Very few organisations could have failed to experience a dramatic shift in social media delivery, from what was once viewed as a channel to pump prime sales and marketing messages to where we are today – a channel that is fast becoming the backbone of customer service support.
The public has grown a very large appetite for engaging with brands, products and services around all things ‘customer service’ on social media. In fact, the Institute of Customer Service reported in July 2015 that at least 1 in 4 of us were making our complaints social.
That means that a staggering 18 million of the 50 million complaints made last year took place under the watchful eyes of fans, followers and engaged users. And perhaps of greatest surprise to some who mistakenly still pass off the channel as the terrain of ‘bright young things’, a large proportion of complainants were in the 45-54 year old category.
However, complaints are only part of the issue. Customer service as we know covers an array of response to customer needs, pre, during and post sale – many of which are not complaints but questions to allow customers to use our wares more effectively to address their needs. In fact, the BSI group, who have a considerable influence on the standards of delivery for customer service across the UK, discovered in their research that how these broader issues were dealt could be ‘make or break’ in whether a customer chose to stay loyal, with 33% stating dissatisfaction with how their customer service query was handled as the reason they moved on.
So regardless of whether a concert goer is tweeting to ask if someone can turn the heating up in the venue or someone is asking for directions to their nearest MOT centre, the need for round the clock, customer service engagement has become paramount across all categories of customer support. As a consequence the spotlight has shone on the social media team like never before.
However, the controversial debate is whether the current army of social media officer/ managers and all job titles in between are really best placed to take on the demands of a new era in social customer service support?
In the plus camp, social media managers by definition often belong to the marketing camp! In the purest sense, marketing managers are all about putting the customer at the heart of the business, which should align them perfectly to the customer. Having a person who is responding to a customer against a backdrop of core brand and marketing messages can’t be a bad thing right? What could possibly go wrong?
Actually, quite a lot! If the customer fails to feel listened to and loved, they can feel tremendous disappointment with our brand and start the process of disconnecting with us. All that hard earned marketing spend, used to attract and sell to them wasted and our brand devalued.
So faced with the challenge of whether to lay responsibility for your customer service efforts at your social media managers door, we would recommend that you consider 5 key questions:
1. How comfortable are the social media team at heading off script?
Marketing and social media managers are wired differently to a customer service representative in many ways. They help to define and deliver core messages across multiple channels to reinforce their brand. They have ‘consistency’ beaten into them at every stage of their training and as a result, heading ‘off script’ can be of grave concern to them. So hit with a barrage of inbound comments, questions and concerns, how will they react?
Customer service response needs to be lightening quick, with an air of authenticity about it to deliver the feeling of personalisation. They will have to be light on their fingertips to hit the right tone with their customers without appearing to stick to a repetitive script, and the benefit of the months of planning and research they are accustomed to.
2. Could your social media team solve problems for people?
Customer service teams are resourceful and often described affectionately as problem solving ninjas. Often those that find themselves in social media delivery teams will not have had to micro manage problem solving at this scale, and worse may lack the resourcefulness and confidence to apply common sense and compassion in equal measure, to help a customer in need believe that their pain is being addressed appropriately.
To solve problems, they also need to be apt at fact finding, probing and scoping the issue in a gentle, yet assertive manner and may need to call on negotiation which can be lacking in your more conventional marketing/ social skills set.
3. Can your social media representatives chameleon to build rapport?
Every good customer service delivery team understands the power of mirroring and active listening. Engaging on the terms of the customer, rather than that of the brand can require a whole new approach and a repertoire of different approaches to meet a variety of audience needs. Being a Chameleon that evolves effortlessly into a rapport builder with the audience is not necessarily in the skill set of a brand ambassador who has always been programmed to deliver messages consistently and in a corporate tone of voice.
4. How do the social media team manage their current workload?
A carefully orchestrated outbound campaign is very different to an inbound splattering of customer service enquiries. The latter will often require transmission onward at lightening speed to an appropriate respondent/ department and the logging of information and rapid response, the critical element that will determine the success or ultimate failure of the encounter. So take a good long look at your social media team and evaluate what type of workload they manage now and how this may need to evolve to manage the customer service demands of the future?
5. Have they had the appropriate training?
Ultimately, the buck stops with the organisation that places their social media managers in the firing line of customers. For some, the transition has been organic and increasingly the social media management team have learnt to adapt to the subtlety of being a point of contact for customers. However, we also see cases first hand where the transition has been left to chance, rather than applying the same rigorous training that a customer service representative would undertake in the more traditional sense. Of course, a suitable social media policy will support those who venture into customer service social engagement but only training can help individuals to understand the nuances of personal interpretation and allow for scenario practice in the safety and security of a low risk environment.
The bottom line is that any team, regardless of job title has to be prepared for customer service enquiries to enter across their channel and be ready and willing to deal with them when they land! Social media is increasingly being used as a way to escalate a complaint – with focus in the future on ‘omnichannel’ all channel approaches needed to deliver a seamless customer service function.
The message is simple. If you are currently going through the transition to a more customer centric approach, think carefully about the team and the tools you have in place to manage your social media. Don’t assume that a team who does a great job within the parameters of marketing can do the same within the customer service environment.
In the future, we will no doubt see a new hybrid of job descriptions geared towards the social customer service environment and we watch with considerable interest as this demand evolves.