The five fundamentals of your social customer service strategy

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Businesses, whether they like it or not, are going to have to deal with their customers online; social media has driven a change in the way that businesses and customers interact – with speed and transparency a big challenge for brands today. With the plethora of public platforms now available at our fingertips to share our thoughts, brands need to implement a well-organised and appropriate way to respond across this multitude of touchpoints.

What’s more, the way that these responses are handled needs to be integrated with the company’s wider service policies and processes, to ensure that issues are handled promptly and efficiently, with no repetition of effort, and meeting the service objectives set by the brands.  For these many reasons, it is important for organisations to adopt a strategic approach to social media customer support, ensuring that alignment and measurement are possible.

“For me, it’s a bit of a no-brainer,” says Kalli Soteriou, social media & content account manager at 10 Yetis Digital. “Any kind of strategic approach, where research and thought has taken place to formulate the plan, is going to deliver a more effective means of dealing with any issue rather than assuming a ‘wing it and see’ approach. It allows brands to not only consider how to deal with each eventuality that could arise, but it also helps businesses remain consistent in tone of voice, brand values and helps to deliver the best customer service model for its audience.”

Once the research has been carried out, buy-in has been secured, and existing skills and resources have been audited (see previous article) brands are then in a position to start detailing their strategy.

“Once you have a good understanding of these things you can come up with a strategy to help you achieve your goals,” says Lyanna Tsakiris, strategic planner and partner at Station Rd. Marketing. “Think about what you stand for as a business (your values, mission and vision) and what you are actually trying to achieve in your business. Don’t see social customer service as a stand-alone function – look at how it fits in across the business, as this will ensure that you can leverage other areas of the business to help you reach your goals.” 

Let’s examine some of the tenets that any self-respecting social media customer service strategy should cover – and also examine where strategies can go awry.

Goals and KPIs

Without laying out what you expect the programme to deliver, it will not succeed in the long-term. But you also need to be clear on the key performance indicators and metrics that you’ll be using to track ongoing performance against your goals.

“Outlining what the business wants to achieve is always a good place to start,” says Soteriou. “Clear, realistic and measurable objectives are crucial; consider how the plan will fit in with wider business strategies, as it should complement other activities to provide a holistic approach.”

Clear, realistic and measurable objectives are crucial.

And Soteriou emphasises the importance on the targets defined in the strategy being realistic.

“Brands sometimes get too keen, set the bar too high to start with and over promise – which can set businesses up to fail. It’s important to remember and understand that this is the first step in a long and ongoing process, so benchmark against others initially to determine what success should look like and set measurable, realistic milestones over a longer time period. It’s difficult to nail this overnight and the strategy should be flexible to respond to business changes/needs/developments.”

Resource planning

The issue of resources is a major concern, as an over-commitment will be wasteful, while under-resourcing the initiative could prove even more costly. Your initial market research should give you some useful steer regarding the volume of activity there is on social media, and the amount of conversations you will have to deal with. It is important to keep response time in mind when identifying resource needs.

“Planning resource is the most important thing,” says Tamara Littleton, CEO of Emoderation, “Customers want a response on Twitter within about 15 minutes (that doesn’t have to be a resolution, just an acknowledgement) and on Facebook within an hour. If you’re likely to get a high volume of Tweets, consider a dedicated channel so your feeds don’t get clogged up with posts that aren’t relevant to the majority of your followers.”

Planning resource is the most important thing.

Due to the nature of social, and how some events can trigger a viral effect, businesses will also need to consider how they can scale their social activity in the event of an emergency. This could involve some work with internal structures, but it is also worth considering external back up as well. In the event of a crisis, the internal group may not be able to handle all the requests in time, so some form of external support can be invaluable.

Structure and processes

As well as deciding what resources will be in-house and what, if any, will be outsourced, business leaders also need to cement the structures and processes that will support social media customer service. Most importantly, this needs to ensure that efficient and consistent support isn’t hampered by any internal siloes.

Therefore, when considering which parts of the organisation will be involved in social media customer service, even if these are resources that will only be used on a contingency basis, it is important to detail how teams will successfully collaborate. Ultimately, the customer see the business as a whole and doesn’t want to have to know which team are dealing with their query – they just want it resolved in as efficient manner as possible.

All programmes need clear processes.

Also remember that all programmes need clear processes. If these processes are followed, all customers will have the same customer experience. Customer service should be equally good, no matter what the channel. So make sure that you have set policies and guidelines that work over any channels.

Roles and responsibilities

In order to develop a sound social customer support strategy, it goes without saying that someone needs to take ownership of the project. This needs to be someone who understands social media and is passionate about it. The right person will serve as an evangelist to inspire action on social and will help secure internal buy-in, at any level.

The other supporting roles within the agreed structure also need to be decided and detailed. This means defining their responsibilities, detailing what their goals are, and ensuring that they have the skills and tools to do their jobs.

Training will ensure that all stakeholders are skilled up to the same level and are delivering a consistent message to customers.

The importance of training all stakeholders cannot be underestimated. Training will ensure that all stakeholders are skilled up to the same level and are delivering a consistent message to customers. You cannot expect your employees and stakeholders to implement a new strategy without training and guidance. You must equip your workforce with the training required to deliver exceptional customer service via social media channels.  

Data collection and usage

One of the wider benefits of social media customer service is that it can provide vital insight on the company and its products and services to feed back into the rest of the organisation.

Soteriou notes: “Tracking conversations, more specifically complaints, will help brands to iron out any wider problems the business might be having. For example, if you keep getting hounded by customers on late delivery, it might be time to switch courier providers.”

These can be hugely valuable insights, and if you are not able to interpret this data for business purposes, the data is redundant and a missed opportunity for businesses. For this reason, organisations need to map out a formal process for collecting the data and then ensuring that it is delivered to the appropriate sources so that they can act upon it in a timely fashion. Specific skills and tools will be required to support this, so these also need to be factored into your equations.

Collecting data is hard enough, but using it in a meaningful way is even more of a challenge.

“Collecting data is hard enough, but using it in a meaningful way is even more of a challenge,” says Soteriou. “Interpreting data is no easy feat, but when done by the right people it can provide some great insight on your business. Brands will need a comprehensive monitoring tool as well as a member of the team who can interpret the data to make sure no opportunities are lost.”

The data should also be analysed to assess how well the social media service strategy itself is performing. Soteriou adds: “Businesses should be analysing specific data – based around productivity, responsiveness, etc. – to establish whether the current strategy is delivering against the set objectives and is being executed efficiently. Brands must remember that a strategy is a working document, so it should be flexible and responsive to the changing needs to the business.”

Summary

Tsakiris provides the following checklist of questions that need to be answered in your strategy:

  • Why are you doing this? How does it support your business objectives?
  • Who will you be responding to predominantly? Break down your audience and understand their behaviours.
  • Where are they engaging? What channels do you need to use to connect with them?
  • How will you communicate with them? Consider tone & messaging.
  • What tools do you have at your disposal? Consider data, technology, resources, etc. and whether you need to add to them.
  • What budget do you have available? Remember that time is money too…
  • Who will manage the channel(s) and will training be required? Do you need to recruit or enlist a specialist agency to help support the strategy development and team training?
  • When do things need to happen? What will be your response time and ‘opening hours’?
  • How will you manage negative comments? Have you got an issues handling policy in place?
  • Who needs to be involved internally? Who else apart from the social team need to be kept in the loop?
  • How will you measure success? Set your benchmarks - review frequently and tweak activity if need be.

 

 

About Neil Davey

ND2

Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 15 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined Sift Media in 2007.

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