Are these the tools to make social customer service a reality?

27th Jun 2013

The social platforms are in place. The customers are present. You’ve got your social profiles. But is that enough if you are serious about social media customer support?

 There are any number of tools and technologies on the market, offered by an array of vendors ranging from the behemoths like down to start-ups. And understanding what is best for your business isn’t always easy.

“What tools you need really depends on what you’re trying to achieve,” notes Tamara Littleton, CEO of eModeration. “If you’re a big, established brand, you probably need something that can handle and filter huge volumes of data, such as Adobe Social, to manage conversations on social media. If you’re just starting out, something like Hootsuite might be more appropriate.”

 So with that in mind, let’s take a whistle stop tour through some of the many tools that are available on the market, and how they can support your social media customer service needs.

Listening tools

As a first step into social customer support, organisations should monitor the conversations that customers are having about their brands. This can uncover previously undetected problems with products and services as well as identify specific customer issues.

Facebook and Twitter both provide basic analytics tools, while social media monitoring tools on the market include Sysomos, Radian6 (part of’s marketing Cloud), Augify and Yomego’s SMR service. But the tools alone won’t deliver value, and organisations must ensure that workflows are created so that specific enquiries are routed to the right department and right service agent for resolution.

“Many companies are using social listening tools but few companies have the maturity of process to be able to derive value out of the insights gleaned from it. However, Conversocial is a premier example of a vendor that doesn’t only offer robust technology, but it is geared to the group within the organisation that takes care of social,” says Kate Leggett, principal analyst at Forrester.

“They don’t care if it sits inside the contact centre or a marketing organisation. They work with the purchaser of their technology to be able to teach them best practices. With the social channels, there can be a flood of enquiries, and you need to be able to figure out what ones you’re going to ignore, what ones you’re going to acknowledge, what ones you’re going to do something about and what ones you’re going to escalate and reach back out to the customer to do some damage control. And Conversocial has not only a wonderful technology but also a set of practices on how to deal with social customer service.”

There are other challenges to bear in mind with social listening tools, as highlighted by Martin Hill-Wilson, social business strategist and director at Brainfood Consulting.

“If you strip out the fancy language of ‘social monitoring’, what you’re actually looking at is text analytics – and as we all know, simple things like sentiment analysis is only about 50% accurate anyway, and all forms of analytics – whatever you automate – require tuning up,” he explains. “Service folk have started waking up to the fact they need to be involved in this new form of communication channel, and often a social monitoring platform will probably already be in place, procured against a requirement specified by marketing and PR. And the reality is that marketers and PR, or the original vendors, will have built the analytics queries to suite a marketing and PR perspective, but won’t necessarily have done that to suit service requirements.

“So one of the things that customer service heads really need to get their heads around is go back, get to grips with the social platform, get to grips with what it was being used for, calibrate that against what service needs you have got and bring it up to standard. And that is probably one of the reasons why people aren’t necessarily picking up all these service-related communications going on – because at the moment the average customer response to social media enquiries is only 55%.” 

Peer-to-peer communities

Providing discussion forums to your service capability enables your customers to share information, tips and best practices with peers, without having to engage with the company’s service agents – an initiative that has benefits for both business and consumer.

“This is probably the most mature part of social interaction because the likes of Microsoft and SAP have been providing peer-to-peer support through communities for the last few decades,” says Hill-Wilson. “These are highly sophisticated communities which deal with problem solving, education, ideation, brand building and loyalty. All sorts of stuff wrapped into a highly sophisticated form of interaction and involvement. And the more popularised versions of that which people like Get Satisfaction and Lithium have brought to the table have really just boosted that form of interaction.”

And it is also one of the areas of social media where there is clearer sense of ROI. Sony’s European forums, for instance, have 12 community moderators who are then supported by ‘super fans’ which manage to support up to a million customers in Europe, in all the languages and across all the product ranges that Sony provides. Not only is this a hugely cost-effective project, but its peer-to-peer online support reports an 85% resolution rate, solving complex problems much faster than support line calls. And Sony isn’t alone - telco player Giffgaff, for example, claims it is responsive within 90 seconds 24/7.

“If you are using the customer to source the knowledge and to be the resource to provide the knowledge, the quality of your knowledge is much better,” says Hill-Wilson. “It is much richer and more valuable to other customers because it doesn’t go through the internal process of editorial control and legal approval so that it is out of date and anodyne by the time it has been approved and is in circulation. It is immediately relevant and available, so there is a quality uplift. And you also benefit because in terms of providing an integrated channels strategy you have got a community that never sleeps - there is always somebody there. “

Other online community vendors include Jive, Telligent, Joomla, Ning and Social Engine.

Social adapters

Some of the community builders have also become sophisticated enough to layer the peer-to-peer platform with traditional multichannel capability. For example, Lithium’s purchase of Social Dynamx, and subsequent integration into Lithium Social Web, enables businesses to identify relevant customer conversations on social channels and route them to agents, allowing them to embed suggested content from the communities in response to issues, something that improve responses and reduce costs.

Leggett refers to this kind of functionality as “social adapters” – “social customer service technology that allows companies to manage enquiries from communities and social channels like Facebook and Twitter, like that provided by Conversocial, Social Dynamx that was acquired by Lithium and the capabilities that the big CRM companies have.”

In this arena, launched Chatter Communities for service as a way to blend Web self-service and peer-to-peer support. Jive has capabilities to integrate traditional infrastructure with communities. While Get Satisfaction is another community play that has APIs that allow vendors such as Genesys and other third party multichannel vendors to integrate.

