helping brands make perfect sense of social media, from IAB UK’s social media council

By Iain MacMillan, RMM and Robin Grant, We Are Social - IAB SMC Ambassadors for Social Media and Customer Service.

Customer service is arguably one of the most intriguing elements of running a successful organisation, given that:

  • It can impact on, and be impacted by, every department in the organisation
  • Different customers may perceive the same level of customer service quite differently
  • In today’s marketplace social technologies mean that everyone can see what you’re doing

We’ve outlined below ten traditional aspects of customer service, and how the emergence and adoption of social technologies has fundamentally changed the game in each.

1. Understanding that customer service conversations now happen in public places

Traditionally the mechanic of a customer service interaction was a discreet communication between the individual and the organisation, a one-to-one communication so to speak. Today we see social technologies frequently extending these conversations to public, “social” places where customers can engage with fellow customers, as well as the organisation itself.

2. Shift from reactive to proactive customer service

One of the most significant transformations in customer service has been the shift in mindset from resolving customers’ problems reactively (i.e. acting when they ask) to taking a proactive stance. Listening to what customers are saying online, and targeting root causes, helps to eliminate their need to ask in the first place.

3. Integrating activity and data across multiple business departments

Historically, call centres have operated in something of a silo, rather than integrating with other departments to provide a single view of the customer and support a more rounded customer experience proposition. By consolidating data gathered from across departments, and incorporating insight from social media spaces, the organisation is better positioned to understand the wants and needs of their customers, and target them appropriately.

4. Managing a public and open knowledge base of customer information

Providing call centre agents with an internally constructed “knowledge base” has traditionally been a key approach to standardising the customer service experience. Increasingly, as customers share, find (e.g. via Google) and recommend information and experiences online, a public knowledge base of rich information (often more accurate than the internal version!) becomes the customer’s first port of call.

5. Understanding that not only the call centre but enthusiasts and fellow customers now answer customer questions

The concept of work-force management is fundamental in the contact centre industry, as a means of matching levels of demand with the skills and resources available to the organisation. Social technologies open up additional groups of available experts with fantastic experience – their customers and enthusiasts.

6. Managing the social process of customers collaborating on customer service issues

Many organisations have been effective in shifting customer service interactions from traditional channels such as in branch, or phone to online self-service, often supporting by online FAQ solutions. The appetite of customers in today’s market to search for recommendations, advocacy and support from fellow customers offers organisations a real opportunity to incorporate a social element to this, to deliver a socially collaborative self-service offer.

7. Meeting customer expectations within social spaces (e.g. speed and relevance of response)

A customer’s understanding of what constitutes a reasonable amount of time for an organisation to respond to their query is governed by a number of factors, including the nature of the response channel, the response process and the customer’s previous interactions with the organisation. Social media channels are enabling organisations, fellow customers and enthusiasts to provide more relevant answers, more swiftly. Customer expectations are rising rapidly and many organisations are finding it hard to keep pace.

8. Building customer groups who can provide feedback/research or sell on the behalf of the brand

Closed focus groups (or static questionnaires) with a range of potential points of bias, have traditionally been used to help the customer service team improve their performance. The ability to run social innovation groups (i.e. using social technologies) and monitor online conversations in social spaces (e.g. blogs and forums), now enables the organisation to tap into richer, contextual insight to inform their customer service activity.

9. Shifting metrics from operational performance to satisfaction and sentiment scores

Metrics to track customer experience performance have traditional been too focused on operational performance such as number of calls managed per hour. Today, the need to consider the end-to-end customer experience, and the impact on satisfaction and sentiment (e.g. when the organisation is mentioned online) sits far higher up the corporate agenda.

10. Proving ROI (and justifying client investment of time and money) into customer service in social spaces

Many organisations now find themselves investing in new customer service technologies (such as Twitter feeds) in order to keep up with their competitors and rapidly rising customer expectations – but sometimes without the back office and data management systems in place to understand what difference these interactions make on customer retention and lifetime value. Additionally, the word-of-mouth benefit afforded by exchanges in social spaces can make it very difficult to track exactly how many people have benefited from a customer service exchange in social media. As a result, many brands are currently justifying this expenditure on the basis of crisis prevention, caused or amplified by negative media coverage.


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