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Social customer service's challenge: Connecting systems of engagement with systems of record

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2nd Oct 2014
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In a recent article on MyCustomer, Guy Stephens refers to The Cluetrain Manifesto, which among other things, outlines the importance of businesses changing the way they converse with their customers to fit with the modern world. The book’s strapline? “Markets are conversations, talk is cheap, silence is fatal”.

In many ways, social media has become the vehicle to drive this definition forward, and social customer service has become the modus operandi for businesses in their attempts to avoid the fatal silence. However, despite five years of practice, social customer service remains a nascent experiment for many businesses. So, what’s being done well, and what aspects are organisations struggling to get their heads around? MyCustomer interviewed Luke Brynley-Jones, founder and CEO of Our Social Times, to find out.             

MyC. We’re now some five years along from when Frank Eliason sent his first tweet at @comcastcares, heralding the beginning of social customer service. What are your thoughts on how social customer service has evolved in that time? Are you surprised/unsurprised at its rate of adoption and development?

LBJ. Certainly, in the UK, social customer service has exploded in the last 18 months. Frank spoke at a conference I hosted in London in 2012 and we struggled to get 100 people in the room. These days every large organisation is developing a social CS strategy or already has one in place. Social shines a light on bad products and services and company boards are starting to take notice. Does this surprise me? No, setting in place excellent social CS makes perfect business sense and – at this early stage – still offers the added rewards of competitive advantage and positive media coverage. 

MyC. Social has traditionally found a home in marketing in the modern company. Is service a better fit?

LBJ. Yes, the day-to-day management of social engagement is largely becoming a function of service, working closely with but not led by marketing. The future is likely to see marketing, sales and service working in tandem within a single ‘customer’ team with social as the catalyst driving organisations towards that change.  

MyC. For organisations with a traditional contact centre approach, what are the challenges associated with integrating social media into call centres?

LBJ. The biggest challenges are around people and processes. Social CS agents need to be technologically confident and skilled communicators in a way that phone support doesn’t demand. Social is a very different medium that suits a particular kind of person. In terms of processes, agents need to be able to jump customers between public and private channels seamlessly, track conversations and close issues – none of which are easily done on social networks. Technology helps, but there’s a lot of trial and error going on.

MyC. Should social customer service be integrated into the contact centre or have its own dedicated team in your opinion? What are the pros and cons of these approaches?

LBJ. What seems to work best is when you have a team of customer service agents working alongside a marketing team with a PR or brand guardian on-call and, for regulated industries, a lawyer close at hand. The closer this team can sit – physically – to the pumping heart of the organisation, the more effective their work will be. 

MyC. Have most organisations adopted an integrated approach to customer service, or is it still organised along channel lines – telephony, inbound email, social? 

LBJ. Sadly, channel silos are still alive and well in many organisations, but integration is the overwhelming trend. Services changing to reflect the movement and expectations of customers and - since most of us will now not just call, but SMS, email, Tweet and web-chat at the same time – the dots are starting to join up.

MyC. Have organisations really figured out how to offer social at scale? If you can offer telephony at scale, what is different about social?

LBJ. Information-based issues can be resolved at scale using a knowledge base or customer community. When a customer need actual help, though, a personal response is essential. I don’t see any real difference between telephony and social enquiries.

MyC. Which organisations are leading the way in social customer service and why?

LBJ. There are lots of examples of excellence. B&Q has very good response times on Twitter, while Spotify runs a world class support community. KLM is known to be extremely proactive on social and displays a ticker with live response times on its Twitter and Greater Anglia trains which encourages passengers to Tweet their station manager via the hashtag #TTMGA. Overall it’s the industries where real-time means now, such as airlines and train lines, that are leading the way, followed by financial services and utilities, which receive large volumes of social queries. 

MyC. What can we learn from these companies?

LBJ. Unsurprisingly, it’s the companies that have experienced social media backlashes that are leading the way in social service. KLM openly states that it’s unpreparedness for the Iceland volcano crisis of 2012 was the catalyst for its investment in social. The banks are on a mission to fix their damaged reputations with the public, so social CS represents a new opportunity for them to reconnect with disaffected customers. What’s the lesson? Don’t wait for a crisis before trying to please your customers. 

MyC. What remain the biggest obstacles to successful social customer service, in your opinion?

LBJ. Beyond the obvious obstacle of the brute ignorance of social media that exists in most board rooms, the key challenge is about getting systems of engagement connect up with systems of record. How do we track engagement across multiple channels and record the outcomes for future reference? It’s making this process seamless that results in rapid issue resolution and increased CSAT (customer satisfaction). Currently, even in the largest organisations admit to having a ‘patchwork quilt’ of technologies, so we’re a way off social CS nirvana yet. 

Luke Brynley-Jones is founder and CEO of Our Social Times. He will be speaking at Social Customer Service Roundtable – 14/15 Oct, Millbank Tower, London.

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