In just a few short years of “ready for prime time” social media as embodied by giants like Facebook, Twitter and Google+, the medium has managed to irreversibly alter the web and the real world in a variety of ways. From education to medicine to local government, nearly every facet of society has felt its impact in one way or another. For many businesses, one of the most powerful and productive uses of social media is as a facilitator of customer service. As you’ll see shortly, relying on social media to engage in customer service has notable upsides and downsides.
The Rise of Social Media CRM
Years ago, the idea of a comprehensive customer service strategy that didn’t depend entirely on 800 numbers to dole out troubleshooting advice wasn’t on the radar of most businesses. Since then, the field of Customer Relationship Management has rapidly evolved, helped in no small part by a bevy of advanced software suites dedicated to managing complex consumer interactions. Alongside email correspondence, support tickets and live chats, social media has become an important part of the customer service mix. Nowadays, brands of all sizes in every industry are incorporating social media into their customer service regimens.
There are many compelling reasons why social media has become one of the most popular methods of delivering customer service on the web. From a business’s perspective, social media allows for the kind of instant feedback that you simply can’t get from phone-based support lines, email responses and support tickets. Customer service representatives that are experienced in the art of social media management can react to customer concerns quickly and deliver great service on the fly. Conversely, consumers love the fact that they can interact with brands on a personal level, rectify their own issues immediately and voice their complaints to companies.
Despite its great promise, a customer service strategy based on social media is not without its dangers. The wall that many businesses are running up against is the difficulty of dealing with a high volume of customer queries that’ll only increase with time. People expect immediate answers to their concerns and there’s often hell to pay if those concerns go unanswered. A recent study concluded that 42% of consumers expect an answer in under an hour via social media channels. If companies don’t respond in a manner that’s perceived to be satisfactory, it can damage their brand images and lead to loss of revenue.
This creates somewhat of a dilemma for businesses that are forward-thinking enough to utilise social media for customer service but lack a solid plan of action. Social media interactions can go one of two ways and they have a habit of backfiring in some unexpected ways on the companies that don’t handle them well. For those brands that know how to roll with the punches, allowing customers to give instant feedback via social media is a good thing. According to an NM Incite survey, a good 71% of consumers that receive rapid responses through social media would be willing to recommend a company to their peers. Unfortunately, the best way to deal with all of that social media feedback isn’t always so crystal clear.
Using social media to manage the customer experience complicates the traditional CRM paradigm for a variety of reasons. For one, it takes far more know-how and planning to succeed at social CRM than most might expect. Unsurprisingly, a whole corps of professionals that specialise in this particular area of expertise have cropped up overnight to meet the swelling demand. Besides managing brand image by responding to complaints and questions, companies must go out of their way to avoid PR disasters from hacked Twitter accounts, lousy employees and simple bad luck. As you’ll see, companies have managed this balancing act with both great success and great failure.
Winning & Losing the Social CRM Game
Taking advantage of social media to deliver customer service in an immediate and powerful way is the surest path to higher consumer satisfaction rates. Companies simply can’t afford to drop the ball in this department. Otherwise, it can lead to negative PR that’s difficult if not impossible to undo. There’s more than one way to skin a cat in the customer service arena and many brands have found innovative ways to address problems using social media that make them stand out. Leaving a lasting impression on consumers by way of novel customer service solutions is the best way to maximise social CRM ROI.
Smart brands understand that there’s more to social CRM and social media customer service than just fielding and rectifying complaints. If you’re going to devote precious resources to social media engagement, you might as well use the experience to gather valuable information on your customers that can be used to improve your business. The feedback you accrue from real customers is often even more important than the business you keep by solving their problems promptly. Some businesses have taken these social CRM concepts to heart more so than others in recent years and the difference in results is fairly obvious.
Companies Doing It Right
One of the strongest examples of a company doing social media customer service right in recent memory is actually Best Buy. Though often the target of jibes at their big box status as a monolithic, uncaring corporate behemoth, they’ve proven to be great at adapting to the new social commerce reality. Their Twelpforce initiative takes the cake as far as providing customers with the best possible real-time customer service is concerned. Like an extension of the Geek Squad to the web via social media channels, it makes customer service timely and personal in a way that few others have managed to replicate.
Another company that’s obviously grasped the importance of social media customer service is Comcast. For such a massive conglomerate, Comcast has proven to be quite adept at responding to customer concerns rapidly as evidenced by their Comcast Cares program. Using the micro-blogging juggernaut known as Twitter, they employ a team of superlative customer service representatives to sort out customer issues in the field. They’ve obviously been paying attention to the way the winds are blowing on the social web. No doubt they’ve got the deep pockets and manpower to pull off such a project. Regardless, it’s a model to follow for all kinds of businesses in the technology sphere.
