Everyone has heard the stories: jaded customer takes to Facebook or Twitter with a complaint to try to get a company’s attention. Understanding and responding to customers on social media channels is most definitely a new imperative for companies, but the future of customer service is more than listening and responding to posts on social media channels. In fact, a true “social” customer service strategy entails much more than listening and responding to external posts on the internet. It is about reshaping the lens through which a company views customer relationships and experiences.
The rise of CRM systems over the past decade have empowered companies to view their customers through a corporate management lens: centralized access to customer account information, their purchase history, contact information, etc. But today’s customers have different expectations, and, enabled by social technologies, have the potential to impact your company or brand (both positively and negatively) in a bigger way than at any previous time in history. A recent study by the Pew Research Center reported in Time Magazine shows that a simple post on Facebook marked as “Friends of Friends” can have a reach well past 150,000 views. The pendulum has definitely swung.
Bluewolf believes that the future of customer service is about unleashing customer engagement, and enabling the enterprise with customer data that, when collected and reported accurately (into a central CRM system), have the potential to impact your company’s ability to serve your customers in new and more meaningful ways. While contact centers typically understand the value of structured data, the new unstructured data available within the social media space provides customer insight that allows interactions to be much more targeted. The focus is not just about reacting to the negative, but about responding to the positive.
For example, look at Airbnb. In July of 2011, they learned a hard lesson about a customer taking to social media to complain when their apartment was vandalized. Their initial response was lackluster, and negative responses from customers went viral over the internet. Now, barely a year later, the company has come to the understanding that the very future of their business may rest in listening to and engaging its customers (read Fortune: Airbnb: More than a place to crash). With a new view of improving how they serve customers, the company has watched its customers take that lead in leasing more than apartments. Creative customers have started leasing all sorts of services including parking places, cars, and even bikes. Airbnb is hoping to capitalize on this engagement to transform itself from a house-sharing website to a global emporium of customer services.
To successfully execute this vision, Airbnb needs a strategy that involves more than social media monitoring. It needs people, process, technology, and a corporate culture that enables it to collaborate and capitalize on customer ideas and effect rapid change across the company. To win with this broader vision, Airbnb needs to effectively engage customers, on both the leasing and purchase sides, understanding how to make it easier and more fruitful for them to list and buy services through Airbnb over any other website. They need to drive rapid business change around how they market themselves, handle transactions, and support every customer with seamless, high-quality experience.
Companies need to continually re-invent themselves and release new products that keep pace with the changing needs of the market. Becoming a “social” business means giving your organization the ability to listen, engage, collaborate, and respond to these changes quickly. It means that you are willing to provide service through the channels that your customers choose. When you get right down to it, a “social” customer strategy aims to enable the enterprise to understand early, and often, what your customers value, and to drive response through a customer-focused (as opposed to management-focused) lens.
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Over the past 10 years, technology has been the catalyst for huge change in the contact center. But social media may just be the biggest impact yet. Social Media has now put the customer in a place of control that he or she has never had before – and forward-thinking contact centers are either already engaged or are creating strategies for how they will play in this new customer channel. Through Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, blogs and other social media channels, customers can now tell the world about their latest experience with your brand. As a customer, I no longer tell just 9 people about a poor experience. Toda,y it is multiplied at a rate that is somewhat unsettling.
Time Magazine’s TechLand website recently reported that a single post on Facebook, sent to “Friends of Friends”, has an average reach of more than 156,569 viewers. Even if you remove the high-end users like Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga, the median reach for the post is still 30,000. Imagine the power associated with a single customer being able to tell 30,000 people about a recent call to your center that did not quite meet expectations.
While speaking at a conference recently, I was asked by a contact center leader if social media really mattered as much as I said it did. He argued that he received more than 40,000 calls a day into his center and that he only received about 5 to 10 social media interactions. I believe his comment was, “Those kind of numbers make me believe that you are blowing this way out of proportion.” In reality, there was probably a lot more out there than he realized. I learned later that he was just counting those posts that were received directly to the company social sites of Facebook and Twitter. With the right technology, he could instead look across the Internet — searching blogs, Tweets, comments, etc. — to see what is really being said about his brand. I can only assume that his perspective would change if he had that information. But the bigger “aha” may be buried in that original number of 5 to 10 posts multiplied by 30,000. Does he really want 30,000+ people seeing a negative story about his brand with no process or technology in place to respond? Probably not.
So what is the answer? The first step is to decide if your contact center is ready to lead the charge and handle yet another channel. Step two is to engage your Marketing team to share the numbers above and begin the joint discussion to understand how your contact center can help manage the interactions – in the same manner your center handles phone, email and chat. Obviously this new channel will take a special agent or group to make the critical decisions required to know when to respond and how. But if you think back, contact centers conquered the special requirements of email and it is possible to conquer the special attributes of a social media agent also.
If you are a contact center leader, perhaps the most important impact of creating a social service center is the impact it will have on your career. For years the marketing department has come to the table asking for concise information about the customer. If you own Social, you will now have a new level of customer data. And your seat at the table will become much more relevant in the organization.
It really was their fault – and eventually they admitted it – but it took an angry tweet to get them to notice.
The connection for my second flight was not that tight – one hour and 10 minutes. I left the office feeling pretty good about the travel home. As we began to board flight number one, I noticed that the customer service rep was having some problems with the ticket scanner. Boarding early has its privileges, but I wondered why it was taking so long for everyone else to board. 25 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes… I began to look at my watch wondering about my second flight. Then the customer service rep took the plane microphone and began to ask for people to ring their flight-attendant bell when she called out their names. It seems that more than 20 people had checked in at the gate, but they could not verify if they were actually on the plane.
One hour and 30 minutes late, the plane finally pulled away from the gate. Needless to say, I missed my second flight – got assigned to another flight 3 hours later, and to top it off my 6’3’’ frame was packed into a middle seat.
As an experienced flyer, I can understand that things break, and with just a little bit of proactive customer service, I would not be writing this article. But that was not the case. The airline has the data and with the right CRM system they could have easily sent me an email upon my arrival or the next day that said, “Hey, we messed up! And we are sorry.” They could have even thrown in 500 frequent flyer miles to make the midnight arrival a little less painful. But that did not happen.
So being the social guy that I am, I tweeted about my poor experience to the main Delta Twitter account and got no response! I had recently read an article about how one of their competitors had embraced social media, so the next day I tweeted on the Delta page again, with a link to the American Airlines success story. Within 30 minutes I received a response. From that point on, the level of service was wonderful. The agent asked me to send a DM (direct message) via Twitter with my reservation number. Within 10 minutes she responded back via DM apologizing for the situation and offering me 3000 SkyMiles as restitution.
As a customer service consultant, I am always looking for a story and always analyzing possible improvement. I think my experience on Delta illustrates four larger developments in customer service:
- Social Media has become a very effective channel for customer service and has given the customer much more power. Public view of a problem gives the situation a certain amount of urgency and the customer much more control.
- Delta could have avoided the need for my public tweet by developing proactive customer service that takes responsibility for bad experiences that are really their fault.
- My initial tweet had several responses from followers about their similar problems with Delta. People really are listening and the brand really is affected via social media.
- If your company does not have a proactive way to view posts and deal with unhappy customers, you are losing business right now!
My story ends with the following tweet:
Now, imagine the impact a positive follow-up post can have on your customers.
To illustrate this principle, we’re giving free Delta Airlines drink tickets to the first 100 people to follow us and share this blog post on Twitter with the hashtag #DeltaDrinks, mentioning @Bluewolf and @bobfurniss