The three social customer service models to consider

12th May 2016

Is social media now a legitimate service channel? Certainly research seems to indicate that customers are reaching out to brands on social platforms with increasing frequency.

Research from Zendesk, for instance, indicates that nearly half of all US consumers use social media to ask questions, complain or report satisfaction. Furthermore, it suggests that a third of social media users prefer social to a phone call.

And customer expectations for the channel are also rising. Whereas users were previously happy to wait for a response, research cited by Jay Baer indicates that nearly half (42%) now expect a response with 60 minutes. Other research suggests that most consumers may even expect a social media response in half that time.

Either way, the indications are that many brands are failing to meet these expectations – with research from the Northridge Group reporting that two-thirds of customers have needed to reach out at least twice to get a response from customer services departments.

Elsewhere, BDRC Continental’s Twitter mystery shopping report found that less than one in five of the brands that British consumers regularly encounter respond to all the tweeted queries they receive, with only 17 of the top 100 High Street brands answering 100% of customer queries sent via Twitter.

With customers increasingly viewing social media as a mainstream channel, many brands are now having to consider how they can model their social media support team to ensure they can provide timely and effective support – whether that means swiftly resolving a customer issue over social platforms or painlessly triaging the support issue to a channel where it can be dealt with.

So what are the models that organisations should be considering?

Al Hopper, co-founder, director of operations at SocialPath Solutions, proposes that there are three social media customer service models that businesses can utilise.

The one-stop model

The one-stop model is often used when an organisation decides to use a dedicated team of all-stars. The idea is for the team members to receive the customer concern from a social network, research the issue, resolve the issue, and respond back to the customer.

Hopper explains: “The one-stop team does not need to connect the customer with another team because they are fully trained and empowered to resolve anything that comes to them. This model often provides the opportunity for the quickest resolution speeds since there aren’t several layers of communication.”

The challenge of a one-stop team can be in the isolation of operations.

“Leadership needs to insure the team gets the same level of training from all departments that are given within those potential silos,” advises Hopper.

The concierge model

In this model, the concierge team receives customer concerns from social networks, but sends the issue to other teams for resolution. This model works well in technical industries that have a high rate of change or require a high level of competency to provide resolution to the issue.

“Communication is vital for the concierge model to work,” warns Hopper. “The social media team has to understand what information is needed before the issue is handed off to the next team for resolution. The resolving team then has to let the social media team know the issue has been resolved so they can close the loop by confirming it with the customer back in the original channel.”

The hybrid model

The hybrid model does a little bit of both of the previous models. They are able to resolve some customer concerns without sending the issue outside of the team and able to hand off some issues to other teams. This is most popular in larger enterprises that bring social media customer service online in phases.

“There may be a ‘main’ business line that is an early adopter of social media customer service and other lines that decide later they want to also employ social media to help their customers. A large financial services organisation, for example,” says Hopper. “The main banking department starts the trend of moving to social media. The organisations credit card department may choose to join the fray, followed by other lending operations.

“The original team was created by bringing together some banking all-stars and some credit card all-stars using the one-stop model. They have higher volumes than lending does, so instead of adding more users to the SaaS agreement, the lending team has the original team concierge any issues that may need their help. Now the social media team is a hybrid.”

What is the best fit?

So with all three models offering legitimate ways to tackle support over social media, how can organisations identify which is the most appropriate model for them and their customers at this particular time?

“The first step is to understand the model already used in other support channels,” advises Hopper. “Do your phone teams have full empowerment that doesn’t require transferring the majority of calls? Is there a pool of departments the social media service agents will be pulled from? Are there more than one business lines that want to be part of the project? How quickly do you need to get the team online and responding to customers? Once these questions are answered the model of team you want to start with will become more clear.

“Next, be prepared to adjust once the team gets started. Other business lines may want to join in after they see the impact of the original plan. They may bring with them other networks that weren’t originally planned for as well. It may not be feasible to add more agents to the team just to be able to resolve the new line’s inquiries so if you start as a one-stop you may evolve into a hybrid. The original plan might have been to have the social team operate as a concierge, but the speed to resolution might be too slow. That might make the decision to hire a one-stop team instead. Hybrid teams might evolve into one of the other models after some experimentation and learning.

"The bottom line: do not be inflexible and unable to change your model as social networks and your internal capabilities change.”


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