On a personal level, the smallest of businesses can leverage social media to make a difference and use feedback to grow the company. Seamless is a fine example of a company that understands modern social CRM. An outfit that makes ordering food online a breeze, they’re used to receiving lots of positive and negative feedback online. Due to their niche status, they’re better able than most to address problems as they arise. Not only do they respond immediately to queries, they also manage to check in from time to time on recipients to ensure quality as services are being rendered.
Companies Missing the Mark
Not all brands understand the potential power of social media as a facilitator of superior customer service. Many love to use it as an avenue for marketing, yet few are willing to respond to inquiries promptly to alleviate concerns and take control of stories. A good example is Taco Bell, a company that didn’t seem to realise that snuffing out fires was important to their brand. A recent disaster on their part concerning poor employee behavior could have been rectified right away. However, the company chose to largely ignore the problem until it was too late.
Aside from failing to squash fires in the basement when they spark up, the worst thing a company can do is seem uninterested in their own social media efforts. Progressive Insurance, the auto insurance giant, recently came off as robotic and uncaring by using robo-tweets ineffectually to respond to a PR disaster. The better option would have been to use actual people to answer customers’ direct complaints via social media. Instead, they chose to be tone-deaf and expected the mere appearance of social media customer service to suffice for the real thing. They’ve of course learned their lesson the hard way since.
When it comes to disastrous mismanagement of live interactions on platforms like Twitter, few companies can beat Kitchen Aid in the ineptitude department. Their error wasn’t related to customer responses or troubleshooting. Their problems seem to stem from unpaid interns or perhaps AM radio shock jocks hijacking their social media feeds to broadcast opinions. While everyone’s got one, they don’t really belong in the worlds of e-commerce or social customer service. People expect customer service via the social media pipeline to be about customer issues, not flavor-of-the-month sound bites. The lesson is to keep the divisive ideas out of the stream altogether and secure the channel.
A Few Best Practices
One idea worth wrapping your head around is the reality that skimping on the allocation of human capital to the problem of addressing consumer concerns is ultimately shortsighted. We’ve seen plenty of examples of companies shooting themselves in the foot by doing so. Essentially, you need to put enough people on the job to respond to users’ concerns in real-time to handle demand. That could be one person or a dozen depending on how big your operation happens to be. Just don’t shortchange the consumer in the responsiveness department on the social media front.
You’ll probably want to invest a moderate amount of money in some tools for managing social media encounters, especially if you’re an SMB. Commodity solutions can be had quite cheaply or even for free. For a very small business, something along the lines of Hootsuite could work. Even very large companies rely on it to make sense of the flow of social dialogue. If you need more comprehensive software firepower, cloud CRM apps like Nimble or Insightly might be more your speed. The important thing is to find the right tool for the job based on your needs.
Aside from putting enough manpower on the job and equipping your team with the right tools for success, the scope of any social CRM strategy should be clearly defined. It’s hard to go too far nowadays when addressing customer concerns via social media. Obviously, the extent to which individual team members can go via social media channels to rectify concerns and interact with consumers will vary based on your operation. Regardless, it’s imperative that you go the extra mile to allay fears, right wrongs and communicate with clients. Failure to do so can be a real mistake in terms of social ROI.
When using social media to extend and improve customer service, nothing is more important than brand image. In light of this truth, it’s critical that you take great pains to avoid a social media fiasco similar to the more prominent episodes detailed above. Don’t entrust your communications to employees that aren’t going to treat the responsibility with respect. Undoing unintended or unexpected damage from major faux pas takes time, money and manpower that can be better spent polishing the brand. Good press concerning positive interactions between you and your customers has a tendency to go viral, so remain eternally vigilant.
Finally, you need to use your feedback in a structured manner to plan for the future. This not only improves service but gives you a blueprint for how to craft strategic moves months or even years in the future. Considering the amount of time and effort you’ll likely spend processing the deluge of data from consumers, it’d be a shame not to put that feedback to good use. Your social media customer service interactions should allow you to see which way the winds are blowing in your industry and react accordingly. In so doing, you can maximise ROI on social CRM expenditures.
Effectively Addressing the Instant Feedback Dilemma
The importance of managing customer interaction through social media will continue to increase for the foreseeable future. In a world where consumers have nearly limitless options, how a company communicates with their user base is integral to keeping lucrative business contacts in the fold. Obviously, you can’t please everyone all of the time. Regardless, managing the feedback that users generate everyday via social media can make or break a brand online. If you can also use that information to improve the bottom line and plan for the future, you’re that much further ahead of the game.