Why Social Customer Service Changes The Game


Social media is giving businesses an opportunity to rewrite the service rulebook and early adopter companies are already reaping the rewards. To get a local perspective, I sat down with Nick Ogle who heads up Asia-Pacific for a leading Social Customer Service vendor, Conversocial. Nick has been working extensively in the Social Care arena and his insights are worth sharing. Here's his response to some questions I posed.

Why should brands conduct Customer Service over Social?

Quite simply it’s because Social Media is where the customers are for most brands. Social Networks have become the first place we go for share opinions, and news. Brands already know this and that’s why so much money is being spent on advertising on Social Networks.

Facebook’s recent Q2 results are testament to this with total revenues of $4.042B and 95% coming straight from advertising. If you think this is North American phenomenon then think again as only 17% of Facebook Daily Active users are from the USA & Canada. The other statistic from Facebook’s Q2 results worth noting is that 87% of Daily Active Users check in via a mobile.

Whilst brands like to use their social networks to push advertising at consumers, these same consumers are taking to interacting with these brands over social. These interactions can cover the following example areas:

  1. General references to a brand’s products & services
  2. Positive experiences of the company’s products & services
  3. Indirect references that are relevant to the companies industry
  4. Customer asking the brand a direct question
  5. Customer expressing dissatisfaction
  6. Customers that have an urgent product/service need

What we can glean from all this is that customers are increasingly using social networks, using them whilst mobile, interacting with brands over social & more often than not, using these networks for Customer Service questions. It's a natural way of engaging for consumers who use social and there are also some great benefits for brands, as outlined by McKinsey in a recent article titled:Social care in the world of "now":

  • Savings: It costs as little as $1 to solve a customer issue on social media, which is nearly one-sixth of the cheapest call-centre interactions.
  • Satisfaction: Best-in-class social care companies improved customer satisfaction by 19 per cent, versus 5 per cent for all others. And 82 per cent of customers who have a good customer experience on Twitter are likely to recommend the brand based on their interaction.
  • Sales: Companies that developed social care capabilities improved year-over-year revenue per contact by 6.7 per cent through effective up-selling, cross-selling and customer-churn reduction versus a 12% decline for those without that capability.
Are Brands exposed to risk due to the uncontrolled nature of social?

I truly believe that brands are exposed if they don’t participate. Sure, social can be a raw, emotive and an in-the-moment medium but in some ways that's the appeal.  Social provides a tremendous platform for brands to show they are human and listening. I personally have had a couple of experiences with brands that disappointed me and I have taken to twitter to express my disappointment. A good example is outlined in this blog post Driving Volvo to Customer Service Heights.

What's interesting about this experience is the power social media has as a medium to amplify. 89 people viewed my initial complaint tweet, in the first week. Whilst my thank-you tweet, was seen 885 times in the same period.  This is pretty amazing when you think about it. For the price of a $240 battery, Volvo have managed to not only solve my problems thereby having a very happy customer but they also got 885 people to see that they listen and that they provide service in a very human way.  That is pretty cheap advertising in anyone’s language.

What are the Challenges for Brands wanting to provide Customer Service over Social Channels?

The first major challenge is that social media has reversed the traditional ownership model for Customer Service. Brands have traditionally controlled how customers access their support over phone, chat, e-mail, etc. but social media is the first channel created and controlled by customers.  Customers now have a public voice concerning customer service. Consider these facts:

  • Customers have more choice of suppliers and channels. 66% of consumers stopped doing business with a provider and switched to another in the past year due to a poor customer service experience, up 17% since 2005 (Accenture 2013).
  • Customers are more connected. 53% of consumers will talk about a bad customer experience they have received on social, while only 42% will share a good one (American Express 2012). This trend and the viral nature of social media show how customers can wield their power.
  • Customers demand more speed and simplicity. 71% of consumers say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good service (Forrester 2013).

