By adaptive - September 12th, 2012

We all know that social media has become a game changer in how modern businesses operate. Research indicates that 80% of companies plan on using social media for customer service delivery by the en...

We all know that social media has become a game changer in how modern businesses operate. Research indicates that 80% of companies plan on using social media for customer service delivery by the end of 2012. And 62% of consumers have already used social media for customer service issues.

However, social often starts with an opportunistic marketing department looking for some cheap brand building opportunities. There’s often no clearly defined organisational model – and that leads to problems of ownership, of responsibility and productivity.

Customer service has entered a new era. The advent of social media has delivered a seismic shift in how customer services are now delivered to consumers. For corporations, strong responsive customer services have always been important, but today, consumers have the power and are increasingly demanding more efficient responses from the brands they buy from.

There is also a commercial component to this activity. A recent US study showed that over half of consumers that follow a brand’s tweets for instance, are more likely to buy from that brand with two-thirds also likely to recommend a brand to friends and family. One of the most important components of this relationship is the level of customer services that is received. Developing positive sentiment via customer services activity is now critical for all corporations.

Often, a company will rely on the advocacy that is gained via its products or services. Tweets, Likes and reviews should all be fostered, but research from Bazaar Voice clearly shows that good general product reviews are all well and good, but when it comes to customer services, different customer behaviour is seen.

“Many consumers are clearly unwilling to evaluate a product’s quality separately from their experiences with brand representatives,” states Bazaar Voice. “A great product won’t save brand word of mouth if the company doesn’t support customers with good service.”

Bazaar Voice continued: “Though reviews are inherently product-specific, brands shouldn’t overlook the massive opportunity to learn more about how customers view other elements of the brand like customer service. Rather than waiting for and reacting to individual inquiries, proactively search for customer service issues in user-generated content. When appropriate, responding to service complaints in line with a review shows other customers that service teams are truly listening to their feedback, and can present an opportunity to turn a negative experience into a positive one.”

Customer service mentions by industryMaking connections

How customers are contacting the brands they buy from has also rapidly evolved. Telephone and email have now been overtaken by tweets. The immediacy of Twitter is highly attractive to consumers that want to make fast and efficient contact regarding a customer services query; but for corporations, responses by Twitter are also now demanded and within a very tight time frame. Indeed, a study by Burson Marsteller has shown that corporate users actually favour Twitter.

“People want to interact and connect with these major companies, and these platforms are the bridge directly to the heart of these organizations,” said Burson-Marsteller Chief Global Digital Strategist Dallas Lawrence. “What’s even more impressive is how much companies are engaging back with followers. Seventy-nine percent of corporate accounts attempt to engage on Twitter with retweets and @-mentions, and 70 per cent of corporate Facebook pages are responding to comments on their walls and timelines.”

There is also the question of ownership. In the past, customer service was just one department within a corporation’s hierarchy. Today, the socialisation of businesses means social media is a company-wide issue. However, many corporations now have specific teams to manage their social media connections, with customer service response being a key component of these teams.

Julian Heerdegen, CRM Evangelist at SugarCRM advises: “Be careful about separate departments. Separation is an invitation for the creation of silos, which in turn are the death of a unified customer experience. Data quality also becomes an issue. Customer service, call centre, marketing – should have access to an intuitive CRM system that integrates with relevant social media channels.

“You need to ensure that any interaction between the company (regardless of department) and a customer, via any kind of media, social or traditional, is tracked in a CRM system and available to every eligible employee with customer touch points. Otherwise, sooner or later, customers may get the impression that your company has a selective memory – something that happens way too often.”

With Arnold Ma, Digital Marketing Director at Qumin commenting: “Consumers are all powerful these days and they know it. If companies get it wrong when they have any form of dialogue with them there are very few second chances if any. And they will make their thoughts public. The key point is that a twitter or a Facebook message can be seen by the public, and poorly handled or a lack of response will be there for all to see and therefore very damaging to the company. Especially with 'zero moment of truth', customers are now able to search for sentiments that surround companies before they make buying decisions.”

Are you listening?

Do you expect a company to read your tweet?Modern customer service is now social. There is no denying that the influence of social media on customer service has been profound. However, corporations are still struggling to maintain a high level of communications using social channels.

Last year Evolve 24 found that when a company did respond to an enquiry via Twitter, this was welcomed by the customer concerned with 86% stating that they loved to be contacted in this way and that over three-quarters were also satisfied with the response they received.

Has anyone from the company contacted you about your complaints as a result of your tweet?Complaints are increasingly being handled via social media interaction that much is certain. Consumers also have little patience when it comes to responses to their complaints via social networks – notably Twitter. Consumers today want an almost instant response to their communications with a brand, none more so than when this communication is a complaint.

The metric is simple: The faster your corporation can respond to these communications the higher your brand advocacy will be. Businesses like John Lewis showed they clearly understand this metric by being 32% faster than other brands according to the last survey from Brandwatch. This equated to a response time of 3 hours and 23 minutes on average per contact via Twitter. How long does your company take to respond?

