5 Steps Toward Social Care

Customer Service
Customer Service
In this social media savvy world, customers are expecting brands to go beyond using social media for marketing to leverage these channels as an extension of their customer service.

Social media has taken over the world. We connect with our friends on Facebook, use Twitter to share our thoughts in a mere 140 characters, and check into places on Foursquare. These three are just the tip of the iceberg in what's become an enormous number of social sites that encourage community engagement.

The most forward-thinking organizations have been leveraging these social sites and communities for the past several years to communicate with their customers and market to them, but only the most savvy have started to consider social channels as integrated components of their service delivery platforms. "Many organizations use [social media] in a one-way, outbound fashion," notes Tobias Goebel, director of mobile strategy at Voxeo. This is a missed opportunity. Instead social channels should be used as a conversation medium, enabling dialogue in a similar fashion as a phone call, a face-to-face interaction, or an email.

Zappos reigns as a shining example of an organization that has extended its customer service over social media. Quoted by Forbes last November, Graham Kahr, one of Zappos' social scientists, said: "We are really thinking about social as a way to deliver a highly curated experience for our customers while allowing us to deliver the Zappos level of service." Among its social media endeavors, Zappos has created a Twitter account dedicated wholly to customer service. A study carried out by STELLAService last May found that Zappos was one of two companies which replied daily to all of its customers' service questions posted to Twitter.

Zappos is not investing in a needless initiative. A report by NM Incite, a joint venture between Nielsen and McKinsey & Company, found that 47 percent of all social media users have relied on social care, which the company defines as "customer service via social media." Perhaps unsurprisingly, the heaviest users of social care are those aged 18 to 24. Further, the research found that almost a third of social media participants prefer to use social channels to reach out to a brand for customer service needs. Greg Tirico, social media manager for Sage, says the increase in requests from customers to provide help with social media service is indicative of their customers' comfort with using social media, and the companies' propensity to answer customers' questions via social.

An important benefit of using social media for service needs is customers' greatly increasing comfort with this medium and their usage of it. With expanded mobile network coverage, access to data plans, free wifi spots, and social media awareness on the rise, it's only to be expected that customers will increasingly turn to social channels for their service needs. "More people have smart devices in their pockets and will be moving towards using social media to communicate with customers," Goebel says.

Social media is also a great resource of information for organizations and can help them determine the service needs of both their customers and their prospects. Michelle de Haaf, Medallia's vice president of marketing, says companies should blend social data with their contact center information to have a much clearer view of their customers' needs. Further, organizations can also learn a lot from what their competitors are doing in the channel, and get an idea of the volume of interactions they're having, which will help establish their strategy. Experts share five tips for leveraging social channels for customer service:

  • Be where your customers are: Rather than waiting for clients to contact the company through traditional channels like the contact center, organizations can now look at social media to receive alerts from customers who require assistance. However, the constraints of social media, like Twitter's character limits, might make the interaction difficult, requiring agents to contact the customers through other channels, Tirico says. These limitations might make it difficult to personalize the conversation or show the necessary amount of empathy. "It's important to direct them to the proper channels that they can use for support," he says, adding that companies can use URLs to give additional information to social customers.
  • Resolve issues on the same channel: The lack of privacy affronted by social channels means that some conversations to resolve customer issues need to be taken offline, particularly for the protection of that client. However, organizations would do well to return to the channel where the interaction started to conclude the conversation. "Starting and ending the conversation in the same channel is extremely important because you want other customers to know that you're resolving the problem," Tirico notes.
  • Set the right expectations: Customers are known to want an instantaneous resolution to their problems and the immediacy of social media has only helped to shrink the appropriate waiting time. Therefore, organizations need to set the right expectations, explicitly explaining when a particular channel is being used for service needs and the maximum time it will take to reply to a question. This will ensure that customers aren't disappointed if, for example, they Tweet a company in the middle of the night, when there's nobody manning the Twitter account, and don't get a reply until the following morning.
  • Put in processes to answer simple questions: Not every query requires a personalized response and social channels can be used to deliver timely and relevant information to customers over their preferred medium. Goebel uses the example of Dutch airline KLM which is using Twitterbot @KLM fares to respond to travelers' questions about the lowest return fares to a particular destination. However, Goebel cautions organizations to be extremely careful when automating a process. "Twitter is known to be a human channel so any automation needs to be done with care," he says. KLM, for example, has automated an especially created account and still has agents manning the main account.
  • Expose frontline workers to social media chatter: Customer-facing employees need to be aware of the conversations that are taking place over social channels. Best Western, for example, ensures that operators of individual hotels can see the feedback for their particular properties, helping the management address a problem in the shortest time possible, notes Michael Morton, the company's vice president for member services. "Customers are more inclined to go to a social site to talk about an experience rather than going to the front desk," Morton says. He says that rather than resist this trend, organizations need to take advantage of it, look at what customers are saying, and proactively address their problems.

Finally, social media service is an investment for organizations since it turns customers into promoters. In fact, the NM Incite research found that 71 percent of customers who experience positive social care are likely to recommend that brand to others. On the other hand, less than 20 percent of those who do not receive a response will recommend that brand, underlining the need to invest in this sector and make sure that customers are receiving great service across all channels.