Integrating Social Media into Traditional Customer Services

This is a guest post by Carolyn Blunt, Principal Consultant at Real Results Training, who will be presenting on Integrating Social Media into Traditional Customer Services at The...

Social Customer Service

Social Customer Service

This is a guest post by Carolyn Blunt, Principal Consultant at Real Results Training, who will be presenting on Integrating Social Media into Traditional Customer Services at The Social Customer 2012 in London on 29th March.

For the past decade customer services in most contact centres has been delivered through the traditional methods of calls and email contacts, with the growth of more cost effective channels through the web and online on-line chat in more recent years.

With the introduction of social media there now exists a new opportunity for customer service agents to interact with customers in a new way, something which is yet to be fully embraced by the majority of traditional customer service contact centres.

As Principal Consultant for Real Results Training, I have long been aware of the influence of individual contact centre agents on a customers’ perception of a brand. Our training interventions over the past ten years have focused on developing front line agents’ listening skills, voice tone, positive language, empathy, rapport, problem solving and complaint handling skills. Yet the transference of this skill to, for example, 140 (publicly published) characters is yet to be fully embraced by the contact centre industry.

A YouGov survey, commissioned by technology provider Avanade, surveyed 1,998 UK consumers about their attitudes to customer service, as well as the types of company they tend to complain about most:

  • 37% evaluated customer services as positive but only 14% of adults in Great Britain think companies live up to the customer service promised by businesses in their marketing campaigns.
  • 9% reported that they ‘pull their hair out’ when dealing with customer service staff, 33% said their experiences were ‘frustrating’, and 14% ‘unsatisfactory’.
  • 17% said financial services companies were the ones they complained about most, followed by utilities (14%) and retailers (13%).

So how do people complain?

  • 41% of people still use the telephone to complain to a company
  • 63% of people use email
  • 20% use social media to air their gripes, with this figure rising to 36% for Generation Y (under 25 year olds).

Interestingly, Global management Consultants’ AT Kearney’s 2ndAnnual Social Media Survey, confirms that of the top 50 brands (measured by Interbrand), only a handful focus on two-way communication, and 27 did not respond to a single social media query in the measured period.  Jim Singer from AT Kearney notes:

The majority of companies we looked at are not moving toward a more interactive use of social media, even as their customers are becoming clearer about their expectation to interact with their brands.”

Why is this the case?

In our experience social media monitoring and using social media is not yet done in the majority of customer service call centres. The responsibility for using social media currently remains with many PR and Marketing functions (as of course, it also an excellent tool for sales and marketing purposes). However a collaborative approach will be required if the trends continue as predicted. The need to train customer service agents in how to deliver customer service in 140 characters will rise. Training will need to include the tools and processes for using social media effectively as well as the content of conversations and the abilities to know when to take the conversations offline. Agents will need to be multi-skilled in all channels for customer interaction.

Many brands that have taken steps in this direction include John Lewis, who have two separate twitter accounts ‘@johnlewisretail’ and ’@JLcustserv’ . Through the ‘customer service account’ John Lewis provide responsive apologies and then aim to take it offline or show their ability to resolve the problem through further information links.

Another option is to use tools to ‘listen’ to where the brand is being mentioned and have alerts that are then routed to the appropriate team, be it Customer Service, Sales or PR/Marketing for the right response. This still allows PR/Marketing to control the external facing brand tweets and updates but allows Customer Service teams to swiftly solve any problems and issues that are being publicly highlighted.

Whichever approach is taken the authentic, personal touch will continue to be in demand for a winning customer experience. While the customer service agents in the call centre are the original experts in one-to-one customer service; they will need support and empowerment as we redefine how customer service is delivered.

Tickets to The Social Customer 2012 London, featuring Citibank, BT, Everything Everywhere, British Gas and Marks and Spencer, are available online now. 

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