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Social media and customer service would seem to be a match made in heaven. In 2012, more and more brands will commit beyond simply responding to customers on Twitter.

Brands are actively recruiting customers into online communities to help them develop products, give feedback and report issues.

First Direct’s ‘Live’ community discusses openly anything from savings rates to charitable donations, and includes a (very brave) sentiment tracker on the front page to show, live, what people think about the brand (it’s overwhelmingly positive at the time of writing).

It makes sense, if people are going to talk about you on Twitter, Facebook and forums, to encourage them to also talk to you, and to provide a place to do it.

Yes, you need robust procedures in place, and trained staff to make decisions and resolve problems via Twitter, but sometimes you can take some of the heat off the frontline team by providing a place to report issues, find service updates and information or get help from other people with the same product.

That place might be a dedicated community, like eircom’s ‘eircom connect’ or Virgin Media’s Support forum; or it might be a Facebook page, like Asos’ Here to Help, which aims to take the customer issues off the main Facebook page. 

Social media lets brands be very proactive in customer service. KLM created a Facebook app to keep customers updated during the ash cloud, but also used social media to monitor,  and respond to, customer issues when they were grounded.

One reported example shows the power that social media can have: a KLM passenger stranded in Schipol complained on Twitter about not having any water to drink, and within an hour a KLM rep had found him and given him a bottle of water.

Something like this is a really simple thing to do (assuming you’re monitoring what people are saying about you, and you know where the customer is at the time they’re tweeting), but makes an enormous difference to how a customer feels about a brand.

Advances in customer segmentation and geo-targeting on social media are likely to define social customer service in 2012.

There was a lot of talk at the launch of Google Plus about the ‘circles’ principle being ideal for customer segmentation, now all we need is the customers using Google Plus to put into those circles.

Facebook has such high levels of detail on its users that very specific targeting is possible, and there are lots of tools around to allow segmentation on the basis of location, language, demographic, interest etc.

Segmenting those customers by the issue they’re facing or product they’ve bought requires a certain amount of creative thinking, as the KLM example above shows.

Social customer service could develop in a number of ways this year:

  • More brands creating specific customer service communities, to resolve disputes away from their main social channels.
  • Greater use of apps to address specific issues for customers.
  • Greater integration of technologies (such as P2P) to support customer service and ‘self-serve’ customer communities.
  • Simpler segmentation on Facebook and Twitter (learning from Google Plus).
  • Advances in monitoring and geo-targeting to allow brands to respond quickly and locally to resolve customer issues. 

There are a host of companies who are pushing the boundaries here. And the potential gains are huge, not just in saving resources at call centres, but in being perceived and heralded as a caring brand, prepared to listen to its customers and respond quickly using relevant and contemporary channels.

Brands do need to commit to the strategy, and keep a close eye on new technological developments, but peer advocacy is every marketer’s dream.

The quality of customer service affects all brands, not just the social innovators, so expect lots of new developments in this area in 2012.

Which other recent case studies would you point to in this area? 

Steve Richards

Published 9 January, 2012 by Steve Richards

Steve Richards is MD of social media agency Yomego and a contributor to Econsultancy.

31 more posts from this author

Comments (26)

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Liam Atkins

I couldn't agree more with this post.

This is a real must for larger businesses, to heed the customer service/jump on social media warning. A customer in the past might have complained to their friends and family after having a bad experience with them, this would be kept to their immediate friends normally, now they go online and complain for the world to see, cached forever.

over 4 years ago

Elizabeth Bell

Elizabeth Bell, Independent Consultant at Quintry

It's about time this became more common practice. Kiddicare (not a client, no connection) have been lauded for their community-based customer service for some time now, and have reported very impressive results (more info here http://www.theretailbulletin.com/print.php?id=15873).
It's very obvious that many customers want to communicate with retailers and brands via social networks, so it's a massive opportunity to meet and exceed these expectations.

