Social media's skyrocketing adoption, along with "Generation Me's" coming of age and buying power, is drastically changing customer service and its best practices. Companies that don't figure out how to leverage social media while catering to the newly empowered Generation Me consumer will suffer lost customers, brand damage, and failed new customer acquisition strategies.
"Generation Me" is a term loosely described as Gen X combined with Gen Y, meaning anyone from age 10 to 40 years old. Usually defined as children that grew up with "a sense of self," and with the strong belief that "self comes before duty," the group gets a bad rap for being narcissistic and focused on their own self-promotion. Whether you agree or disagree with the definition or think that the moral and social outlook ascribed to this group is negative and spells out the decline of American society, this generation (which includes myself) is the hottest and most powerful demographic, and has the influence to kill your brand and your business if you don't support, service, and communicate with them correctly.
So, what are their expectations for customer support and corporate interactions? How can you win them over to your side? Where do they spend their time? And, very important, how do you reach them?
When it comes to support and service, Generation Me demands immediate resolution to issues -- when they want, where they want, and how they want. That means they choose when to contact you for issue resolution, and you better be available and resolve issues fast if you don't want to lose customers.
Second, social networking has changed the game around customer loyalty, support, and new customer acquisition strategies. Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms have made it even more crucial to service your customers well. One bad support interaction can result in a nasty tweet or Facebook post that quickly starts a snowballing effect that undermines your business.
So what do you do? Here are five tips:
1. Be where your customers are
Gen Me is EVERYWHERE. You need to provide support in every communication channel available: the phone, email, the Web and inside your Web-based product (like games or software), mobile, and social networks. This generation is on Facebook -- constantly. The social networking behemoth has 500 million (at last count) members, and the United State's most visited website, according to Hitwise. Don't leave it out of your support plans. Ensure that you are providing direct and rich support interactions through each of the above mentioned communication channels.
2. Individualize the support experience
Ensuring you are offering support through preferred channels is crucial. But, go the next step, and make sure you personalize portals, communications, and recognize the importance of the direct and individualized experience. For example, ensure support reps have a complete snapshot of customer history by selecting and standardizing on a support suite. Think about extending that customer snapshot by integrating with sales force automation solutions so your CSRs can share customer information across the organization, from brand managers to sales reps.
3. Understand that retention leads to acquisition
In today's day and age, word of mouth is even more important. It may be "new-age word of mouth," since customers are not sharing opinions in the grocery aisles as much as they are on Facebook with "like" buttons and status updates. Retention has always been cheaper than acquisition, but now more than ever, every customer is "high value." You may not care if someone takes their small amount of business somewhere else, but you will care if they plaster their animosity all over Twitter and Facebook for your new customer targets to see. Pick support solutions that allow you to monitor, engage, react to, and report on negative and positive social media activity. Your existing customers are your path to new ones.
4. Harness it. Don't hide from it
Many companies have a limited social media strategy today, if any. An intern sitting at a desk and monitoring a Facebook wall is not a strategy -- it's not trackable or reportable. Social media is no blip on the tech curve; it's here to stay. So, figure out how to harness it, and not hide from it. Choose a social networking management software that integrates with your overall support suite, and then track social conversations, and continually get better. Language software company Rosetta Stone is a great example. The company offers direct customer support through their Facebook fan page, and integrates it with their service desk and support system. Rosetta's customers can now market their positive experiences via Facebook streams, and Rosetta Stone looks at Facebook as a 24/7 focus group.
5. Designate a social media owner and define policies
Social media management is new, and as one CEO told me recently, "an unfunded wrench thrown into the works." So who should own it? Honestly, it doesn't matter. What does matter is that the ownership is clear within an organization. So, whether it is PR, sales, brand management, or support, pick someone -- but make sure there is a social media team that has representatives from across the organization and make it a cross-collaborative venture because social media impacts every group within your organization.
Gen Me is a huge group of today's consumers, and they demand an individualized customer service experience through multiple channels of their own choosing, whether it's the phone, email, the Web, or even social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Businesses that are still focused on fielding inquiries through call centers, open only from 9 to 5, five days a week, are suffering from lost customers, pervasive bad reputations, and rising service-related costs that severely impact bottom line profitability. Customer service needs to occur instantly, dynamically, and through a diverse array of communication channels currently available to customers. Being able to communicate and interact with customers through each one's preferred communication channel results in a satisfied customer with a positive impression of your company, and that will build your business over the long term.
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About the Author: Duke Chung is founder and chief strategy officer of Parature.