the employee to see a user’s Klout score as part of the tweet and filter and sort tweets using this as criteria.

Such an approach would have helped when Jayne Gorman, a travel writer who was struggling with a British Airways online reservation. She was unable to reach the company via telephone, so she reached out to them on Twitter.

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BA could have done a better job at identifying Jayne early on as an online influencer. With over 5,000 followers on Twitter and a Klout score of 63, they should have prioritized the handling of her tweet. Instead, BA took thirteen hours to respond, leading Jayne to write an article on the experience for The Huffington Post. You don’t need to necessarily resolve an issue the way the customer wants it resolved, but what you cannot do is ignore them.

6. Integration with CRM and the Contact Center

The days of treating social media independently from a company’s operations are gone. It needs to be integrated into most, if not all business functions. Some organizations just getting started in social media have implemented the first stages of a social media engagement process, only to make the mistake of treating engagements as ad hoc. These interactions can be much more effective if you are able to match the online user to a customer in your customer relationship management (CRM) tool.

In the previously mentioned DMG study, while 63% of respondents were using social media to provide customer support, only 37% were using a contact center approach. The consequence of not integrating social media with a contact center means that the company experiences missed gains in productivity and customer satisfaction. Without contact-center functionality, the team responsible for monitoring and responding to social media will need to have the skills necessary for supporting customers. Contact center applications provide a work assignment engine, making sure each item is assigned to one and only one employee, helping to determine average response times. “It’s important not only to keep records of individual conversations, but constantly to analyze the interactions to see what insights can be gleaned from them,” said Gartner’s Ms. Rozwell (source).

What tools to use will vary depending on what CRM and contact center tools may already be deployed in the enterprise and the size of the brand. As companies get started, especially smaller organizations, the default Twitter interface may be a starting point, but users will quickly need at least a product like Hootsuite to provide more control. While more than half of monitored brands still use these off-the-shelf tools (source), they provide limited ownership and reporting.

Avaya’s Social Media Manager is an example of suite that provides more advanced tools. It acts as an analytical funnel for all the potential mentions of a brand online and then feeds the actionable items to contact center agents through its integration with Avaya’s Interaction Center or Aura Contact Center applications. A key component of this product is its ability to consume social media mentions, determine which are actually relevant to the brand  since approximately 30% are usually spam, and then determine which of those are actionable. Rich LeGrand of Avaya estimates that of 100,000 hits in a social media search, less than 2% are actionable by the brand.

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Having a tool that narrows down the actions from 100,000 to only 1,400 can clearly reduce the cost to monitor these channels. The tool can be expanded to integrate with an existing CRM database, linking actionable items to real customer information. This tool also provides real-time and historical reporting capabilities, allowing both the contact center and the Social Media Manager to know exactly what is going on and how to handle it.

7. Don’t be mistaken for a Robot

Users of social media are not just there to complain. They have joined these networks in order to socialize with other people. To help build relationships and loyalty for a company’s brand on social media, the online presence must be humanized as well. A call center agent who is used to running through a structured script will need to be trained to properly represent the brand. These individuals need to balance making the experience both an enjoyable experience for them and the customer, while also keeping within the branding guidelines.  One company that does this well is HootSuite, a maker of social media tools. They tweet “shift changes” of who is responsible for their Twitter account. The individuals are encouraged to introduce themselves and have a little fun.

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“If your customers have an emotional attachment to your products, make sure your social media agents have that same passion. Even in 140 characters, it shows” – Jeffrey Cohen (source).

8. Segregate your Presence

After a company’s social media presence is established and processes are in place and have been shown to work, some companies choose to create multiple Twitter handles and Facebook pages for different parts of the business if the social media load increases. Research shows that in 2012, 35% of brands use more than one Twitter account, up from 7% in 2011 (source). The most common split is to give customer support their own presence, allowing users the ability to self-segment the types of interactions they want to have with the company. Such segmentation may also occur if the company lacks proper social media coordination and a business function wants to operate independently.

9. Market your Customer Support

You should be communicating to your followers your new support offerings, not just responses to complaints. Expose your personality and your value. It is important for users to know where to turn if they have a problem, and it helps establish the brand as one that takes care of its customers. For example, if a customer tweets about how wonderful support is, retweeting that to the company’s followers not only markets your support, but also further strengthens the emotional bond between that customer and the brand.

10. Don’t Overcommit

The proactive use of social media by marketing departments has increased dramatically over the last decade. The danger is that its use may leave people too dependent on using technology to speak, not allowing enough time to listen to customers. Social media is a key part of most companies’ strategy going forward, but it should not be the lynch pin.

So, what will the future bring? As available tools improve, further online channels can be monitored to provide brands with more information about what users are saying about them. For example, when a software developer runs into an apparent bug with Microsoft software, they do not typically call up Microsoft for support. Instead, they search for others who have reported the same symptom and hopefully there is a documented solution. These are often found in blogs and online forums. While one of those discussion boards may be Microsoft’s, there are countless other sites that contain that data. If Microsoft could crawl those sites, identify that a user found a potential bug, and then route that action to an employee to investigate and fix, they could improve their software quality. Consumer-focused products could take a similar approach with online retailers like Amazon, pulling product feedback either into the support team or to the marketing team for future action.

As social media technologies continue to grow in use and reach, companies must consider their integration and how they impact their brand(s). This is no longer the exclusive realm of the marketing department. Customer service teams must play an active role in monitoring the brand’s online presence. In order to get the most value and scale out of these activities, the effort should be integrated with CRM and contact center technologies, delivering the right contact, to the right employee with the right context. Solid execution of this approach will allow for quick and effective responses to negative brand impressions, not only allowing for image control, but also converting brand detractors into promoters.

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2 Comments on “Why Social Media is the New Customer Service Channel (Part 3)”

  1. […] Why Social Media is the New Customer Service Channel (Part 3) Why Social Media is the New Customer Service Channel (Part 1) […]

  2. […] case that social media is the newest customer service channel and that it needs your attention. The third post includes my top ten recommendations on being […]


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