Thursday, February 7, 2013

How Social is Your Customer Service?

Image courtesy of Jason A. Howie
A couple weeks ago, the team at Software Advice published the results of The Great Social Customer Service Race. On the heels of my recent exchanges with the team from @AmericanAir, I thought this was a great time to weigh in on social media customer service.

The Software Advice team's experiment consisted of four employees tweeting from their personal Twitter accounts to 14 top consumer brands across seven industries. They tweeted to or about each brand once a day (weekdays) for four weeks straight. The results were pretty dismal: only 14% of the tweets received a response of any kind.

There were four key findings that they highlighted in their results:
  1. Listen for your brand on Twitter, with or without the @, i.e., sometimes they tweeted with the company's Twitter name, while other times they simply mentioned the brand in a tweet. The lack of response to those tweets without the brand Twitter handle was unbelievable. These companies were note truly listening.
  2. Choose your prioritization rules carefully, i.e., your customers' expectations for response time are much shorter than you think, but not out of the realm of what I would deem realistic. The point to this findinig was that if you're automating your responses, expand your keywords and prioritize them accordingly. Software Advice advises to prioritize "tweets ... that indicate intention to buy or risk of switching brands."
  3. Track all customer service requests equally, i.e., integrate listening software with your help desk ticketing program to allow your reps to handle and process requests from social media just as they would those that come in from other channels (phone, email, chat, etc.). This will certainly keep your social media reps from stepping over each other and responding to the same tweets repeatedly.
  4. Record interactions by customer, i.e., identify "power tweeters" or influencers and nurture that relationship.
Here's what I think, based on these findings, what I've read, and my own personal experiences. Companies still don't understand that they must be addressing customer feedback, questions, comments, etc. on social media. And in a timely manner.

Remember: It is simply another channel of communication.

In the old days, we just had phones to communicate with a company. (OK, smoke signals, letters, and faxes, too, but let's not go that far back right now.) Then along came email. How did we integrate that into our customer service processes? And then came chat. Somehow, companies were able to incorporate that into their customer service platforms. Somewhere in there, customers provided feedback via surveys and other methods. (Wait. Not getting to social media just yet.) Companies have figured out how to distribute that feedback throughout the organization and, ultimately, to act on it and respond to the customer. OK, some companies don't yet get that, either.

 95% of companies collect customer feedback.  Yet only 10% use the feedback to improve, and only 5% tell customers what they are doing in response to what they heard. -Gartner

I'm still hopeful on that one.

So then there's social media. People can blog, tweet, review, like, etc. And you need to be there. If you're missing this conversation, then you're going to lose customers. Social media is, in many ways, no different than the other communication methods used in the past - I think the problem is that it's coming out of a firehose right now. There's so much of it, that you don't know how to wrangle it. It's like, well, herding cats. But you must, must, must get a handle on it. You must be a part of the conversation.
  •  Social media conversations must be integrated into your customer service or CRM platform so that it can be addressed in an efficient and effective manner.
  • Social media does not just mean Twitter. Your customers are reaching out to you and communicating with you through a variety of other sites, like Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, FourSquare, Yelp and other review sites, their blogs, etc. Like I said - the conversations are gushing out of a firehose.
  • Your social media team must also be a part of your customer service function; they cannot simply be an island out on their own. Honestly, I think that's the problem with the @AmericanAir team; they do a great job, but it certainly seems like they are not integrated with the rest of American's service team.
  • Your social media customer service team must be trained in the same manner as the team that handles phone and email service. They must have the same product and business knowledge as everyone else and be prepared to handle the same types of questions or issues.
  • Don't allow for robotic or automated responses. Customers see straight through that, and it reeks of "we don't care."
  • Social media is not a one-way conversation. (1) When someone tweets, you respond. BUT (2) you can also initiate the conversation! For example, if there's an issue, get out ahead of it; be proactive. Share information.
  • Social media is 24/7. If you're not staffed for it, let people know your hours, just like you do for your other customer service channels.
  • Conversations on social media are not always negative. There are positive tweets and posts, thank yous, and kudos. Don't ignore those.
 Why should you care? How can social media help your business? It's great for...
  • building and nurturing relationships.
  • solving problems
  • finding new customers
  • saving existing customers on the verge of leaving
  • getting ahead of an issue (proactive communication)
  • perpetuating the brand promise
  • keeping an eye on competitors
  • being real
The bottom line is, you cannot ignore it. It's not going away - just like any other mode of communication with your customers.

Let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other, so we can have some conversation. -Mark Twain

The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment. -Dorothy Nevill

8 comments:

  1. Annette, I think you said it all...

    Remember: It is simply another channel of communication.

    It really isn't rocket science, I'm 44 and I seem to manage Twitter OK.

    I think it is more a question of bad manners than fear of technology

    James

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, James. Seems it comes down to common sense and being nice.

      Annette :-)

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  2. Hi Annette,
    I'm always intrigued by the fear that seems to grip many businesses when it comes to social media. Surely if someone sends you a message then it's just like answering the phone albeit in a public way, right? We, generally, don't have a problem picking up and answering the phone and we don't need permission to do that, right?

    Hmmm like you said...be courteous and nice and you'll be fine. If it feels like it's going to get sticky then take it offline. Simple, right?

    Adrian

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    1. Adrian, it is intriguing, no doubt. And that's exactly it... it's just another form of communication, except it's a bit more public/social than any other form. But all that means is that you MUST acknowledge and respond, not cower in the corner and avoid the inevitable.

      And agreed... simple... deal with it online, and if it takes more than 140 nice and simple characters, take it offline.

      Annette :-)

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  3. I conducted a similar study on my own waaaaay back in 2010. (www.toistersolutions.com/socialmedia)

    The results were similar, though I looked at large and small companies instead of just the big brands. I think it may be time to recreate that study and try again to see if things have changed. Based on your post, I'm guessing the answer is "No," but I can remain hopeful!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Jeff. I fear that your results would definitely be the same today. :-(

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  4. Thanks for a great article. Your tips are accurate and they will be of great help to me with my business. I bookmarked your site, and I will be back for more ! ! !

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  5. Being able to enhance your communication skills is good for the advancement of your customer service career.

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