over 4 years ago

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Alexandra Gaiger, Digital Marketing Architect at ThoughtShift Ltd

I agree with Elizabeth, as a digital marketer I get very frustrated when brands do not engage with me when I make the effort to endorse their brand or give them feedback. At the moment on Twitter many brands only respond to/engage with people who give negative feedback and ignore all positive which makes me as a customer feel like I shouldn't have bothered and dislike the brand despite the good experience which triggered the tweet in the first place. I guess the problem is getting senior management buy-in and budget for proper social media strategising, training and management when it is widely perceived as a free platform. I hope Steve is right and the movement grows.

over 4 years ago

Elizabeth Bell

Elizabeth Bell, Independent Consultant at Quintry

I do think it's tricky for companies to get right. The response and quality of service has to be consistent across all the channels, so that the customer gets a similar experience whichever way they make contact. Most companies are not set up to make this happen, either from a systems or a cultural point of view.

over 4 years ago

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Adi Gaskell

The best communities exist with a clear purpose that they look to achieve. Customer service is an excellent choice as it not only gives customers a reason for visiting, but also gives the brand a clear way of measuring ROI for the community.

Brands have some way to go however as eMarketer research suggests most brands are either oblivious to people seeking help via social media, or are aware but do not respond. A real wasted opportunity.

over 4 years ago

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Paul Simmons, Digital Experience Manager at The AA

The VM community support is very good. They have actively checked my service and TiVo box simply from my username, which amazed me. They also sent me a link via twitter to their TiVo feedback survey and followed up via PM. Other companies need to catch up.

over 4 years ago

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Usha Sliva

I guess social crm tools will also help businesses enhance their customer experience and as Elizabeth and Alexandra pointed out, allow brands to interact better with their followers.

over 4 years ago

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Jonny Rosemont, Managing Director at Rosemont Communications Limited

The most important point around customer service whether online in social media or not is that it is about the individual. This customer has had an experience and this will define their state of mind. Companies should understand this as much as they should understand the lifetime value that the customer brings to the business. Good customer service and therefore good business is not about applying a broad brush. It is about putting the right resource and processes in place to make sure you can secure the relationship you have with your customers for existing and any future business.

over 4 years ago

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Vladimir Ivanovic, Head of Innovation at DraftFCB

This is the first place marketers should be looking to invest their branded utility budgets. Taking learnings from the tech industry, Amazon, Bonobos, 37Signals and Zappos extend their use of customer service to double up as their R&D.

over 4 years ago

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Sharad

Customer service is moving towards the point where if "proactive" means aren't part of the plan, then the department is failing. It's not just about being reactive anymore, and social media is helping customer service teams move in that direction.

That KLM example with the bottle of water, is a perfect case in point.

over 4 years ago

Steve Richards

Steve Richards, MD at Yomego

Thanks for your comments. I agree with Elizabeth and Alexandra that many companies aren’t set up to respond quickly via social channels, but I genuinely think this is changing. As you rightly say, it needs buy-in from the top to work and a customer's lifetime value, Jonny, as you say, is highly relevant when determining resource.

Elizabeth, I’ll check out the Kiddicare customer service, and the brands you mention, Vladimir. Our white paper on social customer service will be published in a fortnight and available from our website.

over 4 years ago

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Michael Bitter

I'm in the business of providing technology to help companies manage the growing volumes of social media based customer service requests from their customers. There is no doubt that volumes have been steadily on the rise, and the breadth of issues and types of questions raised is widening. Adoption of a strategy for handling customer service via social media has been slow. For many companies, the volumes and impact on business has not reached "critical mass". In addition, it's tough to cost justify using traditional ROI logic. But, it's just a matter of time---especially for larger companies with well known brands. Much like the early 80's when centralized, phone based customer service centers emerged, in the 90's with email, and in the 00's with chat, social media will become another customer service interaction channel that businesses must eventually address. Only this time the stakes are a lot higher.

over 4 years ago

Jason Woolley

Jason Woolley, Head of Search Operations, Asia Pacific at GroupM

I recently ‘tested’ the responsiveness and effectiveness of three large brands with social channels and while they had “got social” and responded quickly and positively they each totally failed to resolve the respective issues.

