One customer may spend thousands of pounds or dollars with a company each year but have just a few Twitter followers, while another may spend only a small amount but have thousands of enthusiastic followers - which means that it's not always the 'best customer' that's the most influential for brands.
But, despite this relatively obvious reasoning, research from Genesys has found that only 6% of companies yet see social media as a customer service channel. Here, Richard McCrossan, strategic business director for Genesys, explains how technology already exists to enable businesses to integrate social media as a customer service channel to give consumers the kind of experience they expect.
Businesses must go where their customers are - and social media is where more and more of them are. Take Twitter, for example: it has become an accepted part of modern culture and has been embraced by a whole range of users from all walks of life. The total number of tweets per day has rocketed from 95 million in March 2011 to over 200 million today. According to social media expert Darlene M. Hull, 42% of Twitter users log on to find out about products and services, 42% do so to provide opinions about products or services, 31% to ask for opinions, 28% to find discounts or sales, 23% to purchase products or services, and 19% to seek customer support.
Interestingly, social media is no longer exclusively a "young person's game": according to ContactBabel, most of the people using Twitter today are over 35 years old - an age group that is of critical importance to the majority of marketers. And of course these consumers are using social channels like Twitter to discuss all manner of topics, including their likes, dislikes and brand experiences.
But having a social media strategy in place is not as simple as having a Facebook page, Twitter handle, or a Linked-In presence. Any company can monitor these spaces passively but, for social customer service strategies to work well, you need a more formal and automated process to help evaluate all the incoming comments, channel them through to the appropriate person or department, and to post helpful responses back directly within those channels.
Your response should also be within the same channel originally used by the customer. So, if a customer tweets, you should respond with a tweet - or at least reply via Twitter to suggest moving the discussion to a more private venue. This not only demonstrates prompt response to the customer's needs, but also shows an understanding of their preferred mode of communication.
But what if a customer uses more than one channel? After all, social media essentially is one more channel to add to the mix. Consumers today want to interact with a company across a range of media and channels, often 'channel hopping' from phone to webchat, to text, to email, to social networks. Today's customer service leaders are beginning to blend their service capabilities across channels, understanding how to communicate with customers in social channels, and determine metrics to help evaluate their results. For example, Starbucks, rather than using existing web sites, created its own with 'My Starbucks Idea' - a web site that allows users to submit suggestions to be voted on by other Starbucks customers. The most popular suggestions are then highlighted and reviewed by the company. Starbucks then took the idea one step further and added an 'Ideas in Action' blog that gives customers regular updates on the status of all the changes suggested. This ensures that Starbucks has good grasp of its customer feedback, and gets to manage the whole process properly.
And remember, you don't need to delight all of your customers all of the time. Eliminating dissatisfaction is, of course, a critical part of delivering a positive customer experience and making every interaction count. But, all too often, companies believe that the way to achieve this is to expend a lot of time and money on enhancing service and trying to delight the customer with free or unexpected offers. But research published in the Harvard Business Review, combined with the Customer Effort studies from Genesys, suggest that what businesses really need to do is "get it right, rather than delight". For example, give a customer an immediate answer to a simple question (e.g. "how much credit do I have on my mobile phone?" or "when will my delivery arrive?"). These studies found that this sort of simple, immediate response bred feelings of loyalty for a job well done.
New channels of communication, such as social media and instant messaging, mean that consumers have seamless conversations with their friends and family across multiple channels. It's only natural that they expect a similar experience with the companies they engage with. In the same way, customer service should be transparent, with customers easily moving through it. Too many customers have to wait on hold, repeat information, or start an interaction again when they move from one contact centre agent or one communication channel to another. These barriers to a seamless conversation make things much more difficult for the customer, and often relies on the customer putting in more effort than necessary to solve their own problem.
Of vital importance is to identify your high target and high worth customers first. Companies that create a strong customer service presence in social networking, wikis and user forums will be able to resolve many issues for their customers quickly and easily - and this can increasingly be delivered not by agents, but by companies themselves developing and activating 'tribal knowledge'. Remember, joining the tribe is not always necessary; but remaining its chief is. This growing band of brand advocates can help resolve issues because they're active in online user groups and they redistribute information through their own social networks.
You can provide information and support for these brand advocates to empower peer-to-peer resolution of questions and problems. By being aware of common questions and monitoring these social spaces, businesses can ensure that the right information is disseminated, creating updated content - be it FAQs, videos or simply information posts - and delivering it direct to the online leaders within the 'tribe' to keep the discussion relevant and helpful.
At the same time, brands need to start examining a new metric - Social Influence - which determines which customers are most likely to impact other consumers' views of the brand, rather than simply deciding which customers are historically most valuable to the brand in their own right. When a customer makes contact, service representatives should not only have access to that customer's demographic information, but also the individual's social graph, so they can try to maximise the value of that interaction based not only on their financial value but also the influence they yield within the social sphere. (A great example of this metric in action is the Klout score - see www.klout.com).
This information can prove to be priceless when proactively reaching out to individuals via social channels based on who they are, what interests them, and how they might influence others to think, feel and act. This is a metric to note, to integrate into an organisation's customer service strategy - and to leverage.
According to research from ContactBabel and Genesys, enterprises say they do want to use social media, but most are still using it as a channel through which to manage their brand, driven mainly by their marketing departments to reach out to customers.
Very few, however, seem to be realising the power of social media for better customer service and building greater customer loyalty by forming a meaningful and useful dialogue between the company and its customers. In fact, most said they are not yet ready to provide customer service via social media at the same level as other communication channels, despite affordable technologies being easily available to integrate social media with other more traditional customer service operations.
But when this does become the 'norm', brands will find they are able to make much more of every single customer interaction and transform social media into a way of delivering a satisfying customer experience for every customer, and consequently of delivery real business benefits.