Giles Palmer, CEO of Brandwatch, predicts how the social customer service landscape will develop over the coming 12 months.
As we bid farewell to 2012 and steam ahead into 2013, customer service on social media platforms continues to be crucial for brands of all sizes and audiences, both to cultivate a loyal following and as a means of managing reputation by responding to consumer interactions.
Anyone with an eye on social media will confirm that both existing and potential customers now turn more than ever to forum threads, Twitter and Facebook to either contact companies directly or discuss customer service experiences with peers. It might have taken a while but we are certainly now seeing brands take notice of this development and adapt their online presence accordingly. Well over half of the Fortune 500 has highly active customer service teams on Twitter and Facebook, for example.
A quick glance back at 2012
Before we look at what this year holds for customer service on social media, it is worth checking in on developments in 2012. Was this the year that social media customer service finally clicked with brands and consumers alike? Or is there still some way to go?
Every year, Brandwatch runs a research report called the Customer Service Index (CSI). This report examines the social media accounts of almost 100 well-known brands from a wide range of sectors, aiming to identify which brands are executing the best customer service on social media and how their reputation is reflected in conversation and sentiment.
Last year, the CSI 2012 study found that in comparison to 2011 results, customer satisfaction levels still have not improved, if anything they have dropped slightly. Only three of the 40 brands analysed emerged with a score above zero – indicating that their customer service experience was successful overall. In fact, over half (52%) of all customer service experiences were classified as negative.
What the results showed more than anything is that that there is still real scope for brands to improve their social media customer service. So is this something we will see happen in 2013? And how will brands go about the change?
Training and automation
As the number of customer service teams using Twitter and Facebook continues to expand, we will increasingly see call centre reps and other related employees getting properly trained on how to use Twitter to effectively engage with customers. This applies both to responding in a reactive manner but also on how to use the online technologies available to find candid complaints and potential crises before they erupt. In a cyclical chain of events, once customers realise this and can see the improvement in the type of online response they receive, they will start to use Twitter as their platform of choice for interaction, which will in turn drive mass uptake and further training.
As the cost and time investment for online customer services therefore increases, companies will start to look at different ways to streamline the process as much as they can. One possible solution which we will see employed is companies setting up Bots to automatically track activity on Twitter and route users to the right place. This is very much a social media take on how call centre phone systems work asking users to press 1 or 2, etc.
Other types of automation we will see are smart categorisation and workflow management. Some customer service tools now offer advanced categorisation which automatically classifies any given mention and assigns it to the relevant team. This categorisation extends to sentiment analysis, but can also be about dividing customer queries into different brackets - type of complaints, for example. Workflow features also mean that team members are assigned complaints automatically, immediately removing the need for, 'Sorry, would you mind holding the line while I transfer you?' scenarios.
A need for speed and acting out
If 2012 has been about getting brands onto social channels to engage with their audiences, then 2013 will be about what they do once they are there, and crucially, the focus will not be on speed of response but on the act related to the response.
Too often, when faced with a negative comment or general query brands merely to ping back a quick automated message. Perhaps this is the industry’s fault for placing too much emphasis on speed but that should not be the priority for customer service: it’s about understanding what customers are taking the time to tell the brand, learning lessons, and acting on this feedback.
A growing number of consumers have grown tired of receiving generic brush off responses from companies. In fact, our CSI 2012 showed that a large proportion of brand complaints from consumers (50% of those asked) stem from a wish for the companies to learn from their mistakes. Contrary to the general conception, people weren’t just complaining for the sake of it or to provoke a response, they want to see something done or changed.
Instead, brands should now be putting more thought into their response, communicating that they’re working on resolving the issue, setting a realistic expectation of what can be done to help, and then ensuring they deliver and communicate back a real resolution.
As with many years before it, 2013 will also be about monitoring the different communications channels opening up or coming to the fore, seeing which audiences are using them, and then making sure the correct channels are integrated into a brand’s customer service strategy. For example, if 90% of the comments and inquiries about a brand start occurring on Twitter rather than the forums used to date, that brand will need to put in place a Twitter-savvy team that can tap into different parts of their organisation to manage issues. On the other hand, if a product user forum crops up and starts to dominate the mix, then that will require a very different set of customer service skills.
One of our top picked channels to watch in 2013 is YouTube, which has grown up a lot in 2012. With a variety of monetisation options - must watch pre-roll, skippable pre-roll, interruption advertising, on screen messaging - YouTube is looking like a more and more attractive alternative to TV for broadcasters and advertisers. 2013 could see, for example, the first mainstream TV show airing on Youtube only, which would be a huge step forward for the social media landscape. This increased use of YouTube by brands will no doubt come with an increased level of comments, and though to date comments on YouTube have not been service-related and therefore not taken very seriously, this is something the customer service team will need to keep a real eye on throughout the year.
Adapt to survive
These are just a few of the possible changes we predict for 2013, which will no doubt be another hectic year for social media customer service. As anyone in this industry knows, there will of course be many more changes as the year progresses so the most important thing from our perspective is for customer service teams to be flexible in their approach to social media engagement and keep a close watch on what is going on. That way they can make sure to adapt quickly to any of the changes that are surely coming their way!
Giles Palmer is CEO of Brandwatch.