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Taking seamless customer service onto social media

10th Mar 2016
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Over the past decade, the way in which customers interact with brands and businesses has changed considerably. Whereas previously more traditional channels of communication such as telephone or face-to-face interaction were predominantly used to engage with organisations, there are now multiple digital channels for customers to choose from - ranging from web self-service and mobile apps, to email and social media. Which platform they select now comes down to a mix of personal preference and situational factors.

Unsurprisingly, our latest research into the contact preferences of 1,000 UK consumers demonstrated the increasing prevalence of digital channels, and the fact that more and more people are comfortable moving away from traditional modes of communication. Perhaps more surprisingly, it also found that a substantial proportion of those surveyed turn to social media as their first contact preference in complicated situations. Results found that almost 1 in 5 people now use social media as their first preference to voice a complaint, over other contact channels including phone, face to face, email and web chat, and this isn’t just restricted to the youngest in our sample.

Successfully interacting with customers via social

However, despite social media’s increasing popularity as a communication channel, I find it staggering that there are still many brands that continue to choose not to have any social media presence at all – worrying considering there are probably lots of people talking about that brand across social, regardless. And for those that have adopted it, many struggle to manage it properly.

At present, a number of organisations are adopting a one-size-fits-all approach to responding to queries on social. In contrast, what businesses should be doing is tailoring responses to provide personalised customer experiences, while at the same time taking into consideration the differing behaviours and demographics of the customers using this platform.

When it comes to social media, it is essential to remember that it is just another communication platform and that great customer experiences still rely on the human touch. For this reason, businesses must treat social media like any other communication channel in terms of the knowledge and skills of advisors, and the level of empathy and understanding needed to effectively answer customer queries. It is for this reason that many are now questioning where within an organisation the management of social media fits.

Collaboration between marketing and customer service teams

Many forward-thinking businesses have now decided to hand over the handling of their social media channels to the customer services team, rather than the marketing department. As issues raised through the channel can be unpredictable and played out in front of a potentially large audience, it is incredibly important that businesses deploy a team that are experts in effectively handling multi-channel customer enquiries and who can seamlessly integrate enquiries across channels – the customer services team.

However, that’s not to say the marketing department should be omitted completely. For the best results it is recommended that customer service and marketing teams work closely together and not in isolation – as social media can form an important part of marketing communication plans and customer feedback can effectively inform and direct marketing strategy.  

So what attributes do specialist customer service advisors need to have to ensure the human touch is maintained when communicating with customers via social?

1. Offer a personalised experience

When it comes to social media, a worrying number of businesses still heavily rely on standard scripted responses when communicating with customers. This can make customers feel as though the organisation does not care, or their enquiry has been handled with little thought or effort. In addition, it’s common for the staff handling social media accounts to have little campaign knowledge or experience in dealing with customers, either. 

With our research suggesting that more and more customers are using social media as a viable channel to interact with brands, businesses cannot afford to offer such an unsophisticated and static response. It is crucial that responses to social media enquiries are consistent with the overall customer experience and convey a genuine interest in a customer’s needs. Businesses must remember that each customer is unique and it’s vital that they are made to feel this way.

2. Understand response time is key

When customers are upset, or have an urgent query, they want an answer immediately. If they are forced to wait 24 hours for a response, it is likely they will either attempt to contact the organisation via other channels, take their custom elsewhere, or form an unfavourable opinion of the brand or business. With this in mind, it is crucial that the customer service advisors responsible for handling enquiries are agile, able to think on their feet and empowered to respond promptly. To ensure this, organisations must develop an infrastructure that allows the timely flow of information across all areas of the business – as this enables the swift resolution that customers expect. They must also have the right quantity of advisors in place to cope with increases in contact demand.

3. Social media is a different style of communication

Conversing on social media requires a completely different skill set compared with most other channels. When engaging with customers via social media, advisors will be required to answer questions and participate in direct conversations with individual customers. But what must be remembered is that when communicating via social, tone of voice is completely lost, and so advisors must be able to convey an amazing customer experience with choice of words alone.

With this in mind, advisors must be trained to have an awareness of the importance of the written word; what is being said and how it comes across. Occasionally, customer feedback might be deemed inappropriate and need to be removed. Advisors therefore must also be trained to be vigilant and possess the skills needed to effectively moderate this. Customers reading advisor responses will put their own interpretation on what’s written, whether intentional or not – an awareness of this is vital.

4. Human interaction is still the most important component

All the elements of bad customer service, such as being unhelpful, portraying a bad attitude, not listening to  the customer, not taking ownership of the customer’s issue,  or using a one-size-fits all approach, are still relevant to social media. It is important to understand that changing the communication channel does not change the need for the customer to come away feeling as if they have been treated with the utmost respect and given the attention that they deserve.

What must be understood is that it is the people that make the real difference to the customer experience, and despite the digital nature of social channels, the human touch remains as critical as ever. With this in mind, it is important that advisors possess the empathy and communication skills to read and manage potentially difficult and high risk situations.

Successfully integrating social into customer communication strategies

The way in which businesses interact with brands is changing. Whereas more traditional channels of communication such as telephone and face-to-face interaction are still widely used, there are now a number of digital platforms, such as social media and mobile apps that customers can utilise.

To ensure a consistent and seamless customer service experience, businesses must give the same amount of energy and resources to these new communication platforms. Businesses must give advisors the training needed to ensure they are empowered and confident in applying their skills across a variety of channels, including social media. Remember that it is the people who continue to make the real difference when it comes to customer experience; investment in people must move forward in parallel with investment in technology. 

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