By Tamsin Oxford - March 6th, 2015

Customer engagement is golden in our era of social business, and it's time for all organizations to get social customer service right.

In a recent piece in Fortune Magazine Ryan Holmes, the CEO of Hootsuite, pointed out that social media is evolving at “breakneck speed, and companies are struggling mightily to keep up.” His wise words are not echoing alone across the social media landscape. Many organisations recognize that social has value, but find it hard to pinpoint (or capture). Social customer service can add inordinate value to any business. It builds engagement through personalized interactions, and improves customers’ brand experiences.

As Forrester pointed out in their The Age of the Customer report: “Your technology-empowered customers now know more than you do about your products and services, your pricing, and your reputation. The only way to win, serve and retain customers is to become customer obsessed.”

A recent McKinsey eCare (digital customer care) research paper found that handling customer issues online can result in a significant shift in customer satisfaction. The paper examined 11 touch points across two categories – the traditional channel (phone, mail, vendor) and the digital channel (forums, social media, personal accounts) – and found that a purely digital journey drove higher levels of customer satisfaction.

The McKinsey Survey focused on the impact of social customer service within the telecommunications industry, but the ability to provide customers with personalized responses and improved brand experiences is not limited to any one market. Yodel, a parcel delivery service in the UK, recorded an increase of 49% in customers with a ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ service response since instituting their new customer experience management program.

Yodel launched Have Your Say in March 2013. It uses a multitude of channels to gather feedback. They filter this data back into the business, using it to make alterations to processes and instigate improvements in real time. Their interface allows for the results to be broken down into specific elements for use across a variety of internal silos. Yodel shares this information with their clients, which they use to shape their own services and solutions.

Clearly, there is value to be found in having a rich online presence ready to engage with customers.

Gartner VP and Fellow, Dave Aron, agrees: “Consumer attention is the most valuable commodity these days. The power, the relevance and the key assets are moving to the right-hand side of the supply chain which is the consumer or the customer. If you can get the consumer’s attention, you can sell them anything and learn anything from them. This is a massive shift in business that’s very heavily empowered by digital.”

Of course, there are a number of solutions designed for providing organizations with the tools they need to deliver a high level of social customer service. Some are bespoke, others are plug-and-play, but the best fit for any business is the one that meets their budget, their audience, and their model.

Intent HQ uses social affinity for deeper insights into what viewers like about a television show. The key is in the quality of the data – using information from a range of different sources that include social media, online articles viewed, and existing demographic data to drive a higher level of understanding.

“Applying these techniques helps broadcasters attract more advertisers, as brands can closely match advertising and marketing spend with programs where viewers are more predisposed to buy their products and services,” says Guillermo Christen, VP of Product and Engineering, Intent HQ. “When we analysed the affinities for Celebrity Big Brother (CBB) with those of traditional Big Brother, we found affinities with Bruno Mars and Walt Disney. We then used these techniques to uncover the affinities of those who followed the CBB presenter Emma Willis, and found that they liked Walkers crisps, Cheryl Cole, and the England football team.”

Models are shifting as organizations recognize the importance of social customer service. Few can afford to transform their existing channels wholesale. Arvato, in their UK 2014 Outsourcing Index, found that a growing number of UK organizations are integrating their traditional services with digital channels to enhance customer experiences. They also increasingly trust outsourcing to provide it. The proportion leapt up by 55% year on year in 2014 with a financial value of £238 million in new customer relationship management contracts.

“It’s clear that brands have grasped that, in an age when their customers are routinely buying goods and making enquiries across multiple devices and channels, they can’t afford not to take an integrated approach,” says Debra Maxwell, Managing Director, arvato UK.

In the US, many organizations using customer social are leading the way in setting trends and keeping clients. In 2013 Amazon released the Mayday button on the Kindle for 24/7 video chat support. Today video is one of the fastest-growing spaces for social customer service campaigns. Not too shabby on the predicting-the-future front! Other notables in the customer social space include JetBlue, Whole Foods, Spotify and Xbox, the latter still holding the Guinness World Record for the Most Responsive Brand on Twitter… 

Organizations now have the opportunity to turn social media into an advantage, a tool that has the ability to enrich customer experiences and their affinity for the brand. To do so, however, they need to use people and technology that allows them to respond swiftly, responsibly and cleverly, avoiding the pitfalls that all too often arise when little thought goes into a big solution.

A study by Simply Measured reveals some rather sad statistics. Only 30% of brands have a dedicated customer service presence on Twitter, and the average response time sits at 5.1 hours. Only 10% of companies even bother to respond within the hour.

It’s not all bad though, with one superb conversation really standing out when it comes to going the extra mile for the customer. @Alexa_Burrows jokingly asked @Jetblue for a welcome parade as she returned home from holiday. Thanks to their swift response time, she got their Twitter parade — and then Boston Airport, paying attention to their Twitter feeds — threw her a real life one too


In the second part of our Social Media for Customer Service series, we’ll examine a case study for social care best practice.

Read the next installment here:

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