John Lewis Customer Services ConversationsResearch also commissioned by Brandwatch shows British brands are ignoring priceless customer service feedback offered by consumers on Twitter and Facebook, opting to respond as quickly as possible to each complaint rather than learn lessons from them.

The online study, which questioned over 2,000 British consumers on brand interaction, found that half (50%) of respondents actually complain because they want companies to learn from their mistakes. The finding countered the misconception that peoples’ main reason for making a complaint is to embarrass brands publically, with only 17% stating they complain about a brand for this reason.

The survey ran in conjunction with the Customer Service Index (CSI) 2012, Brandwatch’s annual report into social media customer service. The CSI 2012 study found that although brands have had a year to learn from the lessons offered by social media feedback, customer satisfaction levels still have not improved. Only three of the 40 brands analysed emerged with a score above zero – indicating that their customer service experience was successful overall. In fact, over half (52%) of all customer service experiences were classified as negative.

This comes despite the online YouGov survey showing a clear opportunity for brands to learn from online interactions with consumers and use social media to change for the better:

  • 36% of online respondents who interact with brands on the Internet do so to complain.

  • 27% of UK adults online interact with brands on the Internet at least once a month.

  • 44% of respondents who interact with brands on the Internet use online interactions to request information.

  • 26% of UK adults online share information about things they buy online.

  • 19% of UK adults online discuss what they think about brands.

“Some people just love to complain – you can’t get away from that fact. But what our results also show is that consumers are sharing information via social media because they genuinely want brands to be better at what they do. The problem comes when brands think they know best. They’re behaving a bit like teenagers, and being too petulant to actually see what’s in front of them,” said Giles Palmer, Founder and CEO of Brandwatch.

“Speed isn’t enough. Too often, when faced with a negative comment brands are too quick to ping back an automated message. Perhaps this is the industry’s fault for placing too much emphasis on speed of response. It’s not about speed: it’s about understanding what your customers are taking the time to tell you, learning lessons, and acting on this feedback.”

Ultimately customer services will become a social exercise. The trend is clearly for consumers’ to increasingly use their favourite social networks to make contact with brands and businesses. At the moment, these comments are all too often negative with corporations placing too much emphasis on speed of response and not the quality of the conversation, and what they can learn from these interactions.

However, there is a sea change taking place where customer service provision is being socialised. Those companies that understand these changes and put in place systems to manage these conversations will be the commercial winners.

Vit Horky, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Brand Embassy

Vit Horky, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Brand EmbassyQ Who should handle customer service delivery over social media? The customer service department? Your call centre? Your marketing team? Or a separate social media department?

A The objective of social media customer care is the same as traditional customer service. It is part of the role of the customer care employees to make dissatisfied customers happy. However, because most social media can be seen by many others in a public space, some of the responses should be pre-prepared or approved by the company's PR department. Corporate clients using Brand Embassy usually select the best employees from their call centres and train them to get familiar with the social media customer service to provide the best possible results.

Q How can corporate users of social media overcome organizational challenges when they are trying to apply social to their customer services?

A It's simple. If the company's management believes that they need to improve the public image of their brand due to a significant number of customers repetitively complaining, then creating an internal process is the next logical step. It is important to engage and motivate various key influences among customer care, marketing, PR and social marketing teams and set clear responsibilities and realistic expectation focused on improving customer satisfaction and not sales.

Q How can corporate users make their workflow more efficient by breaking down the traditional silos to make social media customer service a team game?

A By integrating a specialised social customer care software, that not only leverages the active listening to customers on various social media sources, helps to engage the customers in the easiest and fastest possible way and analyses the efficiency of the team workflow. Can I use my response to motivate other community users to follow-up? Have I satisfied more customers today than my colleagues? Am I compensated based on the customer satisfaction with my work?

Q How can nurturing social media conversations create real business value that a corporation can measure?

A The company should apply a set of KPIs for social media customer care. Looking at not only the traditional customer service metrics (SLA - First-Response Time, Solution Time) but also social media-specific metrics (Resolution ratio - Number of conversations solved in a public space vs. turned to private conversation, Sentiment Analysis - number of positive vs. negative comments) and marketing-specific like NPS (Net-Promoter Score) measured right after the customer service conversation.

Q How can the socialisation of customer service benefit a corporation’s bottom line - from efficiency savings to upselling, reduction in call centre contacts to disaster mitigation?

A Businesses have never before had such a great opportunity to proactively listen to millions of their customers every single day and truly understand their problems. Moreover, by moving customer care to public space the companies have an instant opportunity to motivate their customers to help to others on a peer-to-peer basis.

My estimate is that the volume of customer care inquiries on social media will reach 50% of the total inquiries in just two years and because businesses can incorporate their brand advocates to resolve up to around 70% of enquiries, the companies can decrease their costs of customer service by almost 40%!

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