Interview with Bian Salins (British Telecom)

29th May 2012

Bian Salins is the Head of Social Media Innovation and Customer Service for British Telecom. She comes from a previous editorial experience and now, having introduced the Social Customer Service concept and strategy in BT, she has won the UK Customer Satisfaction Award 2012 for Best Use of Social Media. We’ll see her on the next Social Business Forum in Milan with the speech “From Service to loyalty – the BTCare story“.

BT Customer Service is known as one of the main examples of how to properly use social media in Customer Service through different social channels. Can you tell us what did you find, at your arrival in BT Customer Service department, in terms of Service and Feedback strategy?

When I first took up this role, I soon came to realize that like most brands that were dipping their toes in the water way back in 2009 – we’d set up a series of channels but had no clear strategy on how we’d grow them, operationalize them and embed them within the wider customer experience. Social operated very much as a silo where the agents were not being performance managed and we had no metrics or knowledge of who we were servicing. So a large part of me coming into BTCare (which is our service brand) was to set a clear strategy that would sustain within our customer service vision and put the infrastructure in place to make it business as usual.

What aspects of your previous job’s experience did you find useful for the new role?

My background is in journalism but also in digital (I started out as a journalist for India’s first online venture so coming into customer service was both a culture shock as well as good challenge. I realized that call centre culture for a start didn’t really cater for a successful social media strategy. For example, agents are encouraged and managed on ‘closing’ customer cases while social encourages and needs conversation to allow for relationship building. I also realized that agents tend to rely heavily on tool sets and scripts due to things like compliance but social support demands a new kind of service – one that treats every customer like an individual and every conversation as a unique experience. My background in content, technology and collaborating with people  towards a common goal enabled me to demonstrate how by applying new techniques and technology coupled with pure honesty and transparency – we were able to change our reputation as being a poor service brand to becoming an open brand.

Did you integrate your social customer service job with a more traditional feedback management  methodology like VoC or others? If yes, how did you proceed?

Our first challenge was to discover who were talking to on social channels and what their previous experience with our company had been. So I worked with a social web analyst to use existing survey methodology to begin asking our customers key questions. We then began to feed that insight back into existing programmes within our traditional functions like voice. What we found was that the insight didn’t tell us anything new when put together with existing analytics but the real time feedback we were getting in relation to products, services, outages and marketing campaigns was invaluable to the next steps we took as an organization. We’re now integrating our social media dashboards with our wider customer insight dashboards across our consumer business.

What about impacts of your job on the organization (i.e. change management)?

Social media has kick-started a lot of transformation within our business. For example, our call centres are trying to replicate operational models and success we’ve seen from our social media teams especially around ownership of our customers. We’ve launched a customer effort score and programme across our business to make things easier for customers. We’ve built our super-user programme into our product development programme ensuring that our super users try/test and feedback on experiences before we release them into the market. We’ve also built social media communications into our real time communications operation – ensuring that social acts as a signal for emerging crises as well as acts a core channel for keeping customers informed during crisis situations. Since we’ve demonstrated the power of social within our Customer Service, we’ve now delivered a social business strategy to the MDs and senior management which looks at how we will transform into being a social business where social is core to every aspect from marketing to product to our digital estate. But the most exciting of all is how we bring true enterprise collaboration to the way our advisors work and service our customers which we’re developing this year.

Which are main KPIs you use in order to measure BT Customer Service success?

We use

  • Response time
  • Customer Effort (what we defined as net easy)
  • Churn
  • Satisfaction
  • Fully resolved (has the agent fully resolved your issue)
  • ROI

We also have soft metrics which include number of super users, engagement, views, positive mentions etc.

In your opinion, which are the main strategic pillars to implement a social media strategy in Customer Service practice?

Based on my experience, the pillars I created for my strategy were:

  • Empathy and efficiency: Creating objectives and metrics that will empower empathy within service but equally, keep it efficient because efficiency is crucial when you have millions of customers all wanting quick answers.
  • Industrialisation: I don’t like the word but it’s a core pillar for me because if social is here to stay and brands want to add social channels to their contact mix, then we can’t expect to be treated special. We’ve got to make it scalable and work it so that it’s business as usual.
  • Visibility and effort: One of my main gripes is that we don’t make things easy for our customers. According to a recent research from Harris Interactive, 86% of consumers have quit doing business with a company over a bad customer experience. One of the reasons, consumers turn to using social channels to air their frustrations is because they want a reaction and to be heard. We’ve found that apart from live chat, social channels coming out on top when it comes to effort – so make your social support channels core to your contact strategy and customer experience. If you want to drive people from voice to social then let them know you’re there. Also, embed the experience in your product design – take your service to your customers so they don’t have to come looking for you.
  • Innovation and transformation: Finally, I think we don’t innovate enough when it comes to servicing our customers. We have a lot of technology that is emerging to enable good service but sometimes, service environments are not brave enough to adopt new ways of working within call centre structures. It’s not about what’s the next new shiny object – it’s about how can we change the experience for our customers and for our advisors. Decision makers need to innovate all the time to find a better way. I seriously think that to change, you need a vision and yet, without change, you cannot achieve or aspire towards a vision for your company. (They go hand in hand).

It’s about three years that, in various conferences, we talk and listen about benefits of social media to support customer-facing processes. Do you think that corporate are practically taking note of this opportunity?

Yes, I do think that brands are waking up the power of supporting customers through social. However, a lot of them are doing this as a surface level experience. You often find brands that just use their twitter profiles to sign post people in the right direction rather than owning the customer and actually helping. Or, you find that some brands have social support channels but nobody knows they’re there – which means they haven’t thought about it as part of the multi-channel mix. So I think this is the year that brands stop playing around with social as a form of support and start to think seriously about how it can used to transform their businesses.

Can you give us some “sneak peeks” about your next speech at the Social Business Forum in Milan?

Some sneak peeks would include how the brave step of one employee set us on our social journey; how we’re organized for social success; the challenges we’ve faced as an organization and the ROI we’ve gleaned from using social as a form of support.

Thanks a lot Bian Salins for your kindness


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