Customer service power shift: The social media revolution

13th Nov 2013

The world has seen many a revolution in its time. From the French to the Industrial, technological advancements and social discontent have forced longstanding principles to change and adapt to a new condition. The digital revolution and the rise of social media are no different. 

A recent IBM study of top CEOs across 18 industries found that 57% in the UK and Ireland believe that social media will become one of - if not the – most important form of customer interaction within the next three to five years. With significant reductions forecast in traditional media, telephone and face-to-face interactions, this growth figure marks a 265% increase on the current situation, with only 16% of CEOs viewing the dynamic contact channel as a top way to engage with customers today.

Despite initial hesitation and reluctance, CEOs appear to be finally embracing social media’s role in engaging business and customers, recognising its potential to change how their companies communicate with the outside world. But what does the future hold?

The revolution

As any historian will tell you, to fully understand the present, we must first examine the past. Customer service before the advent of social media was heavily vendor driven, with companies dictating what their subjects could or could not use. Indeed, the world was a very different place. The main reason for this was the pace of development. The contact landscape was very slow to change, stuck in the traditional methods of phone, followed by email, with the introduction of web chat a subtle addition to the sparse horizon. The pace of change in this time was sedate, with small adjustments having little impact on the consumer.

Just as the industrial revolution transformed the British landscape in the blink of an eye, so the digital explosion has drastically altered the face and pace of the consumer world. Most notable, however, is the shift in power away from the aristocratic vendor and into the hands – and indeed the pockets – of the everyday consumer. Now, with 24/7 access to the internet, customers are driving communication like never before and with the advent of the customer experience, they’re driving the means too.

As consumer expectations rise in correlation with the development of the technology at their fingertips, vendors have to recognise that traditional and out-dated approaches to customer contact are increasingly incompatible with the modern consumer environment in which they operate. The rise in competition across numerous industry sectors only serves to exacerbate this, as review and comparison websites continue to flourish in this digital age and ease their transition to a nearby competitor.

The speed of the double-edged sword

The digital explosion and subsequent boom of social media has resulted in a shift in power from the vendor to the consumer, and has forced organisations to consider how they handle this new double-edged sword; managing its potential negative impacts and harnessing its positive capabilities.

Time has become a precious commodity in the hustle and bustle of daily life and the allure of the speed of social media makes it an attractive alternative when contacting organisations. Customers have become more reluctant to call, or may not be able to during work hours, but most will have access to Twitter and Facebook and feel that social media is a faster alternative to get a response to the public nature of what they are saying.

Speed is a crucial factor here and a prime example is high-street banks. On average, banks used to have two hours before news cycles picked up issues such as system outages effecting customers. Two years ago, similar issues with a large bank were posted on Twitter within two minutes: a 60-fold decrease in the time they had to prepare statements and fix the problem. ‘United breaks guitars’ demonstrates the financial impacts of such outbursts after the online satirical video caused the stock price to plummet by 10 per cent in just four days, costing stockholders around $180 million in value.

Recent research conducted by Aspect Software highlights companies’ poor performance in this area, revealing that despite the clear impact of the examples above, 84% of customers who aired their frustration with a company via social media did not receive a response within the hour.

Adapting to the condition

So the question remains: How do you effectively manage and incorporate social media into your contact strategy? ‘Incorporate’ is the key word here. This is not about replacing old contact methods but rather, developing a unified platform that can deliver an effective and seamless “omnichannel” experience across customer contact, including social media.

A major barrier to this is that marketing still appears to ‘own’ social media in many organisations, used as a channel to ‘push’ information onto consumers rather than harnessing its conversational capabilities. This is not to say that marketing should not use social media. Quite the contrary – there are huge opportunities that can be exploited when used effectively. Instead, the business perception of the medium needs to change and focus on opening up dialogue with their customers.

The recent economic downturn saw companies’ purse strings tighten, often to the detriment of their pursuit of omnichannel, but as the environment improves, organisations are increasingly recognising the importance of investing in this area.

Such investment might be daunting, particularly to SMEs, but the development of cloud computing and virtualised offerings has drastically increased the availability of this approach and, given their inherent agility, SMEs have an opportunity to get ahead of the curve on omnichannel.

As a result of the digital revolution, vendors no longer hold a monopoly on customer contact. Finding ways to keep up with what has become a consumer driven technology requirement is proving challenging for some vendors. Those who are embracing and adopting faster research and development cycles are providing their customers with the tools to satisfy this need and ensure they are the leaders in the customer experience arena. Ensuring that contact strategies meet the demands of the digital age is vital to ensure success in this new consumer-driven environment.

Dave Ogden is solutions consultant at Aspect Software.

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