Yet delivering customer service effectively within social media is challenging because the medium is: 

  • Noisy: Unlike other channels, agents must sift through a lot of content in order to identify customer service issues on social.
  • Confusing: Multiple public and private messages from a single customer are hard to track, and can get lost between agents.
  • A slow process: Lack of efficient approval workflows mean slow, rigid and manual process with extra complexity when resolving an issue that requires involvement from other departments.
  • High stakes: A single error can result in a full-blown social media crisis

All of this means that brands need to really look at the process, structure & metrics needed to properly conduct customer service on social. Getting the process right at the beginning is key. Once you open the gates for Social Customer Service then the volume will follow. If you have a flawed process and non-enterprise tools then you will find yourself overwhelmed.

What's the real state of Social Customer Service?

Social Customer Service can be split three phases: Reach, Respond & Resolve and here is a summary of each element:

  • Reach is when brands are using Social media for marketing and listening only. Social is used as a marketing channel exclusively. Companies are “reaching” out to customer and this is predominantly a one-way conversation.
  • Response is when consumers start to interact with the brands over Social & the Marketing department starts to recognize the need for some help from Customer Service experts but the volumes are still low and there are no strict customer service processes or KPI’s to adhere to.
  • Resolution is the final stage where engagement over social media has moved into the Contact Centre with dedicated Customer Service Agents, SLA’s, Monitoring of Service Metrics & Volumes of incoming content on Social.

Some customers are executing at all three levels but the vast majority are in the 'Reach' or 'Response' phases. There are some good examples of companies in the Resolution phase, especially in the Airline and Telco industries.

Although many companies are attempting to use their Social Marketing tools for Customer Service, there is a mistaken belief that you can purchase a social suite of tools that will combine social listening, social reach, social depth and social relationship. But Forrester recently released a report that slams this approach and they recommend buying point solutions rather than social suites.

Traditionally in software segments, there's a structural advantage to buying an integrated suite. You wouldn't go buy a general ledger system and a separate accounts payable system from two different vendors. It wouldn't make any sense. Yet with Social suites you need to buy the best point solution. Why? Going deep drives revenue; that’s why. Being a mile wide and an inch deep is a waste of time in Social.

What are some future trends in social customer service? 

There are two big trends: Peer-to-Peer resolution and Mobile Messaging. 

Customers trust their peers more highly than brands. Online forums andcommunities are the traditional platform for peer-peer support, but these are an archaic technology because you need to register online, supply an email address, etc. Research shows that 50% of customers aged 18-29 are more likely to turn to social media when they have a technical issue rather than a support forum. It’s time for peer-peer support to move into the mobile and social era. 

A company who is leading the charge on Peer-2-Peer support on mobile is Google who recently announced a program where customers tweet to #gHelp to then get help from Google’s army of Top Contributors. There is no onerous signup process, the brand isn’t collecting email addresses or details. Instead Google’s designated Top Contributors around the world will be answering customer’s questions via twitter. Interestingly Google’s Top contributors are not employees but devoted customers who simply love the brand and want to contribute.

Mobile messaging consists of applications that provide messaging functionality on phones and tablets delivered via data, rather than SMS. WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are the biggest in the West; WeChat is huge in Asia. These messaging apps are the biggest new force in communication, and still growing. The daily message volume on WhatsApp (owned by Facebook) is now 50% bigger than global SMS volume.

There was a very good article recently that look at how WeChat works - When One App Rules Them All: The Case of WeChat and Mobile in China. This article provides some interesting figures on the amount of commerce that is transacted over WeChat. This is why Facebook’s recently released Messenger Business will be an interesting product to watch. The aim is to steam line the way users shop online. Messenger Business is designed to let users communicate with participating online retailers one-on-one, creating one thread with all the necessary information. The Messenger thread will allow for package tracking, providing feedback, and even reordering or returning items. Because Messenger Business is tied to a user’s Facebook account, there’s no need to log in or verify your identity.

Facebook recently opened the Messenger Business API’s to allow 3rd party applications to hook into the platform. I’m very excited about the potential for brands in ANZ to use Messenger Business for Commerce. Think buying movie tickets, hotel room service, mobile plan upgrades etc.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main image photo from Flickr.