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From reactive and pro-active engagement techniques to mapping customer journeys and developing multichannel, what are the current trends in social customer service and how will they affect what we consider best practice in the future?

Speaking on this subject last week at Our Social Times’ Social Customer Service Summit 2014, was social media strategist Martin Hill-Wilson.

During his keynote speech, Martin explored various techniques and trends that may well come to define social customer service in the near future.

In particular, the need to think of social in a bigger context: as part of a multi-channel customer service strategy.

Fragmentation

Channels multiply, they don't die. That might be a slight exaggeration, but if you think of all of the channels supposedly pronounced ‘dead’ – the fax, MySpace, EDI – they’re actually still out there. Somebody is still using one of them.

The digital world is becoming more complex and we’re seeing much broader fragmentation in the way that customers are using channels. In social for instance there’s been a definite move away from the bigger networks to smaller private messaging apps and this has happened in a relatively short space of time.

It makes things very complicated for customer service teams. Consumers hop across various channels in order to complete even the simplest of tasks, whether it’s buying products from a brand or checking the opening hours of a retail shop. 

However the likelihood is that all these different channels are run by different people in an organisation with different agendas and different priorities. It’s entirely possible for a customer to skip across channels and have a vastly different experience within each one. 

Therefore consistency is a must. According to Martin, it’s the one thing all organisations must work harder at achieving. If all that you’re focused on in social is being a community manager, you will not deliver on your customers’ expectations from you.

More and more social users expect customer service issues to be resolved via social channels, they don't care that your Twitter account was originally set-up for PR. Your customers will contact you via their own preferred channel, not yours. 

Step back and look at the journey from the customer’s perspective. What are they trying to achieve? Where are they going? How difficult has it been?

It’s possible to achieve this with journey mapping.

Journey Mapping

A journey map is not the same as customer experience. It’s just one way to get an outside-in perspective. It will help to discover where a customer’s journey began though. Chances are it wasn't on Twitter, it was probably somewhere else on your website, in your store or somewhere in between.

Social interaction tends to be a point of ‘escalation’: a conscious act of putting an issue, complaint or even a compliment in the public realm, away from traditional, private channels. 

A journey map helps to get in the mind of the customer, to see what they’ve gone through in order to get to this point of escalation. 

Consolidation

The more social channels spring up, the more it seems that they’re all vastly different from one another.

Martin suggests that it may be good practice to consolidate our understanding of these channels and therefore simplify them. It could easily be considered that there are in fact only three types of channel: voice, text, video.

As soon as voice is put into digital context it's always a popular option. The travel industry is seeing a huge growth in call centre traffic. If a customer is looking for a holiday, arguably a very personal and large investment, they’re more likely to want to talk to a human being so they know they’re making the perfect decision for them.

Obviously text is a fundamental component, but more and more engagement is occuring around images and video. Schuh is offering video-chat, Google Hang-outs and Skype is also offering bigger and interesting visual services.

How long before video, the most persuasive media of all, becomes the main way we interact with each other on social?

Self service

Is there a place for self-service in the social customer service in the mix? Ideally customer service should be a 24 hour operation but it’s important to be realistic about this, whilst also matching what is expected from customers. Perhaps some areas of customer service can be automated to save on resources.

There are only a few variables when it comes to customer service channels. It’s normally just the choice between two options... 

Real-time or delayed? Live or automated? Limited or unlimited in terms of character length? Private or public?

Social customer service seems to live or die on whether it’s real-time or not. Other channels can be delayed to an extent. Automated self-service must be integrated with easy access to live customer service channel in case anything goes wrong.

Peer-to-peer (P2P)

This is excellent if you’ve got a large pool of users who are committed and trustworthy enough to offer the best advice. On average though, only about 40%-60% of questions are successfully answered this way.

The companies doing great customer service are the ones that know to escalate the potentially ignored customers to the right live channel or resource.

Community knowledge

This is very attractive to customers. A pool of like-minded consumers whose knowledge has been generated by themselves rather than your internal editorial staff provides reliable, up-to-date and frequent information to other consumers. 

If the majorty of your customers are using Facebook and this is their preferred method of communication, then bring this knowledge into Facebook. Apply this logic to all of your customer service channels.

Two channel shuffle

Twitter’s character length can often be restrictive in solving a customer’s problem, and occasionally information can be sensitive (particularly in the case of Barclaycard or other financial services). The key here is the ease with which the same customer service provider can switch the conversation from Twitter to a private live chat.

After the problem is resolved, switch back to Twitter so the public can see your successful resolution.

Transparency of options

One of the most important things to consider is how well your company is communicating your available channels to your customers. Do they know the range and mixture of options available to them for communicating with you?

It’s imperative to offer a full set of manageable channels that are for the customer’s benefit rather than your own internal convenience. You can’t force channel-shift on customers if you’re not offering a better alternative. 

Also remember to log a customer’s habits as part of your CRM. Get familiar with people who prefer to engage with you over a certain channel. 

Response

There is yet to be a common response time, or decent recognised industry benchmark for how long it takes to respond to a customer. If you want to be good at social customer service right now, be consistent and be responsive. 

Consistency also means being as good at Twitter as well as Facebook. Very few brands offer a consistent quality of service across all of their social channels. 

It’s highly likely that the amount of chatter out there about your brand is greater than your current resources allow you to pursue. The first priority will always be direct questions asked of your company, however there are also other conversations out there that customer service teams should be aware of, as well as marketing teams, in order to capitalise on opportunities. 

In order to achieve success across the board, there needs to be much deeper coordination across all of your teams.

Social poaching

How long before companies on social start to actively seek opportunities to manipulate customers away from the companies they’re waiting for a response for?

It wouldn’t take a lot of effort for Netflix to keep an eye on the Sky streaming service NOW TV’s Twitter feed and check to see if there are any disgruntled customers waiting for a response. Netflix could sneak in and say “hey, how about we look after you better?”

For more insight, find out what social customer service is really worth.

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 19 May, 2014 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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Comments (2)

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Mike Klanac

The GripeO Website and Mobile App is about launch the web's first "Complaint Marketplace" where competitive businesses can purchase ignored complaints as leads.

http://www.gripeo.com

over 2 years ago

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zain ali, Marketing Executive at LiveAdmins JLT

Connecting with your customer is the most important thing. If you make your page updated then you can make your customers loyal with you. Moreover, if you have a website then add live support software on it so that you could respond instantly to your customer. It is the best practice that you can do. The information provided by you is useful and a good practice.
http://www.liveadmis.ae

over 2 years ago

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