The current state of Social customer service is akin to the spin in politics where each brand publicly shouts “look at what a good job we’re doing, we’re down wiv da kids cool yeah” while the actual effectiveness of their customer services remain unaffected.

The biggest change we can expect to see in the near future is that social engagement will force companies to provide a better quality of service throughout the entire customer journey and with a much greater focus on loyalty.

For this to happen, rather than having a Social team, or a Social Agency manage their public interactions they will actually be performed by customer service staff that will be trained and authorised to ACT (yes all caps goddamit) in the best interests of the customer and company alike.

over 4 years ago

Steve Richards

Steve Richards, MD at Yomego

Agree, Jason. A company with a poor ethos towards customer service will not solve anything by simply being active on social channels. Those brands who pay lip service to customers on social channels risk doing more harm than good. Responsiveness is one thing but unless customer service staff are trained and empowered to resolve issues, it's a pointless exercise, especially given that consumer expectations are higher in social spaces.

over 4 years ago

Guy Stephens

Guy Stephens, Social Customer Care Consultant at IBM Interactive Experience/GBS/MobileEnterprise

Interesting post, but wondering if more apps, more technology, more marketers waking up to the customer service opportunity, simply 'more' equates to 'customer service coming of age'. The opportunity has existed for decades for customer service to 'come of age', although I'm not entirely sure what 'coming of age' means, what will actually be achieved by it, and in comparison to what is 'customer service coming of age'; marketing perhaps? Perhaps ultimately, it is the thinking that needs to change not just in customer service, but across the organisation. The proliferation of technology will take care of itself.

over 4 years ago

Steve Richards

Steve Richards, MD at Yomego

Thanks for the comment, Guy. I agree that 'coming of age' is a somewhat intangible notion. My main point, I think, was that social channels provide the opportunity for brands to take customer service efficiency to a new level - harnessing technology to help to resolve queries on an individual basis, in a timely and relevant way. If a brand is successful, positive experiences are likely to be shared in social spaces, magnifying the impact of good (and bad) experiences accordingly.

The applied use of technology provides the opportunity, but it'll only be grasped, as you say, if the company changes its thinking and makes a proper commitment to customers that goes beyond answering queries promptly on Twitter.

over 4 years ago

David Sealey

David Sealey, Head of Digital Consulting at CACIEnterprise

I think we need to be careful about the idea and application of 'time' or 'real-time'. From a cs perspective, acknowledging quickly is almost a baseline requirement now (however a company chooses to define 'quickly'). The resolution of the issue, if it can be resolved, can take place in the normal ways, regardless of channel. It is interesting your use of the word 'brand' as representing the organisation. Brand to me immediately carries a 'marketing' connotation to it, and the underlying sense that only with the intervention of the brand can customer service work 'efficiently'. In my mind, it is not about efficiency, that has been part of the problem, as 'efficiency' becomes the driver and not a by-product of the experience. Social media brings the possibility of returning a sense of humanity and intimacy back into the engagement, it takes it away from simply being a transactional interaction. In my experience, and increasingly so, resolving an issue is secondary almost to creating a positive experience. Thanks for responding. I guess without it, we wouldn't be having this exchange!

over 4 years ago

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Jonathan Moody

Responding to customer issues (you can boraden that to stakeholders in some cases) and creating a positive experience are of vital importance. However, I would also add that organisations need to learn from online feedback in order to enhance the positive aspects of a product and/or service and make sure that negative occurs as little as possible.