“The advantage of doing it in this way is that if the community then hasn’t answered a query in sufficient time, it is then escalated up to an agent who can then take over,” notes Hill-Wilson.

In some cases, businesses are addressing the issue of social customer care’s integration into the wider business by buying bespoke solutions, something that while not cheap, can be very effective. A good example of this can be found at Citibank, under the management of social customer service pioneer Frank Eliason.

“The smart thing that Frank has done is recognise that as it is financial services, there are going to be a lot of times when the conversation is going to be confidential,” explains Hill-Wilson. “So he spoke with LivePerson, who provide chat solutions, and ordered a bespoke integration. And there are several good things about this. The main one is that even though it is suggested we flip out of social into chat, as far as the customer experience is concerned we still stay within text. Secondly, we have had the restrictions of 140 characters removed from us. And thirdly, it remains the same person that responded to the tweet in the first instance who now continues with the customer on chat. So it’s a nice seamless cross-channel example.”


Arguably the biggest technology roadblock for social customer care, however, is its difficulties in integrating with CRM and customer databases, so that client interactions can be informed by the likes of customer history. And while to date social customer service has tended to be a point solution, as brands are increasingly looking to plug it into the wider company infrastructure, so the demand for integration is growing.

As Esteban Kolsky of thinkJar says: “The tools are important to have, but they are not the solution. Until the tools become fully integrated into CRM, which people claim they can but nobody has proven yet how they can do it really well, then they are just standalone tools. And that is not where you want to be.”

Hill-Wilson adds: “The reality is that there are still very few completely joined-up solutions. People like Avaya, Genesys, Interactive Intelligence, etc, will say that they have had a social capability for a good couple of years, by which they mean they can take a feed from a social channel, put it through their unified queue, prioritise it based on something like Klout and you’ve got social.”

The reality is that the infrastructure part of social customer care is still “up for grabs” says Hill-Wilson.

“At the moment, social represents between 5-10% of companies’ communication volumes and if it doesn’t get more than that, then it is going to be subsidiary, and in which case you have to ask does it really matter to you that the interaction history is held in another silo? If the answer is ‘yes’ then you need to find a way to port that, potentially in real-time, across to your CRM. But if it doesn’t matter to you, then consider whether it matters that you’re going to collect social ID or not, and try to integrate that into existing CRM. It really depends on who you are, what market you’re in, what view you have of the future, how much personalisation means to you and so on.”

“But most people are going to have the same conclusion – which is that social has to be deeply brought into a single approach to service, and that approach probably has to be one that is more broad around a lifecycle and the knowledge that you have got about customers’ social behaviour has to be blended into all the other stuff you know about them, and you need to have cross-channel or omnichannel capability. But in terms of the people out there who are able to deliver that, they are still few and far between. Most are still roadmapping that.”

Nonetheless, there are some options that Hill-Wilson and Leggett recommend.

“Conversocial is a low risk, low cost entry point solution that has matured with the market,” says Hill-Wilson. “The company is API-ing itself readily to ensure that it continues to exist as the market matures by being able to integrate easily into and Microsoft Dynamics and anything else you want.”

Leggett adds: “This is the hard part for businesses when it comes to social media customer service. And I believe that companies like Conversocial and Lithium will be successful because they have already done that integration for some of their products, and they have out-of-the-box adapters to the big CRM players. They have the tools to help prioritisation and identification of issues versus just the background chatter, and then if they need to kick an enquiry over to a CRM system to understand more about who the customer is, those integrations are there.”

Replies (2)

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By annadrennan
27th Jun 2013 11:27

Thanks Neil for this really comprehensive view of where the Social Customer Service market stands today. Over the past few years we've seen exactly this shift, where companies first of all realise that Customer Service needs to be at the frontline of social engagement, and then secondly that the tools they brought in for Marketing and PR needs just don't meet the demands of high-volume, public customer care. 

I echo Martin's thoughts wholeheartedly here:

"Service folk have started waking up to the fact they need to be involved in this new form of communication channel, and often a social monitoring platform will probably already be in place, procured against a requirement specified by marketing and PR. And the reality is that marketers and PR, or the original vendors, will have built the analytics queries to suite a marketing and PR perspective, but won’t necessarily have done that to suit service requirements."

In a webinar we hosted just yesterday, on the Business Case for Social Customer Service, a customer of ours Rebecca Doyle from ODEON Cinemas gave the great analogy of email. Although social communication is still in its infancy, it will move in the same direction as other media. Marketing will remain responsible for generating content and getting that out to customers and prospects. But when it comes to picking up the inbound communication and servicing customers, this will have to fall to Social Customer Service teams. As with email, and other channels, the requirements of marketing and service teams are incredibly different and the tools they use reflect that. 

Although Social Customer Service feeds value into the entire business, from advocacy to insight, every part of the machine needs to be equipped with the technology to do their part. 

Today, most companies we work with realise that distinction, and it's great to see them delivering a better social customer care experience as a result. 

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By Neil Davey
28th Jun 2013 14:24

Thanks for your comments Anna. We're going to carry on this thread in another feature on Monday when we'll be examining how to structure the business for social media service - there's an argument that even the best social tools on the market won't meet the demands of high-volume, public customer care if they aren't embedded in the right structure, because of issues like scalability.

Keep an eye out on site for it on Monday. 


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