Customer Service In A Hyper-Social World

by Maria Ogneva

This article first appeared on The Social Customer.

People talk about social support like it’s something new. Well, it is, and it isn’t. What remains constant is that service has always been a cornerstone of a positive brand experience – or at least it should have been. This is where theory and practice have oftentimes diverged in the past, but that’s a topic for a whole different blogpost. What’s changed is that we are now seeking and providing service in new channels and with new expectations as far as how it needs to work. How are our expectations different? We expect companies to respond to us quickly, within an hour (or within a day, if it’s a complicated issue), and in a channel where we are asking the question. Moreover, we don’t want to even have to ask the question — rather, we expect to be found and helped after just mentioning the brand name.

The business fundamentals of a service-oriented organization remain unchanged to a certain extent. If you are providing customer service, regardless of the channel, you need to understand how support affects and is affected by other areas in the organization.

What other parts of a business can affect service? All of them! For example, if you launch a new product, you need to understand what impact it will have on support channels, and you need to provide the feedback loop right back to the product folks. If the beautiful UI that you thought was going to be well received, ends up confusing people, your customer service requests may increase, and negative word of mouth may ensue. If the social media and PR folks do a tremendous job of covering your product or company in a major publication, you will get additional traffic, signups and hopefully revenue. You need to ensure that you are technically prepared for that load, because as you know, a website that goes down is not a good user experience. Did you ramp up your service to coincide with this new bump in popularity? You should have created a plan to ramp up support quickly in events like these.

Conversely, what areas of the business are affected by service? Again, all of them! Reports of crummy service can spread virally all through social media and destroy your brand and (current and future) customer relationships. What’s key to realize here is that your service has to be absolutely bulletproof in all channels. To truly get high marks as a customer-oriented company, you need to become excellent not in just social media service, but also in traditional channels like email, phone and instant chat. For reasons that are beyond the scope of this blogpost, social service, on average, tends to be better than traditional service. As a matter of fact, a bad service experience in traditional channels can actually detract from an excellent service experience in the social channels. Substandard service can be responsible, for obvious reasons, for an increase in negative word of mouth and eventual decrease in demand and revenues. Ineffective service (where it takes a customer several times to resolve the problem) can actually mount service costs; it’s much cheaper to do it right the first time.

Speaking of costs.. Did you know that social service can help drive traditional costs down? This happens for several reasons. First of all, problems are usually uncovered in social media first. By listening effectively and understanding the fledgling indications of problems, you can actually anticipate these problems in traditional support channels. As a response, you can beef up phone staffing, as well as quickly and effectively communicate the problem to the product techs (or whoever can actually fix the problem). You can even change your IVR to effectively communicate an outage to the customers who are calling in.

Moreover, social media can help deflect costs incurred by calling the support center. In the community help approach, like the one popularized by GetSatisfacton and Zendesk, product advocates and experts can share their insights (which can be better than employees’ insights at times), and the simple (or most frequently asked) questions can be easily resolved. Even a tweet, when pointing to the right support forum resolution, can be a faster solution than a phone call, leading to increased satisfaction as well as decreased costs. One key distinction should be made between reducing costs while increasing quality vs. cutting costs by cutting corners. You should only undertake a cost-saving initiative if and only if the quality of service is unchanged or better.

How have you seen traditional and social media play together? Have you realized any brand or revenue impact, or any cost savings as a result? The comments are yours!

About the Author

I run social media for Nimble, a modern relationship management system, which is one part external listening and engagement and one part internal collaboration. Nimble unifies the 3 Cs — contacts, communication and calendar — in order to bring you closer to your customers and unify your team. At Nimble, I am responsible for all social media strategy and execution. In addition to content written for Nimble, I contribute regular content to widely-read social media publications and enjoy sharing my passion with others. Before Nimble, I worked for large organizations, as well as smaller entrepreneurial companies and consultancies in social media, marketing and sales roles.

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