The Social Evolution of Customer Service

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Customer Service
While social networks have been around since the now forgotten days of MySpace and Friendster, today's most popular sites continue to gain momentum as social media evolves. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest have grown into engagement platforms that allow consumers to interact with their friends, family, and favorite brands regularly. But, as these social interactions begin to blossom, companies have begun to value and utilize social tools as part of their customer care efforts.

While social networks have been around since the now forgotten days of MySpace and Friendster, today's most popular sites continue to gain momentum as social media evolves. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest have grown into engagement platforms that allow consumers to interact with their friends, family, and favorite brands regularly. But, as these social interactions begin to blossom, companies have begun to value and utilize social tools as part of their customer care efforts.Recently, 1to1 Media spoke with Rado Kotorov, chief innovation officer at Information Builders, to explore how the customer service sphere has evolved to accommodate these social channels. According to Kotorov, social networking and technological advances have ushered in a new era in customer service--Customer Service 2.0--bringing with them new opportunities to engage and enhance the overall customer experience:

1to1 Media: What factors make up this move to "customer service 2.0" and how are companies using technology to boost their efforts?

Rado Kotorov: The driver is quite simple--disruptive technologies are fueling intense competition. Take, for example, the search-and-switch consumer behavior. Customers may look at products in stores, but they end up buying online. The rise of smartphones, tablets, search, and mobile apps has enabled this sequence. Furthermore, the developers gamify apps to make them fun to use so it's no longer just about cost savings. A consumer using these apps is a smart consumer, not a bargain hunter. So what we see is an expansion of the scope of the traditional service into an advisory engagement that leverages complex technologies to facilitate customer decision making and the interaction with the service agent. For example, a clothing store has tablets installed in the dressing room that display similar clothing items, as well as accessories. Each item is also linked to fashion magazines that provide suggested reading. In these instances, the store is using what it knows about the customer's likes and dislikes to better engage the customer in the buying decision.

1to1: How can existing data be used to provide a more tailored customer experience that will ultimately meet and exceed expectation?

RK: Traditionally, predictive analytics have been used to learn about customer preferences to make more relevant suggestions and offers. While we will continue to use predictive analytics, we now have the ability to gather information about the customers from their interactions on social media. This allows us to look not only at behavior, as traditional predictive models do, but also at the reasons that drive these behaviors. By combining transactional data with social media data, we have the ability to personalize services completely.

1to1: In what ways can companies improve their service approach so as to make the customer experience more direct and personable to the individual?

RK: Companies must start analyzing the data and running predictive models on the individual level. While the idea has been a topic of conversation for a while, very few companies do so, and even fewer have implemented it in their systems and customer touchpoints. Most hotels within a chain, for example, still cannot associate my name with my loyalty card in their central system. When I show up, I have to tell them that I am a member, and even then, they cannot access my behavioral data to personalize service. Companies should ensure that the system integration and the data quality are as complete as possible. This is a huge first step to personalized service. If the hotels track my travel, they can even start proactively offering me services, such as arranging a car pick up for my arrival. For the moment, most hotels don't collect such data or pay attention to travel habits.

1to1: How can traditional retailers incorporate the technologies of the digital age to enhance their customer service efforts?

RK: I already mentioned the interactive tablets in the dressing rooms. These devices expand the level of service and add entertainment value. Another shopping experience that could be enhanced by technology is food shopping. Grocery stores, for example, could reap similar benefits. I often wonder why I can't scan a cooking recipe from Food and Wine into a kiosk and get a print out of where I can find each ingredient. This is a simple search and match function. If stores had this information, they could learn a lot about my eating habits and be able to advise me better. This in turn would ensure larger share of wallet and more loyalty.

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION