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No more waiting: The Post Office approach to social customer service

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16th Mar 2016
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According to a British Council promotional video, people in the UK love to queue. So much so, that if you stick Donna Summer’s ‘Hot Stuff’ on the stereo, they’ll even dance their way through a queue for you.     

Yet, Britain is in the midst of a cultural shake-up. A recent study of UK shopping habits found 53% of UK consumers have walked out of a store as a result of long waiting times. Only 26% are now happy to “wait out” long queues and 37% consider themselves to be too impatient to stay in line.

Most of this shift in behaviour is driven by technology – specifically the smartphone – which scientists say has reduced the human attention span to sub-goldfish levels. And with the advent of social media, we’ve come to expect instant gratification of everything, which means the good old British pastime of standing and waiting is becoming less and less tolerated (despite the British Council’s best efforts to suggest otherwise).

The Post Office

The Institute of Customer Service (ICS) states that one in four of us now turn to social media to make a complaint about a business. And this is very much a real-time affair. Regardless of where we are or what we’re doing, if there’s an issue with a brand we’ll let them know about it, usually in the moment, via Twitter or Facebook. And that can often mean venting our spleens when a store queue is too long and is testing our patience.  

One brand that’s recognised this fact is the Post Office. Given its 350 year history, no institution is more inherently linked with the image of Brits queuing, and as a result, you could argue that no institution has felt the wrath of the increasingly impatient British queue quite as much, either.

But despite its inherent image as a traditional, British icon, the Post Office has modernised; setting up a social media team within its customer service department to account for the changes in the way customers interact with the organisation.

“As a brand we’ve been engaging with social since 2011,” says Darren Jones, the Post Office’s social media manager. “The primary platforms have always been Facebook and Twitter, although for both marketing and service we’ll also use YouTube, LinkedIn, and Vine as well.

“But the big evolution has been how we use social for customer service, with five team members delivering a round-the-clock operation to account for social interactions and issues, and a proper contact centre resolution and escalation process. It’s all about trying to recognise that people may want a traditional Post Office service, but that doesn’t mean they only want to engage through traditional channels.”

Local support

The social media team’s position within the customer service department is designed to ensure that any issues or complaints are spotted and dealt with quickly. However, whilst the Post Office has 11,500 branches and a number of different products that span travel and finance as well as postage, the brand has decided to avoid creating different social media profiles to account for different services or geography, meaning Jones and his team deal with all social interactions, whether they’re on a local or national level.

To do this, they rely on social analysis technology from Crimson Hexagon, which allows them to see a volume of social posts with both direct and indirect sentiment, as well as predict demand, see when people are most likely to contact them or post something about them and crucially, ensure they’re always on-hand to respond to queries.

Unsurprisingly, queues prove to be the main bone of contention among customers tweeting to the Post Office’s Twitter handle.

The difference for Jones and his team, however, has been reviewing complaints and ensuring an action is taken to resolve them, rather than simply apologising across the public forum and expecting that customers take their query up within the branch, themselves. And in some cases, the insight taken from some queries has delivered more widespread, organisational action:

“In one particular instance we noticed a real peak in volume of social sentiment around a particular branch in London. In particular, there were a number of tweets about queuing issues in this branch at similar times on different days.

“We were able to take an overall snapshot of branch sentiment alongside these complaints and do some sentiment analysis with the social platform, which we showed to the director of the branch and visually displayed how the issues were affecting their brand reputation.

“The branch ended up adding 40 extra hours to its staff as overtime to try and combat the issue, and hasn’t received any similar complaints since. This message was then replayed to the Post Office board who made a case for this to be rolled out whenever needed. It was also replayed back to the customers who had made the complaints in the first place to show that we were listening.”

Social listening

Of course, listening is central to being able to pick up on sentiment about Post Office products and services when the brand isn’t directly contacted.

It’s all about trying to recognise that people may want a traditional Post Office service, but that doesn’t mean they only want to engage through traditional channels.

According to DashBurst, 24% of brands now use social listening tools to analyse trends in their markets and capture information about their markets and their products, straight from their customers’ social feeds. For the Post Office, this means analysing social data on a day-to-day basis, gathering balanced views and public opinion on products and services, collating them and presenting them to product teams.

“There’s two ways we use analyse through social listening – firstly from studying how people are talking or feeling about our brand, and using buzz analysis – i.e typing in a keyword relevant to the brand, retrieving a number of mentions for the day, or the week, and then getting an indication of whether sentiment is positive or negative.

“And then there’s creating categories of sentiment, you can create any category that’s relevant for your business needs – i.e. checking out how a certain campaign has impacted intent to purchase, you can create a category, find 20 examples of this that exemplify what you mean.”

And increasingly, this sentiment crosses the border between service and marketing, helping to canvas opinion and directly influence marketing campaigns.

“Christmas is a critical time for the Post Office, with around two-thirds of our revenue attributed to the holiday season,” Jones adds.

“So last Christmas we ran a six week campaign with Crimson Hexagon to gauge the possible sentiment behind some TV advertising we wanted to do, monitoring what people were talking about in relation to the things we wanted to cover, the possible celebrities involved in the campaign and the opinion about them. The data allowed us to weigh-up all of the pros and cons of the different elements of the campaign and help provide a little confidence that we were investing in the right things for it.”

And how did one of the said TV adverts for the campaign start? In a queue, of course. But one that appeared to be moving quickly enough to avoid any Rick-esque outburst. Perhaps someone had tweeted the Post Office social team beforehand?

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