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The role of social media in the customer service driven age

21 August 2014 | 10:36 am

The arena of customer services can be fraught with difficulties for any organisation, so could using social media provide a fit for purpose solution?

A recent article in @Forbes gave readers “7 Reasons You Need to Be Using Social Media As Your Customer Service Portal” whilst a 2013 benchmark study conducted by JD Power & Associates found that “…67% of consumers have used a company's social media site for customer servicing.” Both of these highlight that there is a growing sense that utilising social media as a primary response tool, is the most effective way of dealing with customer service issues.

The benefits of using social media include immediacy of response, direct action, and great ROI. In a world in which the majority of our day-to-day transactions are being conducted via social media, it is only reasonable for companies to respond in kind.

We live in a fast paced world where customer expectations, particularly when it comes to issue resolution, are high. The difference between solving a problem now or later can have massive implications in terms of on-going customer relationships, and social media has an immediacy to it that more traditional platforms may not be able to offer.  Sitting in a telephone queue listening to Vivaldi, or receiving a cursory email response which politely tells you that “Your issue is important to us and we endeavor to answer all queries within seven working days…” is not a reasonable response to customers whose expectations are based on 24 hour media communication channels.  Problems that are left unattended tend only to get worse, whereas a speedy response can lead to on-going benefits for an organisation.

Travel is one area in which a swift resolution to problems can be essential. Platforms such as Twitter offer the perfect medium for customers to be kept informed of real time issues (and solutions) as they occur. In a recent article on The Next Web this month, "5 strategies behind awesome customer service on social media" the author describes how by communicating with US Airways via Twitter he was able to re-book a flight and avoid the lengthy queues at the customer services desk, all within 15 minutes of the announcement of his flight being cancelled. The airline’s own CRM function being primed and ready to go was a major factor in the customer’s high level of satisfaction and on-going loyalty to the brand in question.

Similarly, the head of marketing at UK travel organisation London Midland points to the incredible efforts they have made in developing a leading customer service experience on Twitter.  Their use of real time conversations guiding individual passengers through delay or cancellation issues have been praised by consumers and it is not hard to see why this service enhancement has led to significant changes in the way the company is viewed by its customers.

Speed of response is one thing that social media delivers in a world that has grown to expect immediate results, but for organisations seeking to enhance their CRM functions, there is another benefit that may well appeal to those in the boardroom.

Call centres, or departments staffed with telephone operatives are expensive to develop and maintain. Having staff on stand-by ready to answer ‘Live-Chat’ customer service enquiries on websites can be just as costly. For organisations that have already invested in social media, there are few, if any additional costs involved in utilising those channels as part of a customer services platform.  The issue of course is ensuring there are separate, dedicated social media channels for each assigned function so that organisations can appropriately respond to the social media ‘channel hopping’ habits of customers. This brings with it an interesting point: we now expect social media to take on increasingly multi-faceted roles - sales, marketing, internal comms and now customer servicing, but how do we ensure each of these areas has a distinct and separate ‘voice’ so ensuring it is fit for purpose?

Social media is adaptable, but ideally organisations should have a system in place which allocates each function and monitors it accordingly. The tone of voice you require for your social sales platform is not necessarily the one you would choose for dealing with customer service matters. And having one point of contact for all communications regardless of purpose can lead to issues.

In a 2012 study, Sky TV’s @SkyHelpTeam out performed Virgin’s @virginmedia Twitter account in terms of speed of responses (90% of Sky’s issue related  tweets being dealt with in under 10 minutes, with the majority of Virgin customers waiting at least an hour). The study felt that the difference was due in part to the handles themselves - @SkyHelpTeam being a dedicated customer help channel whilst  @virginmedia was a general brand account.

Sky easily outpaces Virgin Media on Twitter, showing that dedicated customer care is important on social media too

Two years on and the benefits of segmenting social media into clearly identifiable remits are much more widely adopted. HSBC for example, have a dedicated member of staff sign in to their @HSBC_UK_Help account each day to deal directly with customer queries.

Offering distinct and separate channels not only allows customers to choose which access point is most relevant to meeting their needs, it also allows organisations to know what type of response is expected. It may sound simple, but ensuring this takes place across a large and complex multi-channel platform can mean a lot of behind the scenes work. Technology can help to solve these issues and compliance platform software may certainly be an advantage.

Related: Making Customer Services a Social Experience – top tips for marketers

CRM can be a delicate area for any boardroom; where have you allocated responsibility for customer services for example? Marketing, sales, a dedicated CS team? The difficulty is that customers will have a whole range of enquiries relating to different areas of your business, and those queries will come via a range of access points – email, text Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc. and organisations need to have the flexibility to cope with such a disparate approach.

Social media can offer that level of flexibility, but it needs to be fit for purpose. A system which is monitoring 24 hours a day and that flags up key words to an appropriate person (or department) for example, enables responses to be issued which are timely, personalised and consistent.  The right system will also enable those tasked with delivering customer services to easily track and monitor all communications that have taken place with any given individual no matter the medium it took place on – the benefits of which cannot be overstated in terms of building rapport with customers.

We exist in a 24 hour global marketplace and consumers rightly expect 24 hour access when it comes to customer services. Utilising social media to meet those expectations is no longer merely desirable for businesses, it is a requirement. An organisation that are serious in meeting the needs of customers (and that means all of us) should therefore look to invest in ensuring its social media is fit for purpose in order to meet the ever growing demands made of it from those in the boardroom.

Related: Why the board shouldn’t blame marketing for poor customer service on social media