Expert interview: Conversocial founder and CEO Joshua March

Conversocial bossman Joshua March shares his expert insights into how social media has become such a vital component of customer service.

joshua march

In our latest expert interview we talk to Joshua March, co-founder and CEO of social customer service platform Conversocial.

Founded in the UK in 2011, Conversocial is now headquartered in New York City and has grown to become one of the world’s leading social customer service tools.

No major brand can afford to ignore social as a genuine customer service channel, and we spoke with Joshua to gain some insight into why and how social has become such a vital element of keeping customers happy.

Please tell us a little bit about your pre-Conversocial background, Josh.

My career started in 2007, post my law degree at Durham University, by founding one of the first Facebook app development agencies in the world, iPlatform.

iPlatform specialized in bespoke social application development and was later acquired by Betapond in September 2012. I also helped set up the London Facebook Garage in 2007, and took over as chairman in mid-2008 (stepping down at the end of 2010 to focus on Conversocial).

During this time I came to believe that the rise of social media was part of a much bigger shift in how people were communicating with each other — a shift that was only going to get bigger and bigger, and one that would fundamentally change how companies would have to communicate with their customers. It was this vision that led me to start Conversocial in 2011.

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You got in on the ground floor, when social customer service wasn’t really a thing. Was there a specific eureka moment when you realized the industry needed Conversocial?

I knew that as all communication shifted onto smartphones, social media and mobile messaging, these channels would become integral to how companies did business. After starting Conversocial with this vision, I pretty quickly came to the realization that social couldn’t remain an island in the marketing department — it would need to be deeply integrated into every business unit, especially customer service.

Shortly after this, Conversocial was hired by a major UK retailer who shared this vision, and asked us to help them set up one of the first ‘social customer care teams’ in early 2011. I started spending a lot of time sitting in their contact center, getting to understand how customer service agents worked, and the tools and analytics that contact center managers needed to run a large-scale customer service operation.

It was this experience that led us to pivot Conversocial to focus 100% on bridging the gap between the rapidly shifting worlds of social media and messaging with the needs of the large enterprise contact center, a mission we’ve had ever since.

Its growth has been phenomenal. Did you anticipate it becoming so popular when you started out?

I always had a very strong conviction that social was the future of customer care. The market did evolve a bit differently from what I first anticipated, however: for the first few years it was really all about the use of public social media to escalate complaints from other channels. Someone would have a bad experience offline or on the phone and would turn to public social media to get attention and a better response.

While this will never go away, it will only ever account for a small percentage of service issues. The big change has really come in the last couple of years with the rise of private messaging.

We worked with Facebook Messenger to launch the first brands on Messenger a couple of years ago (with one of our clients, Hyatt, being a launch partner). Since then, private messaging growth has eclipsed public social media – for some of our clients, 90%+ of their inbound social volume is over messaging.

While companies were hesitant to encourage public complaints, they don’t have the same hesitation with private messaging. Brands are starting to realize that messaging delivers both a better customer experience (through convenience and reduced effort for consumers) and a lower cost-to-serve (because of the workflow efficiencies of asynchronous messaging and the ease of automation), a really unique and powerful combination that isn’t seen in any other service channel.

Because of this, more and more of our clients are actively promoting social messaging on their Contact Us pages, which is driving huge channel shift away from email and traditional web chat and into social messaging. For one of our clients, who are using the new Messenger Customer Chat plugin on their site, over 50% of all of their service volume (including phone and email) is now coming through social messaging.

Over the next few years, I expect to see social messaging grow rapidly to become first the dominant digital care platform, and then to start eating into phone calls to become the dominant way that all customers interact with businesses. Messenger Customer Chat will replace traditional web chat for many businesses, and new business messaging channels like WhatsApp and iMessage will accelerate growth even faster.

With so many all-in-one suites such as Hootsuite around now, is it harder to convince brands that they need a specific social customer service tool?

Actually, as social has shifted from being a pure marketing controlled channel to become an integral part of the contact center, the opposite has happened. No-one today would try and use the same piece of software for email marketing and email customer service — the workflows, analytics and users are completely different. It’s the same for social messaging. It started all being controlled by marketing, which was why all-in-ones made sense, but that logic is rapidly shifting.

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Some brands still don’t seem to be taking social customer service seriously, or do it that well. Would you say these brands are now the exception rather than the rule?

When any brand messes up today, it’s one tweet away from becoming a damaging viral event. The prevalence of these situations mean that pretty much every major company knows they need to be on top of public comments about them.

Where there is a much bigger discrepancy is in the brands that are investing into social messaging as a primary support channel, shifting volumes away from traditional channels. That’s where forward thinking brands and innovators are today, and where the mainstream will get to over the next couple of years.