over 4 years ago

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FrankEliason

I have to say I disagree and discuss this in my upcoming book. For background many knew me as @ComcastCares. Today I work for Citi and my twitter handle is @frankeliason. First as Guy points out, maybe it is coming of age for service. The fact is many companies and consultants see social service as a good thing and desired by Customers. I have not found this to be true. Customers want their issue handled efficiently and easily, something the Customer Service industry has failed at. Instead we focused on other things like being the sales center or process and scripts. Customer are frustrated and social now gives them a say. This is because companies failed to hear them in so many other spaces. Now the Customer controls the brand image. Today many social servicing initiatives are designed to shut the Customer up, but since they are not fixing the core issue, they are driving more Customers to trash the brand via social. I can go on and on for that topic. I also hear community mentioned often. I love community concepts, but simply putting one up does not mean Customers want or need it. I have managed thriving communities and love Customers helping Customers. But to be effective Customers have to have a desire to hang out there and participate. This works in certain fields, especially technology, but not others. First key question is would Customers for your brand/product want to help others? Would they be willing to hang out there and respond? If it is just the business responding it is not a community. This is another topic I could write more on. Finally the idea of apps. I have used an iPhone for years and apps are often discussed. As a consumer I do not want my phone more and more cluttered. I want simplicity. I do believe social information will be key and it will allow brands through service to build true human connections in a scaled way even through other channels, such as phone. I see power in that.

over 4 years ago

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John Knight

If a company already has a strong Community Forums platform than they should continue to promote that. We have one where our customers are VERY helpful and the business waits a certain # of hours (greater than 24) to respond if something goes unanswered by the community. I feel strongly this is the year CS breaks-out in Social vs. most talk about Marketing in the space. Not so sure more apps is the answer, although most companies have an app to manage your acct and perform some basic acct transactions and I think that is valuable, as I use them with the companies I use personally. Geo-tagging is something we have been talking a bit about recently and it truly only applies to certain situations and not all. The Biggest issue is lack of engagement, if you are going to be in the space than participate. Gimmicks and the such are just that, companies need to truly care about their customers and prevent problems in the first place.

over 4 years ago

Steve Richards

Steve Richards, MD at Yomego

Completely agree, John, especially with your final point. Social CS needs to be tracked and changes made to remedy common problems. And then the community needs to be made aware that their experiences and feedback made a direct difference.

over 4 years ago

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Chuck Van Court

The Kiddicare online community does not look like a good example of "community powered support" to me, since 99%+ of the answers provided are by staff and not customers. In my quick review I could not find even one question answered by another customer.

Check out http://community.kiddicare.com/kiddicare/questions/answered to see what I am talking about for yourself.

The same questions also seem to be answered multiple times, which only bogs down the searches effectiveness in getting people to answers.

GetSatisfaction certainly has a good online community product, but this community seems to be more about trying to create a community of open engagement between customers and staff and not one that has demonstrated any capability of reducing assisted-service costs.

Although quite common for many vendors to include as deflected all questions answered in a community, I fail to see how it makes sense to include questions answered in a community by staff in any deflection metric.

What am I missing?

over 4 years ago

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Chuck Van Court

What was the basis for my comment and question being removed?

over 4 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Chuck - it was picked up by our auto spam filter, sorry about that.

over 4 years ago

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Chuck Van Court

Hi Graham:

Thanks for the note and for posting. Have a great week. Chuck

over 4 years ago

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Mark Shaw

Agree that 2012 is certainly going to be the year when social media and its use in customer care really takes off.. More and more brands are now adding a Twitter related channel to help deal with customers and possible customers.

But unlike other channels, Twitter is very different. not replying to a tweet aimed at you can have huge implications. Its done in public, everyone gets to see that you are ignoring people and that can be very damaging to your brand / business...

Businesses need to have a plan on how they are going to utilise Twitter as a customer care channel, resource it correctly, train and educate their staff how to manage the account..

at the end of the day, done well though and you may well turn people into brand advocates.. thats what you are after..

Mark Shaw
@engagementIndex

over 4 years ago

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