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Social media is increasingly the go-to channel for customer service delivery, sitting alongside the more established benefits of social media marketing, communications, engagement and brand or reputation building. Whilst the stats vary depending on which analyst’s report you read, they collectively show that contact centres have seen the number of customer care enquiries via social media grow by up to 44%, demonstrating the popularity of social media for customers or end-users who need help.

Customer Care Activity On Twitter Has GrownSome folks have even go so far to declare that social customer care is the new marketing! Whilst growth is not confined to just one or two social media networks, Twitter and Facebook stand top of the charts when it comes to social customer care activity.

Having worked with numerous organisations who have been on the social customer care journey and are now enjoying the benefits, they report a considerable development in social media awareness from “Let’s just see what happens” of several years ago to the “How can we cope with power being in our customers hands?” situation of today.

If you've been in marketing, comms, digital or support for a few years now, you'll certainly recognise our social media timeline here:

2009 | “What harm can social do?” – Organisations were oblivious to the risks of social media, creating accounts without properly planning their approach, their responses, or having safeguards in place. Few were confident in how to use social media as an enterprise and much activity was focused on broadcasting sales messages.

2010 | Free apps – Plagued with senior management teams who thought “Social media will never take off” sales & marketing teams struggled to gain investment, forcing most to resort to using free social media apps to help them manage aspects of their organisation's social media.

2011 | Reliance on manual operation – As the popularity and activity on social media accounts grew, teams were finding themselves spending too much time manually logging in and out of social media accounts rather than spending time on the creation of content.

2014 | “This is risky” – An array of brand ‘black eyes’ threw organisations into disarray when they realised that they could get into difficulty, or worse, in some highly regulated areas – fined. With the likes of American Airlines and HMV getting into hot water of their social media blunders, the control of social media channels was often left in the hands of more junior members of the team.

2015 | “We need to manage the risks & up the ante” – In the past few years there has been a realisation from organisations that social media is here to stay, needs to be invested in and leveraged in order to deliver impact. This has led to considerably more people being involved in social media delivery and a greater need for collaboration between social media users to deliver campaigns and communications.

Today | The customer has control – Research is reporting that over 30% of customers would prefer to take a customer service query to social media than pick up the phone. Your customers are choosing when and how to communicate with organisations using their social media channel of choice. There has been steady growth in peer-to-peer social media where a brand has an army of unofficial helpers supporting in everything from general customer enquiries to signposting to additional sources of help. This demands greater social media listening skills than ever before, and the need to track customers across multiple channels. This ‘omni-channel’ approach has led to innovative tools that are able to record complete audit trails of social conversations across multiple social media networks.

In terms of delivering customer care on social media, it is important to consider how your social media management platform supports your current and future objectives, and whether or not the software can grow with you as become more mature and the level of activity increases.

Considerations for a social media platform for customer care

If you find that your organisation needs to implement a social media management platform in order to deliver social customer care effectively, we recommend you take stock of your current social media approach before jumping into it:

Key considerations to adopting an enterrpise social media management platform

1. Strategy

Software is not create a strategy. It is important to understand the types and amounts of social media activity that you are engaged in now, and what you aim to do in the future. Customer contact, customer service and peer-to-peer activity demands different types of social media approach. For example, contact may be very reliant on straightforward responses at scale (i.e. where they use your @name or branded page). Whereas peer-to- peer may require listening and logging of activity without assignment to a specific ‘customer’.

2. Structure

Your customer service strategy will dictate the kind of interaction that your customers need and from whom. Having a centralised team responding to all social media customer care enquiries, such as a contact centre, is very different to having a number of teams or individuals across multiple geographic locations responding to "local" customer care enquiries.

3. Control

If your organisation operates in an industry with regulatory or compliance requirements, such as finance, then there will be key requirements to adhere to in relation to your social media delivery, such as the creation of a robust audit trail of conversations, a ‘two sets of eyes policy’ on the detail of conversations undertaken and the ability to manage a social media crisis effectively. The £18m Ofgem fine of Scottish Power in May 2016 raised the bar in terms of the need to be able to cater for customers through social media channels.

4. Monitoring

Whilst listening to your customers has always had a firm stronghold within marketing activity, it has recently surged in relation to peer-to-peer support. Why? Because not all of the conversation will take place within your own social media channels. To unlock the benefit from peer-to-peer it is important that an organisation is not seen to interfere too readily. However, at times where people may not be receiving correct or accurate information from others, it is useful to have heard and responded. The unofficial channels may also provide you with very valuable insights into trouble areas that are gaining momentum and heading your way, allowing you to streamline your crisis PR response.

5. Governance

Your organisation will have its own policy when it comes to good governance, influencing the day-to-day running and operations of your organisation. It is essential that you understand the requirements so that you can relate this to the demands of your preferred social media management software solution. For example, if you have a need to comply with UK law, store data in the UK or work with UK suppliers, then it is essential that you relate this to the specification.

6. Training

Although you are primarily investing in a software platform, to make it deliver ROI, you will need a team of operators who understand how to get the most from social media, planning effectively, delivering on brand and executing in line with customer service protocols. This element may influence the type of solution you invest in, taking into consideration the usability, training and support available.

Free Download: Choosing the right social media management tool for social  customer care

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