Do social customer service teams sit in customer service, marketing, or both?

Because social media started within the marketing department, there has been a lot of confusion about where social care teams should sit. As soon as you need real agents, they generally come from the contact center, but often marketing teams are heavily involved, sometimes responsible, for the overall budget. With the growth in private, 1:1 social messaging, however, responsibility is falling much more squarely to the contact center, and this is the case for almost all of our biggest customers today.

@joshuamarch: At any kind of scale, brands need to be able to use a sophisticated platform like @Conversocial to manage customer care through social messaging. Click To Tweet

What brands particularly impress you with their use of social customer service? Is there a secret formula to doing it right?

We’re lucky at Conversocial to partner with some of the world’s leading and most innovative brands, who are not just responsible for driving customer experience at their companies but also their broader industries.

In November of last year we were among the first to gain early access to the closed beta of Facebook Messenger customer chat, a newly-released capability that enables people to talk with businesses across web and Messenger. Among the select Conversocial clients invited to pilot Messenger customer chat were UK retailer Argos and Latin American airline Volaris, both of which have launched seamless chat with customers in-app and web via Messenger.

Argos, the UK’s third largest retailer with over 800 stores across the UK and a website that serves nearly 1 billion visitors annually, has made a serious commitment to Facebook Messenger as a customer service channel over the course of 2017, in large part empowered by its confidence in Conversocial to help the brand handle an increased volume of customer conversations.

Volaris’ roll-out of Messenger Chat has also been a huge success. After six months, the Mexican airline has seen a 29% reduction in handling time because one agent can now manage five interactions simultaneously versus only one while using phone calls and webchat, with messaging now making up a majority of all of their inbound service volume (including phone and email).

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Are there are any new Conversocial features you would like to share with us?

We recently announced the addition of WeChat support throughout the Conversocial platform. It’s an important move for, say, a major global airline to engage with their massive foreign customer base. The integration enables digital customer care teams to leverage intelligent agent routing, conversational filtering and prioritization, robust workflows and real-time analytics to deliver digital care over WeChat.

WeChat represents an audience of over 1 billion users in Asia, many of whom use WeChat as their sole access to news, information and social networking. However, for many international brands, the Mainland Chinese market has been a challenging region to engage customers. With this integration, Western brands can now leverage WeChat as a digital customer service channel directly into China, eliminating the gaps in service coverage between U.S. and Chinese markets.

This year we’ve also been rolling out our new case management system, the first of its kind, enabling our clients to measure the cost-to-service and customer experience of cases resolved over social messaging in the exact same way that they can measure traditional channels like phone and chat. The lack of comparable metrics has been a major issue in the industry, so we’re excited to have solved this!

What social network/s do you feel best suit social customer service? And the worst?

With a staggering 1.3 billion monthly users and growing, Facebook Messenger is undeniably at the forefront of digital customer care. The platform offers customers a continuous thread of conversations with real-time, personal interactions that span every point in the customer journey; and with Messenger Customer Chat this is now a powerful replacement for web chat.

I’m also really excited about two new messaging platforms that are opening up this year: WhatsApp, which has replaced SMS in many parts of the world; and Apple iMessage. As soon as business accounts launch properly in WhatsApp I expect it to just explode as a customer service platform, especially in Europe and South America.

Meanwhile, iMessage’s tight integration with Siri and Apple Pay, as well as Apple’s focus on privacy and security, will make their Business Chat capabilities really powerful — I expect them to become a major channel in the US over the next 18 months.

In terms of the worst – at any kind of scale, brands need to be able to use a sophisticated platform like Conversocial to manage customer care through social messaging. So any platforms that don’t have API access for messaging are incredibly hard to manage. This is the case for Instagram today, though we expect that to change in the near future as well.

Do you have any thoughts on where social media is heading in the future? Particularly in terms of social customer service.

The big shift coming is around automation. There was a huge amount of hype when Facebook announced the bot platform for Messenger, and almost all of the bots created were simple, rule-based bots that offered a pretty terrible customer experience. But there have been some really big advances in real machine learning and artificial intelligence over the past few years.

The asynchronous nature of messaging means that it is possible to seamlessly combine automation and human agents in the same conversation in a way that isn’t really possible in any other service channel. This combination of human plus machine will enable social messaging to be the fastest, most effective route to get help for consumers, while being far cheaper to deliver than any other channel for brands.

The future of social customer service is the future of customer service as a whole.

Joshua is the author of Message Me: The Future of Customer Service in the Era of Social Messaging and Artificial Intelligence. Check it out on Amazon.

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