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

Social media lets brands be very proactive in customer service
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.

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

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?