”While social is still an emerging channel in the realm of customer service, it offers a unique medium for organizations to interact with a vast networks of customers, while allowing for a more personal understanding of unique customer wants and needs.” This statement was mentioned in a research titled “Linking customer service and social media” by Aberdeen Group one year ago. In the research it was also estimated that within 12 months the percentage of service requests which originate from social channels would increase from 12% to 22%. Here we are 12 months later – what has happened and has the social landscape changed?
Social media is here to stay and social channels should be considered as a part of overall multichannel strategy since companies should be where their customers are. A recent survey from Bloomberg BusinessWeek Research Services about Global Customer Experience Trends and Best Practices explains that for consumers social media is a means of self-expression. The Bloomberg research also states that eMarketer predicts that one in every four people will use social networks in 2014. Social media is a powerful megaphone for consumers and it seems that the lack of social media strategy could be one of the reasons for the increasing number of situations when things get out of hand in social media and companies’ reputations suffers by negative online discussions. As Aberdeen predicted – the number of discussions and service requests about your brand in social media is increasing rapidly and your customers expect you to be responsive.
Why are companies hesitant to utilize this new customer service channel? I think it is uncertainty – for many it is still a bit unclear who should be in charge of social media interactions – marketing, sales, public relations (PR) or contact center? Of course, best practices are still to evolve, but I would say that social media channels are best managed in good cooperation of contact center and marketing/PR. Contact center handles the customer contacts where immediate customer service action is required. In these cases speed is essential and contact center operations are already built to solve customer requests fast. Marketing/PR in turn handles the more generic conversations, but also here it is important to listen and learn from the discussions and not just trying to push the own message thru. Different tactics work for different companies but the most important point is to remember that social media conversations are – well – conversations; about listening and responding. The research from Bloomberg BusinessWeek indicates that the change is happening also at the company end; the research discovered that 96% of the companies are developing a specific strategy for social media.
Social media is a public channel to the perception – the likes and dislikes – of your customers and prospects. The Aberdeen research mentions that social channels are more than just service channels as they enable companies also to gain understanding of their customers wants and needs by listening the discussions using social media monitoring tools. The conversations provide valuable input for contact centers: What are the major issues that people discuss, what problems might occur, what are their questions, complaints? When you use social media for listening to your customers, actively discussing and responding to their questions and concerns, you will gain significant insights of their needs and behaviors. All the questions and comments on social channels are customer feedback and they should not be ignored. This feedback will allow you to learn from customers and service customers better across all the channels you support.
The Aberdeen report predicted that by today 22% of service requests originate from social channels. I think it is a pretty accurate estimate for those companies that support Social as a service channel. Independent of the industry, company size or geography, social media and contacts centers are now more connected than a year ago and in the future they will be connected even more. Many companies are already social, more companies are investigating what opportunities social media offers to them, and social media strategies are being developed. Managing social channels might seem overwhelming, however they offer an opportunity to engage and learn. It is important to understand that social is one of the next critical ingredients in your multichannel strategy – many of your customers are there already, how much longer can you keep them waiting for you to join?