With social rapidly becoming one of the most important channels for customer service, MyCustomer.com examines its emergence into agents' service desks - and outlines which brands are successful integrating service operations.
Consumer demand for social customer service is soaring. A recent study by Sitel revealed that social media is no longer an ‘opt in’ for customer service but essential, with 15% of consumers aged 16-25 year olds now using social media to resolve an issue rather than any other method. Ovum anlyst Adam Holtby explains that for Generation Y, this is now the primary communication channel for them and ultimately a need rather than a must.
More and more organisations are beginning to see the benefits of social and creating specific communities to start engaging with their customers. Conversocial founder Joshua March has worked with numerous companies throughout the evolutionary stages of social service adoption and explains that early take-up typically begins with a fan page, logging customer complaints in Excel.
Although this is fine for smaller firms, as online customer communities grow so do the number of complaints, making it much harder to prioritise and create interactions based on spreadsheets. Quick response time is everything, he says, and so scaling up to create a team is a must.
When building a service team, the resounding call is to choose and train real customer service agents. March explains that often when agents first get started a manager will check and approve each tweet. For some companies that time period is two weeks, others three months, before they allow agents to respond by themselves.
But despite early take-up by some companies, the notion of a social customer service desk is undoubtedly still in its infancy. Matt Price from Zendesk explains that a lot of companies find social media intimidating with many avoiding it all together.
He says: “There are also those that recognise social media’s importance as a customer service channel but incorrectly assume that creating the team and technology to support it will be too costly. Others, just quite simply aren’t waking up to the fact that their customers want to talk to them via social media.”
Jonny Rosemont from DBD Media believes there are three reasons why businesses are taking time to integrate social into their customer service operations. First, a lack of understanding of social’s benefits; second, businesses have not yet thought through how to set up the protocols and guidelines required; third, there still remains a high degree of nervousness around social.
He says: “Education is the key to encouraging businesses to move forward in establishing a social media presence. Businesses need to realise that people are talking about their company, sometimes negatively, and that this negative chatter needs to be addressed before it becomes damaging.”
The two main channels that attract most customer service complaints are without doubt Facebook and Twitter. The recent arrival of Facebook’s timeline and the ability for consumers to privately message brands is moving the customer service conversation a step further. Ovum analyst Aphrodite Brinsmead claims the new feature will transform customer service and represents a challenge for enterprises, which must now invest in staff and tools to manage these personalised messages.
But some brands are getting it right. RIM runs its Blackberry social service channel by creating a separate support twitter feed, manned by staff profiled on the page. Rather than respond in the open Twitter space, RIM replies to complaints via a direct message, creating a more personal response.
However, many argue that this means losing out on the benefits of being able to share valuable customer service information with an even greater number of customers. Holtby says: “With a service desk social network page, I’m not responsible of who gains value from that piece of information… I can put it out there and then people can absorb it if it’s relevant to them, so it extends the reach of knowledge and value.
The analyst outlines internet service provider Plusnet as a good example of an organisation empowering their users through social networks: “It has a member of staff monitoring its Twitter feed throughout the day, posting information on network maintenance windows and responding/redirecting any enquiries that the user base may have.
“The agent monitoring the queue sets expectations of the service being provided by posting a tweet notifying that the Twitter support service is now live and also advising when support ceases at the end of the day, providing a contact telephone number that queries should be diverted too,” he explains.
Countless other organisations such as Zappos, Asos, Dell and Virgin Media have been named as brands successfully integrating social. But total integration of social into traditional channels is still some time away, claims March. “We’ve done quite a few integrations with email systems and CRM systems but although the long term goal for everyone is to get this single view of the customer, right now people just need to respond.
“But the next step, and it’s something that’s going to become more important over the next 12-18 months, is that if someone complains on a Facebook page, we can see the emails and the things they’ve done before and have that in a single view. There are lots of challenges around doing the scale – there’s no way you can automatically match Facebook profiles into your CRM system,” he says.
For firms experimenting with social in their customers’ service desks, the resounding message is to remember the process is all about integration; don’t treat social in isolation.
Steve Richards, MD of Yomego, says: “Understand how it fits into your business and your business practices and put in place some parameters for response, escalation etc. Make sure you have access to the right data from the start.”
Laura Edwards from A Social Media Agency explains that best practice for incorporating social media into customer service operations has to revolve around transparency, taking responsibility and empathy.
“We live in a world where consumers are far too quick to jump on a social media platform to complain, but brands that have plans in place to deal with this, good mechanisms to quickly take the conversations off-line and a consistent approach to what is said will always do well,” she says.