Frank Eliason: Five tips from the father of social customer service

23rd Feb 2012

Widely regarded as one of the fathers of modern customer service, and described by Bloomberg as “the most famous customer service manager in the US and possibly in the world”, Frank Eliason has carved out a remarkable reputation since pioneering the use of social media in service at Comcast.

Now at Citibank, Eliason is a highly-regarded thought leader and speaker on social media and customer service, and author of upcoming book @YourService.
Yet Eliason never set out to create social media customer service, he emphasises - having started at Comcast in 2007 at the time that Bob Garfield created Comcast Must Die, he knew his company needed to respond, and social media became a part of that fix, including the now famous @ComcastCares Twitter handle.
“If I heard a customer on the street yelling for help, I would want to help them. Why is social media that different?” he explains.  
Eliason subsequently provided us with one of the earliest case studies of how organisations can use social networks to listen and respond to customer issues in real-time, inspiring a new wave of thinking around how brands can communicate and engage with consumers and use emerging communication channels to improve the customer experience.
Nonetheless, he admits that by and large social customer service has been a “failure” at the majority of companies that are doing it. And the power shift between company and customer, this is something that organisations will need to address if they are to stay competitive.
“The customer now has control of your brand, and if you really want them to share your marketing message, you must fix the overall customer experience,” explains Eliason.
“Many would say customer service has always been marketing, but the fact is the companies had a much larger control of the message than they do today. Social media has changed that and the customer has gained that control. With examples from 2011 such as Verizon Wireless payment fee, Netflix and the Bank of American debit card fee, customers now have a firm understanding that they do have control!”
Here are five pieces of customer service advice from the master himself. As he says: “The time is now!”


1. Social customer service isn’t about quieting down loud customers

“The fact is most customers do not want social service, they simply want the product and customer experience to be right the first time,” explains Eliason. “Unfortunately, companies have often failed them through traditional customer service channels. The reason I refer to social customer service as a failure is because most companies are running these programs through their marketing and/or PR teams with the ultimate goal of quieting down a loud customer. What people fail to see is at Comcast we were working to improve the other interactions channels. By focusing on quieting loud customers, but not fixing the underlying cause, companies are encouraging others to come to social to rip apart their brand to get something… The improvement we were able to identify was valuable insights for the company.  This led to constant change and improvements that are still going on to this day.” 


2. Don’t forget about the human factor in customer service

“Another failure of business is to forget about the human approach,” continues Eliason. “We have attempted to make customer service a process, limiting anything our agents can do. This was seen as progress and led to things such as outsourcing service. In my view, none of us want to be robots, and customers do not want to be serviced by robots. Service is about human relationships, regardless of the channel. So it does not matter if it is Twitter, phone call or email. Interactions are all the same. We just have to get back to this relationship way of doing business.”


3. Service culture can be better developed through stories rather than statistics

“Most companies and businesses focus too much on the numbers! I noticed years ago that business rarely change based on numbers (except the bottom line). We are all human and can easily relate to each other. Leaders never intend to provide poor service, but they do not always see the impact. Social is incredibly powerful because it provides you the story from the customer’s viewpoint. Stories are major catalyst for change!”


4. You can't empower your service agents until you address your communication

“Most people do not understand what is happening during a call or the pressure service people are under. There is also an inaccurate fear that agents will give away the store if empowered. The real trouble is executives do not take calls, and even when they listen to calls, well intentioned service leaders put them with the best people. We have to be better at sharing the reality of our call centre and outlining or needs.”


5. Speed and information access are key when it comes to social media tools

“My first goal is speed so I evaluate tools from that perspective. Also, access to the full fire hose of information is key, which many tools do not have, specifically for Twitter. I also like many of the free tools, depending on the organisation and where you are in the learning curve. In the early days we used Tweetscan, then Summize for Twitter. For blogs we used Google Blogsearch. At the same time we were an early company with Radian 6, so I have worked with them often too.”

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By denmanw
23rd Feb 2012 11:09

Hands down the best read I've seen in a very long time.

Well done!


-- Wayne Denman Webtrends Technical Support Manager

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